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  5. Hair Dye Allergy: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments & Preventive Tips

Have you experienced a burning sensation on your scalp and nearby skin during hair dye application? If yes, you may have a hair dye allergy.

While in some cases, your hair stylist may tell you that it's absolutely normal to feel skin and eye burning during hair color treatments, do not ignore these symptoms. These could indicate hair dye allergy, leading to severe skin reactions later.

Read on to know everything about hair dye allergy, treatments to control it, and some essential preventive measures.

Our Ayurvedic Doctor Speaks

‘’Most people develop a full-blown allergic reaction to hair dyes during its second or third use, as by then the skin becomes sensitized to the harsh chemicals.‘’

-Dr. Zeel Gandhi (Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine & Surgery), Chief Ayurvedic Doctor, Vedix

How Often Do Hair Dyes Cause An Allergic Reaction?

As many as 42% of people who dye their hair report mild reactions like headache and itchiness in the scalp. Of these, 67% experience the symptoms within an hour of using the hair dye [1].

Also, hair dye allergies are more common in individuals over 50 years of age [2]. This is because the body’s immunity to fight allergens reduces as we grow older and the skin becomes more susceptible to react to foreign elements.

‘’Most people develop a full-blown allergic reaction to hair dyes during its second or third use, as by then the skin becomes sensitized to the harsh chemicals,’’ says Dr. Zeel Gandhi, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor at Vedix.

So, while you might not think much of general itching at first, localized discomfort is definitely a preliminary sign of a potential allergy. Also, people who are severely allergic to hair dyes can have a bad reaction after the first use itself.

How Can You Tell If You Are Allergic To Hair Dye?

The most common symptom of a hair dye allergy is contact dermatitis. This is a condition where people with sensitive skin and hair start developing the following problems after coming in contact with harmful chemicals.

1. Itchiness and angry rashes

2. Inflammation, dryness, and redness

3. Stinging or burning sensation

4. Irritation in the neck, ears and eye area

5. Swollen or blistered skin

6. Skin discoloration

The symptoms can show on your face, ear, scalp, and neck within 48 hours of the first application of the color. Apart from these areas, hair dyes also usually end up on your hands and arms while applying. So make sure you wash it off to eliminate the possibility of a bad spread.

‘’In rare cases, hair dyes can cause anaphylaxis, which is a fatal allergic reaction. Its symptoms include dizziness, nausea, swelling of limbs, eyes, lips, or tongue, raised bumps on the skin, confusion, and a drop in blood pressure,’’ says Dr. Zeel.

Since the symptoms spread to the entire body, anaphylaxis can become life-threatening (leading to coma or even heart failure) if not immediately treated. In such a case, you must go to an emergency room [3].

Which Ingredients In Hair Dyes Cause An Allergic Reaction?

Hair dye allergies are caused when your skin does not respond well to the chemical ingredients present in the synthetic color. The main allergen usually present in chemical hair dyes is para-phenylenediamine (PPD).

When PPD comes in contact with your scalp, it becomes partially oxidized. Then, your immune system forms antigens and tries to fight this partially oxidized foreign substance, triggering allergic reactions in your body [4].

PPD is present in over 65% of commercial hair dyes. The chemical penetrates the hair shaft and clings to the protein in your skin. Notably, PPD becomes safe to use once it is fully oxidized.

Also, the concentration of PPD is higher in dark brown and black dyes. Hence, it is better to avoid these shades if you are sensitive to PPD.

Other chemicals in hair dye that work as allergens or lead to contact dermatitis are-

1. Cobalt

2. Glyceryl thioglycolate

3. Para-toluenediamine sulfate (PTDS)

4. Ammonia

5. Resorcinol

6. Peroxide

  • Tattoo ink, gasoline, black rubber, textile dyes, and printer ink also contain the chemical PPD.

How To Do Hair Dye Allergy Test?

It is always a good idea to conduct an allergy test to see how your skin reacts to chemical products. Here are the steps to conduct a patch test:

1. Visit your doctor or dermatologist. They will place a patch on your skin containing potential allergens.

2. The patch is removed after 48 hours.

3. You could experience minor redness or small bumps. They may or may not be an allergic reaction.

4. After four days of initial placement, the doctor determines the final reactions that have taken place and will tell you if there are any allergies.

5. You can then crosscheck your list of possible irritants against the ingredients of the hair dye you want to use.

To do an allergy patch test at home, take a small amount of hair dye and apply it behind your ear. Let it dry and observe if you feel any irritation or skin discomfort in that area within the next 2-3 days.

