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Allergic to Hair Dye

Now and then a report is seen in the media of an individual experiencing a severe allergic reaction to hair dye. They are often pictured with swollen faces, burnt skin, ulcers, and generally appearing to look very unwell from the reaction. In an absolute worst-case scenario, the individual can experience such a severe reaction that death is the result.

There are two major points you must remember when it comes to hair dye allergies:

  1. If you have ever had a reaction to any type of dye or tint in the past, then DO NOT attempt to colour your hair or tint your eyebrows etc. without going to see your doctor first. A specialist will be able to confirm your allergy, and then you can look for alternative colouring methods that may be available to you.
  2. When it comes to dye of any form, caution must always be taken. A professional salon will always make sure their clients are safe, and should carry out a skin test on all clients both old and new. Allergies can suddenly develop even if you have been colouring your hair for years. Please be patient and cooperative with a salon when they ask you to complete a skin test. They are doing it for your own safety.

What is causing the reaction?

Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is the active chemical ingredient within hair colour that is most often responsible for allergic reactions. Be aware that a chemical called para-toluenediamine (PTD) can also cause a reaction. The main cause though is more often than not PPD, and a good point to remember is: the darker the hair colour, the more PPD it will contain. Bleach contains no PPD, as this is used to ‘lift’ the hair or strip colour from it. Regardless of this, a professional should always carry out bleaching, as it has been known to cause burns on the skin if used incorrectly.

What are the symptoms?

An allergy to PPD can happen at any point, even if you have been colouring your hair for years with no issues. Mild reactions can involve dermatitis – an inflammatory skin reaction – where the colour has made contact with the skin, but these should not be taken lightly. These ‘mild’ symptoms can quickly turn severe; so make sure that if you do experience a reaction that you seek medical help and advice as soon as possible.

In severe cases there may be deep reddening and swelling of the scalp and surrounding areas, and on rare occasions, the individual can experience life-threatening anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction.

What if I’m allergic?

Firstly, if you believe you have an allergy or have experienced a mild reaction in the past, then get your GP to refer you to a dermatologist who will correctly diagnose your allergy. If it is confirmed that you are allergic to PPD, then you must avoid ALL contact with that chemical substance. We will give you some options for colouring further down the page.

With an allergy it will be very important that you check the ingredients on all beauty and hair products you plan to use in the future. Often, a reaction to PPD can make you more sensitive to other chemicals, so you need to be very careful going forward. If you are going to the salon for a colour process, you must tell the colourist of any previous allergies you have had in the past so they can put your safety first and foremost.

After a reaction, some individuals decide to go ‘all natural’ in their beauty approach. But, be aware that although the product may say ‘natural’, it doesn’t mean that it is any safer for you, as chemicals can still be hidden within these products. See our article here on clean beauty for more information.

What else could I react to?

As mentioned earlier, it is not uncommon for individuals who are allergic to PPD to experience allergies with other chemical substances. This is known as cross-reactivity. The main substances you need to be aware of are:

  • Benzocaine
  • Procaine
  • Para-aminosalicylic
  • Ammonia
  • Resorcinol
  • Sulfonamides
  • Hydrochlorothiazide

Also, you need to be aware of using henna. Henna often has PPD within it in order for the black temporary tattoo to be effective on the skin. EU law actually prohibits PPD to be used directly on the skin due to the damage that it can cause.

What are my options now?

Firstly, you must be aware that all permanent colours will always use some chemicals, as chemicals are needed in order to colour the hair. If a brand is saying it is PPD-free etc. a skin test must still be carried out, as the dye itself will still contain chemicals that are needed for the dye to penetrate the hair and actually colour it.

Our advice is that if you have had an allergic reaction to PPD in the past – no matter how big or small – than hair colour is no longer a safe option for you.

Root Concealers:

No longer being able to colour your hair can be a huge adjustment for a lot of women and men. Embracing your natural colour – or greys – is often the best and safest route from here on in. If you only have a few greys at the roots, then you can use a root concealer to help disguise them. There are plenty of these powders, sprays and mascaras on the market – from Fudge to Oribe to John Frieda – there’s one to suit every budget. Before using these though, do place a small dot of the product on a patch of skin – either the inside of your arm near your elbow or behind your ear – to make sure you’re okay with the product.

Colour Enhancers:

Another option to help boost your own natural colour is to use a colour enhancer shampoo and conditioner, such as Aveda’s colour enhancing range. These products help enrich your natural colour by making it more vibrant and shiny. They also help to balance tones and take away any brassiness. Although these are shampoos and conditioners, they do still contain chemicals, so again, and yes we are repeating ourselves, make sure a skin test is carried out before using them.

Seek A Professional:

Now, this next piece of advice needs careful consideration and researching. A highly-trained and fully qualified colour specialist may be able to help you by using highlights in order to give you some coverage and colour. The issue with hair dye happens when the dye itself makes contact with the skin. This means, and it’s not in every case, that highlights may still be a possibility for those with allergies. At the very least, it can help fade and blend your roots as you adjust to going au natural. Bleaching is another option, which can lift your hair to help blend the grey. A professional within a professional salon must carry out this type of treatment, and you must explain your allergy history to them. You can use our salon search to find a qualified colour salon near you. Book a consultation with their colour specialist and go and speak to them about your situation. If the specialist feels it is too risky, then they will tell you there and then.


Wigs have become extremely popular over the last few years, no thanks to the Kardashian’s daily hair colour changes turning out to be wigs. A wig can be a great investment to help you grow out old colour, and you can buy them – and dye them – in a huge range of colours too. A salon stylist will also be able to cut and shape your wig so it suits you – no one will ever know!

Natural and Organic Hair Colours:

There are a few brands on the market now that are catering to the natural beauty movement, and with that they have included hair colour. Now, although we are recommending these brands, please be aware that they are still hair colours, and so they still contain substances to colour the hair. With that, you MUST always carry out a skin test prior to use!

Saach Organics – using Ayurveda and natural treatments from India, Saach Organics has a range of hair colours that contain all natural herbs and oils whilst eliminating nasty chemical substances, including PPD.

Original & Mineral – O&M are the pioneers of CCT, or Clean Colour Technology. Their hair colours contain active minerals and natural extracts that help to deliver beautiful results without the use of PPD, Resorcinol and Ammonia.

Natulique Organic Beauty – Professional colour brand, Natulique has a wide range of PPD, Paraben and Lauryl Sufate free colours. These colours are in-salon only, and so you will need to find a salon that specialises in using this brand.

So there you have it. All you need to know on colour allergies and the options available to you. Remember, and we cannot stress this enough, always carry out a skin test and try not to colour your hair at home – leave it to the professionals!