Could Your Hair Dye Be Causing an Allergic Reaction?

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Could Your Hair Dye Be Causing an Allergic Reaction?

It’s no secret that I love dying my hair (silver, brunette and pink all in one year!). And occasionally, I’ll do a quick dye job at home.

Whenever you introduce a new substance to your body, whether it’s internal, topical, or used on your hair, there is a possibility of an allergic reaction. Before you use a new hair dye, it’s a good idea to learn about the risks and decide what precautions to take.

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can vary depending on how your body reacts to the allergen and how severe the allergy is. Symptoms usually appear within 48 hours after contact with the hair dye.


Mild symptoms of an allergic reaction can include inflammation. You may notice that area are red or hot. This is particularly common on the scalp, forehead, neck, ears, or along the hairline. It can also occur in more sensitive areas, such as around the eyes. This redness can sometimes progress into a rash.

Skin Irritation

Aside from redness or heat due to inflammation, you may also experience skin irritation, which can take on different forms. You might notice blisters or hives, particularly in areas closest to the hair dye. Skin can also become dry and may crack. This irritation can often be painful or itchy, and certain areas can experience a stinging sensation.


In more severe allergic reaction cases, swelling is common. Swelling at the eyes, particularly near the eyelids, and around the mouth, lips, and tongue, are the most common symptoms. The hands and feet may also swell. Swelling of the throat can also occur, and this can be life-threatening. If you experience any swelling, contact a medical professional immediately.

Discomfort or Faintness

General body discomfort, including fatigue, itchiness, dizziness, or fainting is often experienced in more severe allergy cases. People suffering from this sort of allergic reaction may also have trouble focusing.


Nausea is common in allergic reactions, including reactions to hair dye. Vomiting may occur, and this symptom can point to a severe reaction.

Wheezing and Trouble Breathing

Some reactions can cause the throat to swell, and some ingredients may irritate the lungs. This can lead to wheezing, coughing, or trouble breathing. These are some of the most severe allergic reaction symptoms, and they point toward a serious health issue. If you experience any of these reactions, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Causes of Allergic Reactions

The first step to knowing how to prevent an allergic reaction is understanding why it occurs. Most people experience an allergic reaction to hair dye due to the presence of a chemical called paraphenylenediamine or PPD in the dye. PPD is found in many dark dyes, including hair dyes, temporary tattoo ink, and black henna. It’s also commonly found in printer ink.

Frequent exposure to PPD can increase the risk or severity of an allergic reaction. Even if you’ve never had a reaction before, you can suddenly see a reaction after using a hair dye with PPD in it, and if you’ve been exposed to PPD before, a reaction is much more likely.

Whenever you plan to use a hair dye, it’s a good idea to check the ingredients. PPD can be listed in several different ways, so be observant. If you’re worried about having an allergic reaction, avoid anything that includes paraphenylenediamine, PPD, phenylenediamine, PPDA, p-phenylenediamine, or 4-phenylenediamine. PPD or chemicals similar to PPD are also sometimes listed as p-diaminobenzene, 1,4-benzenediamine, 1,4-diaminobenzene, and 4-aminoaniline.

Useful Precautions

Aside from carefully reading the packaging to avoid PPD or its different forms, there are a few other steps you can take to stay safe while using hair dye.

Use Natural Dyes

Using natural dyes, such as natural henna, indigo, or other dyes derived from plants, can help you avoid chemicals that could lead to an allergic reaction. It’s important, however, to always read the ingredients, even if the box states the dye is natural or organic.

Patch Test

Even if you’ve had a good experience with a particular dye brand before, it’s always a good idea to patch test a small area before you use a large amount of hair dye. This can help you gauge how your body will react to the dye.

Follow Directions

It’s sometimes tempting to leave dye in for longer than the directions state in order to get a deeper color. However, leaving dye in for too long can damage hair and irritate the skin, so it’s always important to rinse after the time period indicated.

Wear Gloves

To limit your skin’s exposure to the dye, wear gloves as you work. It’s also a good idea to work in a well-ventilated area so as not to breathe in as many chemicals.

Rinse Thoroughly

Once the dye has set, rinse thoroughly. Any leftover dye that isn’t rinsed out can irritate the skin or may even cause an internal allergic reaction due to breathing in the fumes from the dye.

Treatment for Allergic Reactions

Wash Your Hair

As soon as you notice symptoms, wash your hair or any affected skin using warm water and gentle soap. Wash thoroughly to remove any excess dye.

Use a Topical Cream

Topical creams, particularly corticosteroid creams, can be used to reduce inflammation and irritation. You can also use a potassium permanganate cream. PPD is dangerous when it’s partially oxidized, and potassium permanganate solutions help to fully oxidize it, thus neutralizing it.

Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is a gentle, safe solution that can reduce irritation.

Take an Antihistamine

Oral antihistamines can help to reduce symptoms and may help to stop the allergic reaction.

Seek Medical Attention

If you feel you’re experiencing a severe allergic reaction, if you have trouble breathing or feel nauseous, or if your symptoms don’t improve, it’s always a good idea to seek medical attention as soon as possible. An ear, nose, and throat specialist can often help you treat an allergy quickly and effectively. A Philadelphia ENT specialist can also help you pinpoint what ingredients you’re allergic to and may be able to help you choose a safe alternative hair dye.

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