How Do You Get Rid Of An Allergic Reaction To Hair Dye?

1. Medical Treatments To Get Rid Of Hair Dye Allergy

A. Topical corticosteroid creams that are available over the counter (OTC) can give some relief from the pain and irritation caused by hair dye allergy. Make sure you do not apply these creams around your eyes and mouth [5].

B. You can also take oral antihistamines like Benadryl to reduce skin inflammation caused due to hair dye allergy.

C. Your dermatologist may prescribe you stronger corticosteroids in case of a severe allergic reaction. These could be in the form of steroid creams, lotions, eye drops, ear drops, or pills, which would give fast relief from swelling.

D. Potassium permanganate completely oxidizes PPD and soothes the allergy. Add 1 ml water to a pinch of potassium permanganate crystals and apply the solution to the affected areas.

E. OTC hydrogen peroxide also acts as an oxidizing agent. Apply the liquid to the affected area for 2-4 minutes and wash it off. It is a mild antiseptic, which gives instant relief from itchiness and burning sensation.

F. Moisturize the affected area gently with a medical emollient or cream.

Word of Caution

Please consult your pharmacist or dermatologist at every step. Buying strong medication without a prescription can make matters worse for your skin, especially for sensitive areas like the face and neck. Unsupervised treatment can also make the allergy a chronic condition.

1. What To Do If You Have A Reaction During Hair Dyeing?

If you start experiencing a severe allergic reaction instantly while dyeing your hair, you need to rush to a hospital and seek medical help immediately. Doctors may give you an adrenaline injection to control the reaction quickly.

2. Natural Home Remedies To Control Hair Dye Allergy

A. Honey

Put a few drops of honey on a cotton ball and dab it on your skin to reduce inflammation. As a traditional remedy with immunomodulatory (modulating the immune system) properties, honey heals skin conditions caused due to contact dermatitis [6].

B. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera gel can heal wounds and reduce swelling with its anti-inflammatory properties. Just make sure you scoop out fresh aloe vera directly from the plant. Due to the gel consistency, you can apply it on the skin directly and leave it overnight as well. This will reduce itching and redness.

C. Coconut Oil

Massage the affected scalp and skin areas with coconut oil. It has analgesic (pain-reducing) properties that will soothe your irritated scalp. It is also a great moisturizer [7].

D. Chamomile Tea

Make a cup of chamomile tea and let it cool down. Wash your hair with this tea to reduce inflammation in the scalp. This has a counter effect on PPD.

E. Olive Oil

Apply olive oil to the affected area 2-3 times a day. You can also mix it with honey to make a hair mask and let it work its magic on your scalp overnight. Loaded with antioxidants, olive oil heals skin problems and fights allergens.

F. Sesame Oil

Massage the affected area with sesame oil for fast relief. The sesamin in the oil has anti-inflammatory properties. It also prevents greying of hair [8].

G. Witch Hazel

Apply witch hazel (a herbal shrub) extract to the affected area. This is an excellent remedy for hair dye allergies. It has bioactive compounds like tannins and proanthocyanidins, which help soothe rashes and eliminate itchiness and swelling.

H. Yogurt

Mix a cup of homemade yogurt with 3 spoons of lemon juice and apply it as a hair mask. Lemon juice has anti-inflammatory properties, while yogurt has lactic acid which calms down your scalp irritation.

I. Oatmeal

Soak uncooked oatmeal in lukewarm bathwater for 15-20 minutes and then shower with it. This reduces irritation and itching.

J. Basil

Apply fresh juice of basil leaves to the allergic reaction. The herb has thymol and camphor, known for their anti-itching properties.

K. Mint

Boil fresh mint leaves for 10 minutes and let it cool. Strain out the leaves. You can rub the concoction on the irritated areas. Also, you can freeze the concoction and rub the mint ice cubes on your skin for fast relief.

L. Shampoo + Baking Soda

You can wash your hair with an Ayurvedic shampoo to remove excess dye from your scalp.

Mix some baking soda and water in the shampoo to make a paste. Leave it on your hair for 30 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. This will remove all residue of the hair dye and help you with fast recovery.

3. Alternatives To Chemical Hair Dye

Alternatives To Chemical Hair Dye

Natural or herbal hair colors are the most fool-proof way to avoid any unwanted hair allergies and achieve naturally shiny hair. Here are some natural alternatives to your chemical hair dyes.

