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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Hair Dye?

M.C. Huguelet
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A rare sensitivity to certain chemicals, particularly a substance called p-phenylenediamine (PPD), can cause an individual to have an allergic reaction to hair dye. Often, the allergic reaction is fairly mild, producing signs like burning, itching, and redness. In very rare instances, a hair dye allergy can bring on a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis, which can be recognized by symptoms like swelling of the throat and face, hives, rapid heartbeat, disorientation, and discoloration of the skin. Those who wish to color their hair may be able to avoid an allergy to hair dye by always testing a product on a small area of the skin.

Many medical experts believe that a sensitivity to the compound PPD, contained in many cosmetic dyes, is responsible for causing a small number of individuals to have an allergic reaction to hair dye. For many of these individuals, this reaction produces unpleasant but mild signs, such as itching, burning, and redness on and around the scalp. In many cases, the symptoms of a mild allergic reaction will diminish within hours or days. Taking an over-the-counter antihistamine may provide relief from symptoms until the reaction comes to an end.

In very rare cases, an allergic reaction to hair dye can cause an extremely serious condition called anaphylaxis. This condition occurs when the immune system detects the presence of an allergen and responds by releasing a large amount of a substance called histamine. Anaphylaxis can produce a number of signs, such as confusion, puffy face and eyes, closure of the throat, racing heart, hives, and skin discoloration. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can quickly lead to death. Therefore, those who show signs of this condition should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

It may be possible to prevent an allergic reaction to hair dye by performing a procedure commonly known as a patch test prior to applying dye to one’s hair. When doing a patch test, a small amount of dye is applied to a patch of skin in an inconspicuous area, such as the inner arm. The dye is allowed to sit on the skin for one to two days. If no symptoms occur at the treated area, the dye can most likely be applied to the hair without causing a reaction. As a product’s formulation can change, health experts stress that a patch test should be performed each time an individual plans to use hair dye.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including The Health Board. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By donasmrs — On Jun 05, 2013

Hair dye doesn't only cause skin allergies, it can also cause respiratory allergies. I have allergic asthma and had an asthma attack once from the chemical fumes of a hair dye.

By discographer — On Jun 04, 2013

@burcidi-- Didn't she test the dye on her arm first?

I don't understand people who complain about allergies to hair dyes when the product warns about it clearly. Every hair dye kit has a warning about possible allergic reactions. That's why it says to do a test on the arm before applying the dye to the scalp.

I don't think it's a good idea to dye hair at home anyway. I'd rather have professionals do it at a salon because the dyes they use are better quality and they will be quick to notice allergic reactions.

By burcidi — On Jun 03, 2013

My mom had an allergic reaction to hair dye yesterday. She dyed her own hair at home with box dye. A few minutes after she applied the dye, her scalp started itching and burning. I told her to wash her hair immediately.

She washed everything out with plain water but her scalp continued to burn for the rest of the day. Thankfully, she didn't develop a rash or lose any hair. That would have been very scary. She told me this morning that she will never dye her hair again or she will use herbal dyes if she has to.

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
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