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How to spot an allergic reaction to hair dye

Written by Irina Webb

allergic reaction to hair dye PPD allergyYou 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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13 thoughts on “How to spot an allergic reaction to hair dye”

  1. Quick comment, I’ve seen several women start to have serious problems with hair dyes when they are in the later stages of peri-menopause. Up till then they seem to be OK or reactions may be mild enough not to notice. It doesn’t matter if they have been using the same product for years with no issue. This woman seems to fall into that category. Its like the body in transition can no longer effectively handle the chemical load.

    These hairdyes are a bigger problem than people realize. Thanks for bringing this to light.

      1. Loriann Deangelis

        Hello Maria, Thank you for this comment. It is interesting as i changed hair color product to what I thought was safe, healthy and Organic. I really never thought much in difference but my sister kept telling me she had a great hair color she had purchased in the Health Food Store….the sound of it just sounded better as aging I started being more cautious about the food I was eating and avoided pesticides and other smelly household products. This was quit a shock as it never occurred to me something bought at the health food store could be so toxic. On another note my sister had no idea either. She was ill over the years of using this product and could not understand why she was sick much of the time including very thinning hair. The saving grace may be my severe reaction probably saved her life. She stopped using this product after my illness and has been much healthier including her hair.

        1. Lori, You are so brave. Thanks for sharing your story. You are helping a good deal of women by bringing attention to this one thing that many of us fail to think of when we start to pay attention to our chemical exposure and clean up our environment. I struggle with this one too and it is hard because for many of us, our hair is a really big deal to us. My observation is just that from my own experience. Sending you wishes for excellent health. M-

  2. Good morning Irina,
    Thank you so much for this video with Loriann.
    I feel so bad for her experience.
    The video was very helpful and informative.
    I noticed that Loriann is coloring her hair again. What product is she using now?
    Thank you,
    Linda McLean

      1. Loriann Deangelis

        Hello Linda, I am so glad the video was helpful. I not been coloring my hair at all since the last time January 2017. This is a very long and complex story and much had to be edited to keep it in check and short. As far as my hair color I am mostly gray. During the making of the video my hair had just started growing after a enduring monthly scalp injections of steroids, that started making the follicles come to life. Unfortunately while filming I was on a very strong prescribed dose of internal Minoxidil, and much of that hair fell out after the video was made. I ditched the Minoxidil just last month and started back on the injections. Not that I want to have them but I want hair!!
        Many of my hair follicles were damaged from the hair color and now there are stubs of grey hair coming in. I have not been using anything for color because I have severe dermatitis to my scalp and still get pain as the hair dye also caused nerve damage. I have come to terms with being gray and the color is mixed, brown and gray. The strange thing is the left side of my head seemed to heal faster and the hair came in my natural color. The right side and top is still very thin and I have hope that with good nutrition and vitamins it will come in thicker. If I was to consider color it would only be organic henna and once again I do not want to irritate my scalp or traumatize it with anything. Since working with Irina I made many of changes to what I use on my body. I now use coconut oil and castor oil for soothing, a baking soda mixture to lightly wash that out and rinse with apple cider vinegar….all organic. Thank you for the nice compliment……sure needed that……I feel so ugly with the thinness and grey…..I hope in time to at least have a nice head of hair again…..

  3. Thank you Irina for doing this interview. My mum has been colouring her hair for many years and is now experiencing hair loss. I will show this to her and hope she will stop using these dangerous products.
    Love the work you do!

    1. deangelis deangelis

      Hi Robin, I hear so many of these stories now that it has happened to me. Many shed a lot of hair but may not experience the severe reaction I did. Unfortunately with me it took weeks after the use of the product before getting so ill and then the sudden chunks of hair in the shower…..It didn’t stop falling out for up to 6 months….I had a lot of hair! I would highly recommend your mom stop using hair color. I thought what I was using was automatically good for my hair just because of the name and where I purchased it…… I hope this helps her to decide….It has been a painful and life changing experience…….not worth the color I can assure her of that……The chemicals are so harsh on your body and just seep into your scalp…..Thank you for you comment and please feel free to ask….I want to help anyone avoid this tragedy…..

  4. Jeanne Yacoubou

    Although I never have colored my hair, I can imagine how horrifying this must be! I cried often during the video. I thank Loriann for having the courage to speak up. I thank Irina for doing this video. We all need to raise awareness about toxic chemicals in consumer products. Personal care products (like hair dyes) are the worst because of practically no regulation and no mandatory labeling of all ingredients.

    [Irina: If you haven’t caught the typos yet in your video, contact me offlist.]

    1. Loriann Deangelis

      I hope speaking up, telling my story with photo’s helps others realize the danger of hair dye and not get duped into believing Organic and Natural Hair Products are good for you.

    2. Loriann Deangelis

      Thank you Jeanne, It was very horrifying. After the illness, I didn’t know emotionally If I could survive. It was traumatizing for my body and my mind. I sincerely hope this saves others……..I am lucky I didn’t die from being so toxic for the amount of time I did. The worse part was not understanding how something purchased at the health food store could be so debilitating and life changing……..If I can bring awareness and save another….it would not all be in vain.

  5. I had either an allergic reaction or a burn from 2 percent peroxide (shade EQ conditioner redkin)
    I have two patches and hair thinning at fallout above the ears and the back of my hair. All along the hairline. Red scalp, no pain, red ears and the hair loss from the scalp!! I am so fearful this will not grow back. Only two weeks. Semi permanent color was used. I used cortisone cream to clear up redness. Ears are healed some redness left above the ears. Please I pray in time it will grown back

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