What You Need to Know About Hair Dye Allergic Reactions

hair dye allergic reaction
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Not a natural brunette or blonde? Be cautious when coloring your hair. Hair color products include a number of ingredients which can get the skin irritated and cause different allergic reactions. Here’s what you need to know about these skin reactions.

Causes: Ingredients That May Cause Allergic Reactions

 If you have experienced an allergic reaction to hair dye, it's probably caused by one ingredient or compound, not the entire product. Most hair dye allergic reactions are triggered by a chemical called para-phenylenediamine (PPD). Besides the commercial hair dyes, this compound can also be found in gasoline, tattoo inks, and printer inks. 

PPD is usually blended with an oxidizer, such as peroxide, and it commonly comes in a separate bottle. That makes it more irritating to the skin. Another compound in hair dyes that can give rise to an allergic reaction in some people is PTD (para-toluenediamine); however, it's better tolerated than PPD.

The names of hair dye products could be deceiving, as they usually include words such as “herbal” or “natural” on the boxes. So, if you want to find out what’s truly inside the bottle, make sure to check out the ingredients label. You can find PPD in commercial hair dye products under different names. In particular, look out for the following terms:

  • PPDA

  • PPD

  • paraphenylenediamine

  • phenylenediamine

  • 1,4-diaminobenzene

  • 1,4-benzenediamine

  • 4-phenylenediamine

  • 4-aminoaniline

  • p-diaminobenzene

  • p-phenylenediamine

Hair Dye Allergy Symptoms

There is a difference between an allergy and a sensitivity to hair dye. While a sensitivity is associated with dermatitis symptoms like stinging and burning, allergy symptoms may range from gentle to very serious. Depending on the severity, symptoms may last from several days to a few weeks. In most cases, these symptoms manifest shortly after application of hair dye — up to 24 hours.

Itchy head hair dye

Some of the most common allergy symptoms are as follows:

  • Welts or blisters

  • Itching

  • Burning sensation

  • Stinging

  • Red rash

  • Swelling of the face or scalp

  • Swollen hands, feet, eyelids, or lips

In rare cases, a hair dye may cause anaphylaxis, an acute, severe allergic reaction that can be deadly if not treated properly and timely.

Aside from skin reactions like burning, stinging, and rashes, anaphylaxis symptoms may also include:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Swelling of the tongue and throat

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

  • Fainting

Diagnosis: Hair Dye Intolerance

It can be difficult to identify the above-mentioned symptoms because the reactions typically don't occur upon the first usage of a hair dye product.

However, when you apply it a second time, your body will highly likely become sensitized to a certain substance and reactions will start appearing. With more applications, the allergic reactions will get worse.

Even if you aren't allergic to hair dye, it's also possible to start reacting after a while. That leads to non-allergic symptoms like contact dermatitis. Such a reaction may occur when you switch brands with various dye formulations.

Sparks Long Lasting Bright Hair Color

How To Prevent Hair Dye Allergies

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. That said, you should aim to prevent reactions to hair dyes.It can be fairly easy if you follow a few steps, such as:

  • General precautions ― Be sure to closely follow the instructions provided for any particular hair dye in order to prevent possible reactions. Don't leave a dye product too long because it can start irritating your skin. Whenever you handle or apply a hair dye, make sure to wear gloves. It's also important to thoroughly wash your scalp and hair upon application.

  • Patch test ― This test involves applying precise, small amount of an allergen substance on a small skin portion to check for a reaction. You can do at-home patch tests on your own by putting a hair dye mixture on the upper back or behind the ear. Any bad reaction or irritation can be a sign of hair dye intolerance and allergy, so your best bet is to avoid that product altogether.

Allergy clinics ― Consider going at an allergy clinic if hair dyeing or home patch testing has become your regular necessity. Allergy clinics perform specific patch tests to determine which chemical(s) you are allergic to. Every possible irritant is checked separately against the hair dye ingredients to identify which one has caused an allergic reaction.

Treating Hair Dye Allergies

Hydrogen peroxide

If any allergic symptom shows up, make sure to immediately wash your hair. The dye surplus can be effectively removed through plenty of gentle washes and multiple rinses with warm, clean water. You can also make use of a mild shampoo or mild soap for this purpose.

In addition, there are also many other methods to get treat hair dye reactions at home. We recommend trying these options:

  • Hydrogen peroxide ― Being a mild antiseptic, hydrogen peroxide can soothe the skin by reducing blistering and irritation. Once the excess dye is washing out, a solution of 2% hydrogen peroxide can help you rinse your hair. That will fully oxidize the PPD, making it nonreactive. Note that this method has mixed results, so you should avoid it if your symptoms get worse.

  • Creams ― Creams that contain alcohol may cause skin irritation in some people. In cases of mild allergic reactions, you can use natural creams as well as wet compresses of lime or olive oil. When it comes to stronger allergic reactions, go with steroid creams because they are capable of reducing inflammation with irritation and swelling. Topical corticosteroid creams are often used for the treatment of contact dermatitis symptoms like itching and skin rash. 

  • Shampoos ― Mild shampoos are also beneficial for hair dye reactions on the scalp, especially those that contain topical corticosteroids like Clobex.

  • Potassium permanganate ― A solution of this chemical can treat dye symptoms by oxidizing PPD. That can do the trick.

  • Oral antihistamines ― Over-the-counter antihistamines (like Benadryl) can lessen itching and skin inflammation. So, consider applying them if you have an allergic reaction caused by a hair dye.

Sometimes the symptoms may get worse and make you distressed. If you've tried all of these methods and your symptoms haven’t improved at all, be sure to contact your doctor as soon as possible.

(Last Updated On: April 22, 2018)

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