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Allergic to Hair Dye?

By HERWriter
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Allergic Contact Dermatitis related image Photos: Getty Images

How many of you really read the hair dye box warnings? The box alerts us to do a skin patch test 48 hours before using the product. However, if you are like me, you may only wait 24 hours before dying your hair or you may not do the test at all if you have used that hair dye before. The trouble is an allergic reaction to hair dye can occur even if you have used the same product before. That is what happened to a lady in Manchester, England and she ended up going to the hospital.

In 2009, Susan Taylor used a Garnier hair dye product. She had done a skin test but only waited 24 hours before going ahead and dying her hair since she had used this brand hair dye before. She dyed her hair at 4 p.m. but by 10 p.m. she developed a burning sensation, itching and redness on her scalp. She woke up at 1 a.m. having difficulty swallowing and saw increased swelling around her ears. Her husband had to rush her to the hospital where an I.V. was started and she was given antihistamines. Still in pain two days later, her doctor prescribed oral steroids and a week later she was started on antibiotics as her symptoms continued.

Allergic skin reactions, also called allergic contact dermatitis, can occur even after having had contact to a substance for many years. Susan had been dying her hair for over 35 years but it was this last time that gave her the skin reaction. Frequently women have less obvious reactions to their hair dye of mild itching or redness and it isn’t clear at first that they are developing an allergy. However, continued exposure to the dye may develop into a more severe reaction later.

What is in hair dye that causes the allergy?

A chemical called PPD, para-phenylenediamine, which is in over 60 percent of commercial hair dye products is the culprit. PPD allows the dye to adhere better to the hair shaft. Hair dye typically comes as two bottles that are mixed together. The one that is clear has the PPD in it and is in a non-oxidized state. The other is the developer, which has hydrogen peroxide in it. When the two are mixed together, the one with the PPD turns color and becomes partially oxidized from contact with the peroxide. When PPD is in this partially oxidized state, it can cause allergic reactions on the skin.

In the beginning, it may take several days after an exposure to PPD to develop symptoms of skin irritation such as redness or itching so one may not relate this to the hair dye. However, as more contact to the PPD occurs, skin reactions may happen sooner, in as little as six to 72 hrs after, since the body has become sensitized to the chemical. Itching, burning and redness may start. If the reaction is more severe, facial swelling and swelling of the eyelids can occur and a person can even develop difficulty breathing. If this happens, the person must immediately go to the emergency room.

Next time you plan to dye your hair, plan ahead and do the 48 hour skin test. Mix a sample from both bottles together to make the PPD react. Don’t ignore the warnings on the box. It just might just make the difference between spending the night at home in your bed or a night at the hospital.


Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele can be read at http://www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles

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EmpowHER Guest

I developed PPD allergy when I was 22 years old after 4 years of hair dyeing on black. (I am male ginger and I don't like my natural hair colour).
Once you develop allergy, nothing would help. My scalp became itchy more and more and I started loosing hair. I was researching and after a year I found another

solution, indigo - indigofera tinctoria.

Due to my natural hair on which indigo did't adhere well I had to dye my hair every 10 days. I used pure indigofera tinctoria with destilled water heated to 60

degrees and with non-iodic salt on extra-clean hair.

After a year, suddenly the same thing happened as it happened when I was using chemical dye. My scalp became itchy more and more from week to week until my hair

started to fall out again. I was very depressed. Indigo also can not be removed entirely from hair. Finely I had to shave myself to avoid any further itching and

redness of my scalp. Once you develop allergy on indigo it is there. I tried to dye just a patch of my hair after a year and allergy was still there.

However, I hated my ginger hairs and started to explore again. Tried also dyeing with walnut shells with the same allergy again. I didn't dye my hair for 2 years and

even with no dying on my hair, slight allergy was developed every few months. I had very sensitive scalp and had to forget on any dyeing.

Nobody know how frustrating all that was. Not only I lost part of my hair during allergy reaction (for which I did'nt know they will grow back), I also didn't feel

well with my ginger colour of hair.

But I didn't gave up. after two years I found that allergy can be treated with allergen injections but was very expensive in Slovenia.

It sounds strange what I did (I was very desperate), but it helped.
I red that if you raise your alergen level in your blood, the body would stops reaction!!!

Indigofera tinctoria is a natural plant used also for healing in traditional medicine, nontoxic to human body.
I again partly dyed my hair (on the back, so I was able to cut them at allergy reaction)

I sniffed indigofera tinctoria powder through my nose, two times a day for a month. The taste was not very pleasant but alergen absorbes trough mucous membrane

(doesnt come to lungs).

After first sniff, itching on the back stopped. But developed again. I sniffed a small amount of pure indigofera tinctoria powder when itching started. After I month

I overcame an allergy and was able to dye all of my hair with no itching or hair falling out.

I was very happy with my experiment, but I didn't wan't to share with anyone because one might think I am giving hazardous advices.
I know well how frustrating itchy scalp and allergy can be and it was nothing compared to slight risk of indigofera toxicity (I did'n found any bad effect).

I don't encourage anyone to do the same as I did. One should get allergen injections under medical supervise if develope allergy on all hair dies but still doesn't

want to give up hair dyeing.

After your body stops reaction on allergen, it is permanent solution. Now I have been using indigo on my hair for 5 years without any reaction. My hair grew back.

June 17, 2012 - 7:18am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Perhaps the self treatment technique would work also for real henna or lawsonia inermis

allergy (red hair dye). I have not tried and I have no idea about lawsonia inermis


I used this technique because I developed mild allergy on indigo which only showed on

my scalp as irritation, itching, hair break.

Official allergy treatment similar to mine is called sublingual immunotherapy,
but allergen is put under the tongue instead.
see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sublingual_immunotherapy

Attention: If you have serious allergy on indigo attacking your eyes, respiratory...


June 20, 2012 - 4:20am

Thanks Christine. Until I read about this woman's reaction, I used to just do a 24 hr test thinking that was enough time to wait. Now I wait the entire 48 hrs. I skin test my skin on my neck area near my ear so it doesn't get on my clothes. Glad you were able to find a better solution for your hair color needs. Sounds like your stylist is really great to watch out for this in her clients.

August 19, 2010 - 3:19pm

Great article, Michele! I have my hair colored/highlighted by a hair professional. We used to do all-over color, which was terribly itchy on my scalp. I could definitely tell if I hadn't taken an anti-histamine before heading to the hair salon. My stylist would even call me before an appointment to remind me to take it. After having this reaction on a couple visits, we decided to change the process. I definitely have a lower reaction to the coloring she does now.
This article is a good call to action for those who color at home or get it professionally done. If you do use a professional, work with them to find a process that isn't harmful to you (natural hair coloring?), or (gasp!) give up coloring.

August 19, 2010 - 9:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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