Hair Dye Allergies

Hair Dye Allergies – Introduction

About 5% of permanent hair dye users develop an allergy, mostly in the form of an allergic contact dermatitis with a redness and itch in the head area. A systemic reaction with an involvement of the whole body skin and other organs, although rare, is possible in severe cases (1).  Understandably dermatitis of the hands affects many hair stylists who are making bare skin contact with these dyes. (2). The main cause implicated in hair dye allergies, whether on the scalp, face, neck, back or hands, is a substance commonly known as PPD. The most common symptoms is an itchy scalp or burning of the scalp within a short period of time after applying the dye. Sometimes symptoms may develop days or weeks after the hair dye treatment.

PPD (4-ParaPhenyleneDiamine, C6H8N2)

PPD is widely available on the market since 1909, and it is still used in over 2 out of 3 of permanent hair dyes (2007). Commercial hair dye products typically come in two bottles –  the one with PPD-based dye (non-oxidized and thus colorless) and the other with oxidizer or developer, usually hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). In the hair dying process, the peroxide is initially used to break down the natural skin and hair pigment known as melanin. Then the PPD is used to replace the hair color. When PPD reacts with peroxide, it becomes partly oxidized and colored – it is this form that it may cause an allergy. Fully oxidized PPD does not cause an allergy, so PPD sensitive persons can safely wear fur coats dyed with PPD (3). PPD can be also found in some dark colored cosmetics and temporary tattoos. In France, Germany and Sweden, PPD was banned as a hair dye because it is believed to have serious toxic effects on and in the human body (4).

Alternative names for PPD: PPDA, Orsin, Rodol, Ursol.

PPD and PPD Related Substances

Other hair dye substances that can cause an allergic reaction includes 6-hydroxyindole, Isatin, p-Methylaminophenol (5). Substances related to PPD that may also cause an allergic reaction include :

  • Azo groups (chemically: R-N=N-R) used in temporary hair dyes, ballpoint pen inks, gasoline and as coloring agent in foods and medication.
  • Local anesthetics benzocaine and procaine.
  • Sulfa drugs.
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) in sun-protective creams.
  • Para-aminosalicylic acid used for treatment of tuberculosis.

Hair dyes producers may use misleading terms and users are always advised to discuss this terminology with a hair styling professional or even a doctor in the event of an allergy. “Hypoallergenic” hair dyes are less likely to cause allergies but an allergic reaction is still possible. “Fragrances free or unscented” only means the product has no odor but this does not necessarily mean that it is devoid of an allergenic properties. A hair dye that is completely “natural” can still trigger an allergic reaction in a sensitive person – it is a matter of individual susceptibility even though majority of the population may not experience any reaction.

Types of Allergies Caused by Hair Dyes

Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is an immunologic skin reaction occurring in a genetically predisposed individual. The risk of becoming sensitive rises with coloring frequency (6). At least 10 days after initial use of PPD is required for an individual to develop a specific sensitivity. On the second and subsequent exposures to PPD, an allergic reaction can develop within 6 to 72 hours (delayed hypersensitivity). In this process, the PPD molecules are targeted by certain immune cells (macrophages and lymphocytes) causing the formation of skin granulomas, redness or vesicles. Affected areas – the eyelids, ears, skin at hair line, beard or neck – are usually well demarcated but the irritation may extend beyond the site of contact with a hair dye. Symptoms are itching or burning feeling.

Contact urticaria can develop in minutes to about 1 hour after exposure to a hair dye. PPD triggers the production of IgE antibodies and the release of histamine causing dilatation of the blood vessels in the skin and also makes these vessels more porous. The increased blood flow along with plasma seeping into the tissue spaces of the skin resulting in skin redness and edema (swelling of the eyelids) . Contact Urticaria Syndrome (CUS) with red patches over the entire body, and bronchial asthma with wheezing, sneezing, difficult swallowing and vomiting can appear.

Anaphylactic shock is an extremely rare but life threatening condition. Facial swelling, gasping for air, drop blood pressure fall and even death can occur if  immediate medical attention is not forthcoming. In an apparent death from anaphylaxis, it was reported that a 38 year mother died in the United Kingdom in August 2000 shortly after changing her hair dye. She was an asthmatic and firstly developed an allergy with a scalp itch after using her old hair dye for some months. After changing the dye, anaphylactic shock developed and she died within an hour after applying the dye. (7, 8)

Allergy Sensitivity Test

Hair dye users can apply a solution (dye and developer mixed together) behind the ear or on the inner side of the elbow for 48 to 72 hours. If there is no irritation (itching / burning) or rash within this time then test is considered negative and the hair dye may be considered as safe to use. If a rash of a certain size (according to a test scale) develops, this is a sign of allergy.

Dermatologists will use a patch test (9). A patch with a 2% PPD in petrolatum is applied to the upper back and examined after 48 hours. Negative reactions show no skin changes; a positive reaction can vary from a mild rash to prominent blistering or even ulcerations. In the “ready-to-use” T.R.U.E. patch test, 24 possible allergenic substances, including PPD, are tested at once (10).

