Paraben Chemicals, Hair Care Products and Cancer Risk in Black Women

We have published a number of previous studies linking chemicals in hair care and personal care products to adverse health outcomes, including breast cancer. The data has shown that the risk appears especially high for black women. Now a new study has demonstrated that toxic paraben* chemicals (which are endocrine disruptors) commonly used as a preservative in hair care and personal care products may be one of the culprits linking hair care/personal care products with cancer–especially breast cancer, for which Black women are at an increased risk.

Study overview

Scientists studied the highest risk group for cancer–black women under the age of 40 years old.** They tested the effects of parabens (present in various hair and personal care products ) on breast cancer cells from black women.

The scientists found that when parabens were put on the black breast cancer cells in a dish, it increased their growth and spread. This effect was not seen in the white breast cancer cell line at the doses tested (though when the doses were increased, the effect was also seen in white breast cancer cells).  Additionally, parabens increased expression of genes linked to hormone action in breast cancer cell lines from both Black and white women.  (The parabens also altered the expression of estrogen – a hormone driver of breast cancers.) And finally, parabens also promoted the spread of breast cancer cells, with a bigger effect seen in the Black breast cancer cell line.

*Parabens are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and mimic estrogen in the body.

**One in eight women in the United States will get breast cancer during their lifetime. Black women are at a higher risk of getting breast cancer under the age of 40 than any other racial or ethnic group. 

What can you do?

The definitive answer as to what links hair care and personal care products to breast cancer in some women is still unknown. For those consumers wishing to reduce their risk from exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, read the ingredients labels and choose products marked “paraben-free”.

Reference: Lindsey S. Treviño, Ph.D., City of Hope cancer research and treatment organization, Los Angeles, California, et al.  Presentation: Chemicals in personal care products cause harmful effects in breast cancer cells from Black women.  The study was presented on July 12, 2022 at ENDO 2022, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.