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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Shampoo?

By Valerie Goldberg
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Many commercial shampoos contain a lot of chemicals, scents and other potential irritants. These elements may make the product smell good and can lead to silky hair, but they also can cause allergic reactions in some people. Signs of an allergic reaction to shampoo include itching, blotchy skin, flaky scalp and swelling. It is important for people to remember that an allergic reaction does not always show signs immediately after a shower. Symptoms can sometimes take more than 24 hours to begin.

One sign of an allergic reaction to hair products is excessive itching that may be accompanied by red blotches or a rash. The itching may be limited to a person's scalp, but it also can involve areas the shampoo touched as it ran down the body during a shower, including the back, breasts, arms, stomach and even genitals. If the person also gets hives, he or she should take an over-the-counter antihistamine. Calamine lotion can be used to soothe the skin and help prevent scratching.

A flaky or peeling scalp is another common sign of an allergic reaction. A person who believes his or her flaky scalp is a result of using a specific shampoo should stop using the product immediately. He or she also may find relief by skipping washing his or her hair for a few days and using cool water instead of hot during showers. If the peeling does not seem to be clearing up on its own, the individual should contact his or her medical provider for a prescription treatment. When a flaking scalp is the only symptom present, the healthcare professional also can confirm that it is the result of an allergic reaction to shampoo and is not being caused by an underlying medical condition.

An allergic reaction can also cause swelling. An individual can use cool compresses or over-the-counter antihistamines to reduce minor cases, but when severe swelling is present or if the inflammation is causing the person's throat to close, he or she should go immediately to the emergency room for professional medical treatment.

A person who has had an allergic reaction to shampoo in the past should use preventive measures to avoid future problems. Hypoallergenic shampoos are available to cater to the needs of people with allergies or sensitive skin. Purchasing baby shampoo is another option for people with allergy sensitivities, because products made for infants typically contain fewer irritants. If no over-the-counter shampoo seems to do the trick, a person should turn to a medical professional for a prescription solution.

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Discussion Comments
By gina52 — On Mar 05, 2014

Anytime I use shampoo, even baby shampoo, I itch. It's so bad that every time I scratch it, my scalp turns a bright red. Also, my hair is getting really thin. I went to an allergist for help with this. First, I had to take two allergy pills. Then I had to spray flax seed oil all over my hair. (Boy, that stuff sure does stink!) Then I put on a shower cap and let it set for 15 minutes. Then I wash my hair with a hypoallergenic shampoo. It didn't help at all!

So, when I went back to the doctor, I informed him of this. He then sent me to a pharmacy where the pharmacist mixes up different chemicals to make a shampoo especially for you. It took him about a week to do so. I went back to this pharmacy and he informed me that this special shampoo would cost me $30 for a small bottle! I couldn't afford this, so when I went back to the doctor, I informed him of this. He seemed to be not very happy with me and then he told me that there wasn't anything else he could do for me!

So I researched if there was anything else but shampoo that I could use to wash my hair. One site I went to said that they use a mixture of 1 tbsp baking soda to 1 cup of water. Mix it up and put in a spray bottle. Use it as if it were shampoo. Then put 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of water, mix it up and put it in a spray bottle. Spray on and rinse off for a conditioner They also said that this mixture should be enough for a month. Has anybody else ever heard of this? Are you using it? How is your hair after using it? I would appreciate any assistance with this. God bless!

By anon342471 — On Jul 21, 2013

My wife recently developed red spots - hive-like - below each ear and one ear is swollen a bit (kind of like Will Smith's in the movie HITCH). We had eaten lobster for the first time and she also tried calamari for the first time. Also, she was using a different shampoo. She eats clam chowder all the time without issues so it seems like the shampoo may be the problem. Any thoughts/suggestions?

By anon342252 — On Jul 18, 2013

After using some body shampoo, I had a rash then on three spots on my chest where I used the shampoo. My skin started peeling off a bit, but then again i do have sunburn, so maybe it's a mixture of the two?

By anon341742 — On Jul 14, 2013

I think I've got a shampoo allergy. I switched to organic but that didn't work. My mom asked me to try fenugreek crushed and made into a shampoo-like paste. I hope it will work the magic. In my case, it was pimples all over my scalp.

By ZipLine — On May 02, 2013

It can be tricky to identify an allergy to shampoo because sometimes it's only one or two ingredients that is causing the allergy symptoms. And even some natural ingredients can cause allergies, there is no guarantee that an all natural shampoo won't cause problems.

There are also some skin conditions like scalp dermatitis and fungal infections that can cause symptoms similar to allergy symptoms.

I'm allergic to the perfumes used in shampoos but it took me a long time to figure it out. It was a lot of trial and error and I went through a lot of different products before I was finally able to pin down what was causing my scalp itching and flaking.

By burcidi — On May 01, 2013

@turkay1-- It definitely can be a sign of allergy, but it's usually accompanied by scalp irritation, dandruff, itching, scaly or red scalp.

Do you have some of these other symptoms?

You might want to switch your shampoo and see if the hair loss disappears. If possible, use an organic shampoo without chemicals.

By candyquilt — On May 01, 2013

Is hair loss a sign of a shampoo allergy?

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