Treatment of PPD Allergy

In an acute severe hair dye dermatitis caused by PPD, the hair and scalp has to be washed thoroughly with a mild shampoo. A solution of 2% hydrogen peroxide or a compresses with potassium permanganate in a 1:5000 dilution is applied to completely oxidize the PPD. To soften the crust, a wet dressing of olive oil and lime may be used. Always speak to your doctor or dermatologist before undertaking these measures.

The patch test has to be conducted afterwards to determine if an allergy to PPD exists, or there is only a non-allergic contact dermatitis present. In the case of a proven allergic dermatitis, a corticosteroid cream which reduces the allergic immune response and therefore inflammation can be applied.

Currently, there are no permanent hair dyes that can be safely used by PPD allergic individuals (2007).

Hair Dye Allergies Related Images

  • Allergic contact dermatitis of the neck, caused by hair dye
  • Dermatitis behind the ear
  • Allergic contact dermatitis of the hand

Related Articles:

  • Types of Skin Rash – Terms Explained
  • Scalp Itch – Pictures
  • Facial Itch – Pictures
  • Itchy Eyelids
  • Itchy Neck
  • Causes of Itchy Skin
  • Itchy Skin – Diagnosis and Treatment


1. Hair dye allergy symptoms (
2. Allergy in hair-dressers (
3. PPD in fur coats (
4. PPD banned (
5. Hair dye subsatnces causing allergy (
6. Allergic contact dermatitis (
7. Anaphylactic shock (
8. Skin patch test (

About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page

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  • Jan Modric


    I’m not dealing with these specific mental issues here.

  • lisa

    Its interesting to come back here and revaluate all the pain and suffering people are experiencing from bloody hair dye!Still people want this forum to solve the problem! Jan is continually having to repeat and justify repeditivaly his stance! Dont we get it? And we repeat the injury to our bodies over just to cover grey! Im seeing beautiful grey men and women around lately with great skin, bodies and teeth.Healthy people do look great no matter what colour their hair! Jan perhaps you could open another forum here where we all post photos of ourselves under the influence of PPD and give those who persistantly want you to endorse hair products some perspective! Perhaps we could then try and guess which products did the most damage for whom and how? 🙂

  • weepyscalp

    Just thought I would pass on an update. I’m still itchy, but it is (finally!) confined to my head. My hair has grown enough these last two months that some of my hair falls in my eyes. Whether or not that’s related to the fact that I seem to have pink-eye, I don’t know. The kids don’t have it, which is odd. I have not been able to do the T.R.U.E. test yet since I am still reacting. I still have the occasional hives on one leg. I will NEVER do this again.

  • Jan Modric


    to me, descriptions of swelling and burning posted so far were impressive enough…I don want mentioning any brand name in a positive or negative way, since I don’t want to promote or harm any producer for no reason – it’s about a reaction of your skin to various substances that can be found even in some natural products.

  • lisa

    You dont need to explain yourself continually Jan. I feel sorry your having to for some.

  • jen


    Great comments.
    Do these people you see around with great teeth & gray hair, do you think they have not had lots of work done to their teeth, caps, bleaching, cleaning, veneers….even false teeth.

    Their great bodies, all natural too…..not excessive with exercise or supplements, maybe even surgery.

    Skin, of course all natural there too….no expensive creams, no botex or other treatments, all natural

    There are all sorts of aids in all these areas, one cannot say if they do or they don’t use artificial aids, cosmetics, technology to help their own personal goals

  • sam

    I been looking up different hair dye allergies and cant seem to find anything with my experience i been dying my hair for 15 years all colors type and brands with no problem the one day i went to dye my hair and the moment the smell hit me my face and chest turned blood red i felt like i couldnt breath and like passing out once i washed my hair out and went outside away from the smell i felt fine i tried it again with two other brands and colors and the same thing happend i went to the doctor they said dosnt sound like anything they heard of and to take benodryl do you have any idea whats happend i really would like to dye my hair again.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Sam

    We cannot say with any degree of certainty but it is possible that you have developed a sensitivity to hair dyes. If it was only with one dye then you could argue that it was a tainted batch and so on but considering that this is arising with other types of hair dyes as well, it is possible that this a sensitivity to the active ingredients. It is however strange that you have not experienced any localized symptoms (on the scalp) so we would have to assume that the airborne components (fumes) are irritating the respiratory passages.

  • diane

    Welcome Dr Chris

    May I ask what are your views on passing on some details of products that have worked for some people with out taking responsibility for them?

    We are here as a group of people seeking a solution to dying our hair, we don’t want to go grey just yet.