A. Black walnut hair dye

B. Herbal paste of gooseberry

C. Henna

D. Indigo and vegetable-based dyes

E. Semi-permanent and vegan dyes that are proven to be chemical-free by independent laboratories

Vedix Tip:

Organic henna is a great conditioner for your hair. Please note that synthetic henna contains PPD. So, make sure you buy 100% pure and unadulterated henna.

4. Ayurvedic Medicines To Control Hair Dye Allergy

Ayurveda suggests two types of medicinal solutions for hair dye allergies as below:

A. Internal Medication

Ayurvedic medicines such as saptamrita loha, gulkhand, gandhaka rasayana, arogyavardhini, sarivadyasava, etc. are generally prescribed for allergies. These constitute 100% natural herbs, which work to remove the allergic agents in your bloodstream and soothe the skin.

B. External Medication

Ayurvedic purification agents such as mandara taila, bhringaraja taila, kayyunyadi keram, chemparuthyadi keram, etc. are generally used for topical applications in allergy treatments.

Ayurveda has proven herbal concoctions and pastes that are perfectly safe for all age groups, to treat hair dye allergies.

Important Note:

It is highly recommended that you consult an Ayurvedic practitioner for the prescription of the right medicine and the right dosage for your allergy.

How To Prevent Hair Dye Allergy?

1. Wear gloves while applying hair dye or if in a salon, ensure your hairdresser is wearing gloves.

2. Do not leave the dye in your hair longer than the required time.

3. After application, wash your hands with soap to remove any hair dye residue that might have gotten into your skin. Make sure to never cook or eat with hair dye on your hands.

4. Black and dark brown hair colors contain a greater amount of PPD. So avoid them if you are sensitive to contact dermatitis or allergens.

5. If you have temporary tattoos, then don’t use chemical hair dyes. These tattoos already have PPD in them and using a hair dye would only make you more prone to an allergic reaction [9].

6. Read the instructions carefully on the hair dye for any dos and don'ts that are to be followed strictly.

7. Use semi-permanent or lead-based hair dyes that do not contain PPD. Nearly 60% of people allergic to PPD can reportedly tolerate PTDS hair dyes. However, speak to your dermatologist before switching from one chemical to another.

8. Check the labels before buying any hair dye. Some alternate names for PPD are PPDA, 1,4-benzenediamine, 4-aminoaniline, p-diaminobenzene, and phenylenediamine base.

Frequently Asked Questions On Hair Dye Allergy (FAQs)

1. How Long Does Hair Dye Allergy Last?

The symptoms of a mild hair dye allergy can last for about 10 to 15 days from the day of application. With the due procedure, you would see itchiness, rashes, and inflammation go away in two weeks.

However, a hypersensitive allergic reaction to hair dye could last up to several months. Also, the healing time varies for different people [10]. Visit a specialist as soon as possible to avoid any undue after-effects of the allergy.

2. Can You Suddenly Become Allergic To Hair Dye?

Yes. You may be using the same hair dye product for a long time without experiencing any allergy. However, you may still have a risk of a sudden allergic reaction caused by the hair dye, no matter how long you have been using it.

3. Is It Safe To Use Hair Dye When You Are Pregnant Or Breastfeeding?

Studies on Toxicity and human health risk of hair dyes revealed that the chemicals present in hair dyes are harmful when the exposure is in high doses. While you may be exposed to very low amounts of such harmful chemicals during hair color treatments, it is recommended to avoid hair dye until the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy.

Also, the amount of chemicals in hair dyes entering the bloodstream is significantly very low. So, it is very unlikely that the chemicals pass on through breast milk. Thus, it is safe to use hair dye during breastfeeding. However, in both cases, it is better to opt for safer or natural hair dyes to avoid the risk of hair dye allergy.

The Last Word

  • You may experience the symptoms of contact dermatitis along with a stinging or burning sensation on your scalp when you have a hair dye allergy.
  • In some cases, hair dye allergy can also result in anaphylaxis, a fatal condition that needs immediate medical help.
  • Among several harsh chemicals present in hair dyes, PPD (para-phenylenediamine) is of the most concern that causes hair dye allergy.
  • Treatments using natural ingredients such as honey, aloe vera, coconut oil, chamomile tea, olive oil, oatmeal, mint, etc. may give you instant relief from the symptoms of hair dye allergy.
  • Your doctors may prescribe topical corticosteroids, oral antihistamines, and other strong medications to control hair dye allergy depending upon the severity of the symptoms.
  • However, it is always advised to opt for natural and safer alternatives such as henna, indigo and other herbal hair colors instead of harmful chemical-based hair dyes.

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