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Last updated on April 4th, 2019
You might already know that all hair dyes may cause allergic reactions, especially if they are permanent (oxidative) hair dyes. What you might not know is what an allergic reaction to hair dye entails.
I want you to know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction to hair dye so you can seek proper medical help immediately, which can literally save your life.
I want you to know how to spot an allergic reaction to a hair dye so you can get tested for it so you do not have to go through another allergic reaction again.
You might think that you do not need to read this because you have been using the same hair dye brand and even the same shade for the past 20 years and you have not had any allergic reaction to it.
Unfortunately, you can even have an allergic reaction to hair dye you have been using for years, and now you can learn why that is.
Medical literature informs us that many cases of PPD allergy go unreported, probably because people are unable to make the connection between the reaction and the hair dye and therefore do not seek medical advice. And that’s why the medical literature on this topic is scarce.
Hair dyes are sensitizers
The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) has assessed over 110 hair dye substances (detailed in its Memorandum on Hair Dye Skin Sensitization) and found that half of them are potent skin sensitizers, which were classified into extreme, strong, and moderate sensitizers.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines a sensitizer as a “chemical that causes a substantial proportion of exposed people to develop an allergic reaction in normal tissue after repeated exposure to the chemical.”
The key here is “repeated exposure,” which means that if you have not yet developed an allergic reaction to hair color, the next time you use the same brand you might have an allergic reaction.
And that is why the United States Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) says that it is possible to have a reaction even if you have dyed your hair in the past, without a problem, and instructs us to do a skin test before the application EVERY time (source).
So what are the signs of an allergic reaction?
Hair dye allergy can result in aphylactic shock
It is important to know that an allergic reaction can go beyond simple skin irritation.
The Contact Dermatitis medical journal reports a case of a 56-year old woman who developed generalized wheals, nausea, dyspnea, and impaired consciousness 10 min after she washed off a semi-permanent hair dye she had applied. Luckily, she knew to go to the ER immediately (Washio, K., Ijuin, K., Fukunaga, A., Nagai, H., & Nishigori, C. (2017). Contact anaphylaxis caused by Basic Blue 99 in hair dye. Contact Dermatitis, 77(2), 122-123.).
The Department of Dermatology of Japan informs us that hair dyes can cause generalized symptoms such as contact urticaria syndrome (swelling and redness), rhinoconjunctivitis (sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and red eyes), bronchial asthma, and even anaphylaxis (Washio, K., Ijuin, K., Fukunaga, A., Nagai, H., & Nishigori, C. (2017). Contact anaphylaxis caused by Basic Blue 99 in hair dye. Contact Dermatitis, 77(2), 122-123.).
Per the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, anaphylaxis “is a serious allergic response that often involves swelling, hives, lowered blood pressure and in severe cases, shock. If anaphylactic shock isn’t treated immediately, it can be fatal.” (source)
Dermatologists from India also warn that “contact allergic reactions from p-phenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dyes vary from mild contact dermatitis to severe life-threatening events (angioedema, bronchospasm, asthma, renal impairment). (source)
So if you develop these type of symptoms seek immediate medical assistance and ask to be tested for allergy to hair dyes so you know not to end up in the ER again.
An allergic reaction can result in hair loss
The FDA states on its website that an allergic reaction to hair dye may result in hair loss (source).
There is also a case involving a 41-old woman described in the medical literature who lost 90% of her hair as a result of an allergic reaction to a hair dye containing PPD. Yes – 90%! If you want to see her pictures, please click the link (source).
Furthermore, this study found that hair colors that contain ethanolamine versus ammonia are more likely to cause hair loss.
Although less scientific, you can find a lot of Amazon reviews that point to hair loss. For example, here is one of them posted to the Tints of Nature permanent hair color product.
There are various factors that can lead to hair loss (read my post on that here), and so it’s hard to say with any degree of certainty exactly what caused hair loss in any one specific case, but I would rather be safe than sorry, and when I see a lot of reviews where people are complaining of hair loss following the use of a product, I am always leery.
So if all of a sudden, you start losing much more hair than usual shortly after a hair dye application, you might hurry in to see a dermatologist who specializes in hair dyes.
An allergic reaction to hair dye can develop much later
Remember the 41-year old woman who lost 90% of her hair? Her hair did not start falling out until 6 days after she used a hair dye (source).
Dermatologists tell us that the earliest signs of allergic contact dermatitis can develop within 1–3 days of exposure to PPD-containing black henna tattoos in previously sensitized patients, and within 4–14 days in non-sensitized patients. (source)
Therefore, if you start having a cough, excessive hair loss, hives, difficulty breathing or any other symptoms we talked about earlier and you color your hair, you should get tested for an allergy to the ingredients in your hair coloring product.
By the way, I can help you access a list of ingredients if your brand is included in my Permanent Hair Color List e-book, which is a helpful tool for anybody who wants to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction.
How long does contact dermatitis last?
Dermatologists in India concluded that illnesses caused by PPD may last up to 8 years. (source)
So please make sure that you remember that your symptoms might be caused by a hair dye. Make that connection. Seek medical assistance and get tested for allergy to the ingredients in your hair dye.
By the way, PPD is not the only ingredient that may cause an allergic reaction. In my Permanent Hair Color Rating List, you will find an analysis of the ingredients of 16 different brands.
I created the Permanent Hair Color Rating List to help you choose a hair color with fewer sensitizers and learn ways to reduce risks of an allergic reaction and hair damage. Please take advantage of this unprecedented research.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have experienced an allergic reaction to hair dye, please share your experience with us in the comments. Please share this post on social media so your friends and family can benefit from this information.
Interview with Loriann about her experience with a permanent hair dye. You can access it here.
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