    I am not here to sell a product, my interests are only to share the details of a product that has worked for me as a brunette



  • Dr. Chris

    Hello Dianne

    The editorial guidelines are such that we cannot promote any product or allow any user to promote a product. Advertisers wishing to market their products on this website had best contact the admin staff to discuss it further. Any product that makes claims about its efficacy will need to verify this with the results of clinical trials. Individual experiences are not accepted. You may however relay your personal experience but the name of the product will not be published. Considering your location Diane, you should be aware that this website has a mainly US based readership so if you opt to advertise on this website, you will need to approval of a the relevant US authorities.

  • Diane

    Dr Chris

    I think you have miss-understood. I am not here to advertise or sell a product.

    I understand your “guidelines” but I seem to want to challenge them in frustration to the constant queries here.

    So the fact that I am in AUS, makes no difference to me or others with a similar problem. Its a world wide concern. I have been contacted by at-least 6 people from this site, a lady from South Africa to just point out the audience to you as well….

    Again I have told my story here.
    But lets face it, we need alternative products….we don’t need to be told we are having a allergic reaction…..when your face, head swells, weeps, itches, sheds skin, blisters after hair coloring…..we know we are….

    In fact the product I do purchase is from the USA….yes we can purchase from any country &
    Delivered all the way here to Australia


  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Diane

    Sorry if I misunderstood your query. In a day we delete scores of comments by advertisers attempting to market their products in these comment boxes. We do not recommend any alternatives. Certain advertisers do market their products in the Google Ads boxes above but this is not in our control. Advertisers in those instances deal directly with the Google Adwords campaign.

    I am unsure as to what you are seeking – as said, if it is advertising, contact the admin staff or preferably advertise via Google Adwords and opt to market on this site. If you are asking me to discuss alternatives, well, that is against our guidelines because we cannot promote any alternative products. Unless the manufacturer or distributors of this product intends on marketing on this platform, we cannot say much. I am unsure where you come in with your association with this US product.

    Please do consider the fact that we are here to guide readers, not serves as a medical consultation, make a diagnosis or prescribe any treatment. Ultimately if readers are unhappy, they can simply close their browser. If advertisers or product manufacturers want to advertise they can do so with Google Adwords. Remember that the ads seen in each country varies based on your geographical location – this is not in our hands but part of the Google Adwords program.

    Irrespective of how you feel about our “guidelines” or how previous members of the Health Hype team responded to previous comments, our editorial guidelines have always been in place and I follow them as far as possible. If readers are frustrated, they can voice their opinion and we will direct them accordingly – this is a free service intended to help readers but at times we end up being abused. It is this type of behavior that prompts the editors to consider closing these comment boxes. Remember the internet is a free medium – if you wish to share you opinion on it, you are entitled to do so on your own website or blog.

  • Flash

    Diane from Australia, I’d like to know what you are using.
    Its a great forum but I would like to know about products people have found to use. I don’t see a way to contact forum users personally though and hate to post My email on a forum.. any idea’s?

  • Dr. Chris

    Flash and Diane

    We will not allow any person to post their email address as it is only a matter of time until they contact us and ask us to remove it due to spammers targeting them. Additional work on our side. Instead, I would advise users to use social media sites. Place your social media username in the Name section of the comment box and NOT within the post comment. If Diane is interested, she can always advertise on the site.

  • Donna

    I too have dyed my hair for years, up untill 2 years ago. Had a very bad reaction, weeping, burning, itching scalp. I can now only use a non permanent hair color, the kind that washs out in 10 washes. Ita a PITA but at least I can still color my hair. D a test on your inside arm crease, before trying though..just to make sure.

  • Vanessa

    I have been dying my hair for many years, and suddenly I have developed an allergic reaction, along my hairline and behind my ears, it was pretty serious, I am on medication, but I desperately need to dye my hair, is there anything I can use, I was told to use non-permanent hair dye, Do you think it will be alright to use?

  • Hi Vanessa. Allergies like this can suddenly start up even after years of exposure to the dye. Sometimes it can be a “bad” batch of the same due that you have used for so long. However, it is best to avoid it at this point especially since you are using medication. Yes, “milder” dying agents are often less of an irritant but unfortunately do not have the same long lasting effect. If you are uncertain about a possible reaction, then try a small amount on your forearm and wait to see if there is any reaction. If it is all clear then you can attempt to use it on your scalp. But first let the inflammation on the scalp subside before you dye your hair or you could just worsen the condition.

  • maryan

    I bleach my facial hair even though I hardly had any any moustache my whole face went literally black and it was sooo sore and itchy and that whole entire day my salon lady gave me aloe vera gel. I kept washing my face with very cold water and put Aloe Vera gel literally every time the gel dried I put it on again and again and by night time it was all ok again it was so bad I didn’t think it would get better but seriously aloe Vera gel helped me soooo sooo much it does wonders!!!!

  • Jennifer

    Dyed my hair a week ago and the next day my scalp was so itchy like I had head lice or something, then my ears and my neck started to feel itchy as well. My ears were red and swollen and my neck was also red and felt like I had insect bites. Can someone tell me why this happened to me because this never happened before when I usual dyed my hair! Pls help!!