Hair Dye Allergies: All You Need To Know

hair dying

There’s something truly liberating about changing your appearance, and there’s rarely a more monumental way to go about it than by changing your hair color completely, whether it’s from brown to blonde or even to red. After dyeing your hair, it’s important to maintain it and keep it healthy, but for some people, that’s the least of their problems. For a small number of individuals, dyeing hair can be an uncomfortable – if not nightmarish – experience. This is due to the fact that some people are allergic to hair dyes, and suffer adverse reactions when it comes into contact with the skin and scalp. These reactions can range from minor to life-threatening, so it’s important to know how to test for them and what to do if you are allergic.

Why some people are allergic to hair dyes

The reason that some people are allergic to hair dyes has to do with the oxidative precursor molecule in many commercial hair dyes which is responsible for binding with the follicle of the hair to give it its color. The condition is called contact dermatitis and the culprit is a chemical named paraphenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD is a known irritant and allergen, and when those who are allergic come into contact with it, the body’s immune system mistakenly views it as a harmful intruder, and reacts to try and combat and protect you from it. The result is what we know as an allergic reaction. In this case, the symptoms can manifest themselves in the form of swelling and inflamed and itchy skin around the area of contact, especially around the eyes and hands. In extreme cases, people can succumb to anaphylactic shock which can result in death, although it should be stressed that for the vast majority of people, PPD products are safe to use.

How to avoid an adverse reaction

If you’re adamant that you’d like to dye your hair, then there are a number of precautions you can take. If you have any doubts as to whether or not you’re allergic, it’s always advisable to see a dermatologist or allergist who will administer a patch test. A patch test involves using a small amount of the prospective hair dye, applying it to your skin and sealing it with a patch. After leaving the patch there for 48 hours, check to see if any of your skin is irritated or inflamed. If it is, the chances are that you are allergic to one or more ingredients within the hair dye.

Safe alternatives

If you are allergic to PPD or any other ingredients in commercial hair dyes, there are still other options available if you’d like to dye your hair. Natural hair dyes made from henna and other unprocessed ingredients like coffee and certain teas can be used, but are unlikely to be as effective. There are also a number of hair dyes on the market that don’t contain PPD and instead use other, less harmful chemicals to dye the hair follicle. It should be noted, however, that there is no 100% certainty that you won’t experience an adverse reaction. When in doubt, always talk to your doctor first.

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