It may be hard to dye your hair. Dyeing your hair a new color can cause allergic reactions. It can make you itchy or have an irritated scalp. Sometimes, it even makes people swollen and red. You might not want to dye your hair if you are allergic to dyes because the reaction could be worse than just some irritation and redness on your skin. There are scary stories about what happens when someone is allergic to dyes on the internet, so don’t use them unless you know for sure that you won’t be allergic!
For example, a woman was put in the hospital because she had a severe and rare reaction to chemicals in a box of dye that she was using at home. Her head swelled up because she has an allergy to the chemical paraphenylenediamine (PPD) used in permanent hair dye. PPD typically isn’t included in semi-permanent dye formulas. PPD has been known to cause severe allergic reactions, even though approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in hair dyes.
Some people have been sharing videos of their post-dye job swelling on the app TikTok. One user named @urdeadright posted a video with photos and text that says, “Remembering the time I tried going blonde and almost died.” The person did not mention if they had side effects from PPD.
Now, let’s get something straight. Not every allergic reaction to hair dye is this bad, and many people color their hair without a problem or any allergic reaction to hair dye at all. Still, it is best to be prepared with Benadryl on hand if you have specific allergies that could be made worse by the dye in your hair. If you had severe reactions to any of the PPD-containing dyes in the past, keep away from similar products which contain chemicals. Non-toxic and natural versions of a product are less likely to cause after-effects.
If you think that you have a hair dye allergy, here is some more information.
Hair Dye Allergy Symptoms
Ava Shamban, M.D., dermatologist and founder of AVA MD, says that about 1-2% of people get an extreme allergic reaction to PPD in hair dye. Para-toluene diamine (PTD) is another common chemical found in hair dye, but it’s generally better tolerated than PPD. PTD can be found in many types of commercial permanent boxed hair dyes for DIYers at home and those used at salons.
If you are allergic to something, do a test on your skin before using it. You might not have noticed that you were allergic to the product before, but once you do this test, if there is any reaction, then stop using it. This will keep your allergy from happening again. When you are allergic to something, even if you once were not allergic and did not have a bad reaction, then the next time it can cause a bad reaction. This is true for hair dye. Even if you have used it before without any problems, the next time, it might give you an allergic reaction. DermNet NZ says: “It does not accumulate or remain in the body, but it is like pulling the wild card out of a deck. One never knows when an allergy will happen.” If you are suspicious that you might be allergic to hair dye, talk to your colorist or dermatologist.
If you have an extreme allergic reaction to hair color, you may have an itchy throat. You may also have trouble breathing, or your eyelids and head might swell. This is not usually the case, though. The most common reaction is contact dermatitis, which can happen in many ways, like a mild rash, dry skin, and red patches of skin. When you use hair dye with a chemical called PPD, it can cause your skin to feel uncomfortable and even start to get irritated quickly. This happens in 25% or more of people who use hair dye. You can avoid this by using fragrance-free shampoo for sensitive scalps.
“Generally, symptoms are redness, flaking, inflammation, blistering or swelling in the scalp and around the face, ears, eyes, and lips,” says Craig Ziering. This can be a sign of hair loss. But more extreme reactions also happen when someone has a bad reaction to the medicine. He also notes that anaphylaxis is possible. A person can react to something, and it won’t be good. It could make the person get swollen, or they might not be able to breathe. They need medical help right away.
Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include the same stinging, burning, swelling, or rash as before. But it will move to the tongue and throat. This will then make it hard for someone to breathe with feelings of faintness or nausea coming on.
Can You Still Color Your Hair if You Have an Allergy?
There is no clear answer because if you have had a bad allergic reaction to hair color before, you need to be careful. If you have had a bad reaction before, read the box of hair color that you are using carefully and talk to your colorist about it. People are worried about the chemicals in hair dye. Studies show that these chemicals can hurt people. There is a lot of research on this topic, and people want to know more about it. But for now, PPD can be found in many of the items you see on store shelves and salon. So it is essential to watch out for any signs of side effects or symptoms. If you experience an allergic reaction to hair color, even mild contact dermatitis, stop using the product and talk with your colorist about other options in the future.
Natural hair dye that does not contain PPD (or another chemical) should not cause a reaction. Pure henna usually cannot dye hair, but it is safer than other types of dyes. If you need to dye your hair with a type of dye, make sure it doesn’t have ammonia in it. That will be better for your health and the health of your hair. Talk to someone if you have questions about what kind of dye you should use.
“Natural hair dye or a chemical-free formula should not cause an allergic reaction.” Dr. Ziering says. (But if you don’t want to use natural hair dye, then there are other options. Permanent dyes that are PPD-free and semi-permanent dyes that do not have PPD and color depositing conditioners can be used.) “However, we are all susceptible to contact dermatitis in some form, so understanding the ingredients we put on our skin and scalp matters.”
What to Do If You Have an Allergic Reaction to Hair Color
Ideally, you or your colorist would do a patch test before trying a dye. You want to see if you have any allergies to the dye. If not, then you can use it again in the future. If you are allergic to it, you need to see a dermatologist for a PPD-specific patch test. They will put low percentages of this dye on your skin and check if there is an allergic reaction.
Hair dye allergies can happen to anyone. It is important to be careful when using hair dye. You should measure any changes in the skin or if you notice any irritation on your skin because you might be allergic. If you have a severe reaction, see a doctor right away!
“People usually take oral medications for more severe cases,” says Dr. Ziering. “Patients may be prescribed oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and antihistamines to relieve itching or antibiotics to fight any bacterial infection that could happen.” (FYI: A bacterial infection could happen if there are wet and weeping sores, which will create an environment for harmful bacteria to thrive, according to an article published in Archives of Dermatology.)
If you have a less severe reaction to something like contact dermatitis, then it is good to use things with calming ingredients such as aloe vera, chamomile, and colloidal oatmeal. For example, suppose your skin is red and itchy from contact dermatitis. In that case, you can try the Green Leaf Naturals Organic Aloe Vera Gel Spray (Buy It for $15 on Amazon), and also spray it until the itchiness goes away.
When you see allergy symptoms, you should rinse your hair quickly. Use warm water and gentle shampoo that is fragrance-free or has natural ingredients. You can also use a shampoo with a topical corticosteroid like Clobex (that helps control inflammation).
When you wash your hair, make sure you rinse off what you can. If there is any dye or product on the hair that did not been set yet, then it washes right off. If there is any smudge of dye on your scalp or forehead, it will also wash off. If this happens to you and you have a reaction to it, contact your doctor for help. For severe cases, you may also use a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. This solution may help calm the skin and reduce irritation or blister on the skin or scalp.
If you have an allergic reaction to hair color, it will range from mildly annoying to downright scary. But if you follow the advice of experts and watch for ingredients like PPD, you should be ok. But remember: if the after-effects of your dye job are causing you concern, go to your doctor right away.