Chemicals in Hair Products That Cause Cancer

As unfortunate as it is, hair products we use daily to tame and protect our hair could be harmful. They can cause scalp irritation, hair dryness, and many other problems for our manes. But one of the deadliest effects observed by using certain hair products is cancer. If you want to avoid developing cancer from hair products, it pays to know what to look out for. In this article, we’ll share several chemicals in hair products that have been proven to cause cancer.


Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen (a substance known to cause cancer). It’s often found in relaxers and hair straightening treatments used by Black women and those with naturally curly hair. What’s been found is that those who used certain relaxers and straightening treatments had an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

Formaldehyde may be listed on product labels using alternative names, including formalin, methylene glycol, and methanal.


Parabens have gotten a bad rap for potentially being linked to cancer. The chemical is found in virtually all product types and helps ward off bacteria and mold growth. There were small studies performed on rats that concluded that parabens mimic estrogen, which can lead to cancer growth. Those who are most vulnerable to parabens include:

  • Fetuses

  • Young children

  • Pregnant women

Parabens take on many names, including propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben.


1,4-dioxane is a chemical known to cause cancer. Unfortunately, it was found in almost a third of personal care products and is a byproduct of the manufacturing process. As far as hair products go, these chemicals could be hiding in relaxers and shampoos in addition to other personal care products. There’s no way to avoid exposure to 1,4-dioxane – it’s not an ingredient that could be listed on your product label, as it isn’t intentionally added to the products.


There’s no question – according to the Department of Health and Human Services, benzene can cause cancer. Dry shampoos from some of our favorite brands, like Old Spice and Aussie, have been recalled for containing this chemical. Avoid it at all costs.

Hair Dye Chemicals

Chemicals in hair dye, like aromatic amines, were found to cause cancer in animal studies. Some studies show that those who are regularly exposed to hair dye (especially hairdressers) have an elevated risk of developing cancers like:

  • Bladder cancer

  • Breast cancer

  • Leukemia

  • Lymphoma

There may also be an increased cancer risk for those who use at-home dyes. 

How to Avoid Cancer-Causing Ingredients in Hair Products

The only way to avoid cancer-causing ingredients in hair products is to screen products extensively before using them. While you have no control over exposure to 1,4-dioxane, you can still be on the lookout for parabens, formaldehyde, and benzene. If you spot one of these chemicals on a product label, simply put the product back on the shelf or remove it from your online cart. You can also minimize the number of times you color your hair.

So, there you have it – several hair product chemicals that could cause cancer. We hope you found all the information you were looking for, and we wish you the best with your hair and health.


Author: Andrea Reyes

Andrea is a mother, wife, writer, and natural hair enthusiast of 15 years. Currently on her natural hair journey, she’s been trying countless products and techniques to understand and embrace her natural hair. She is the creator of, a new website featuring informative articles that share tips, tricks, and techniques aimed to help others learn to love their hair through proper hair care. She writes with the hope of making hair care easier to understand and implement.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published