When it comes to skin sensitivity or allergy to cosmetic preparations hair dye allergy is the third most common after fragrance and preservatives. The ingredient that can cause all the problems is paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which is found in all permanent or oxidation hair colour's. If you know you are allergic to PPD all permanent and most semi or demi permanent hair dyes should be avoided.
You may suffer all of the following but it is most common to just notice one or two of the symptoms. Like other forms of contact dermatitis repeated exposure may cause the allergy to develop therefore alternatives to permanent hair dye should be researched as soon as an allergy is confirmed.
Mild dandruff like symptoms
Sneezing or other hay fever/cold like symptoms when ever hair dye applied
Nausea when dye applied
Sever swelling around eyes
Scaly skin on ears, face and neck
There have been two deaths attributed to anaphylaxis due to hair dye. This sever allergic reaction is incredibly rare but stands to show how serious and allergic reaction can be. Even if you have been using a product for years a patch test should always be applied and the developer (oxidizing agent) should always be mixed with the dye or tint for this type of test.
Are there any cures?
No, but you still have options when it comes to dying your hair you could try temporary rinses that will blend in gray hair and brighten you natural colour with a subtle tone.
High or low lights are another good option making sure that your hairdresser knows you have an allergy and applies the product ensuring none gets on the skin.
You also have the option of using henna vegetable dye or metal pigment dyes.
Allergic to henna?
Although extremely rare you can be allergic to pure henna. I use the term pure because more often than not what appears to be an allergic reaction to the henna is in fact a reaction to something that has been pre-mixed into it. Additives can include PPD and metallic salts and due to lax regulations in some of the countries that supply henna it is often impossible to know what is contained within them without chemical testing.
An allergic reaction to pure henna may include a tight feeling in the chest, sneezing, itchy eyes, a runny nose, and/or a dry cough. The symptoms appear soon after exposure so if you think you might be allergic to henna, dab it in the crease of your elbow and wait one hour. If you do not have any symptoms within that time, you are not allergic to henna.
Patch or skin tests
For more information on patch tests see our dedicated page.
Other things to consider
Approx. one in four people allergic to PPD are also allergic to ingredients found in semi-permanent dyes, azo dyes, these can also be found in pen inks and may be used to colour foods and pharmaceuticals. Always follow the pack instructions for a patch/skin test before using any form of hair dye.
While PPD dyes are rare in clothing, other dyes that may react like PPD (cross-react) may be present. As a result, some PPD-sensitive patients cannot wear dark clothing; especially clothing made of synthetic fibers like polyester or nylon.
About 25% of PPD sensitive people are also allergic its chemical relatives like procaine and benzocaine, found in certain local anesthetics and haemorrhoid creams, sulfa drugs and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) – found in sunscreens.