Is Your Hair Dye Causing an Allergic Reaction?

People allergic to their hair dye often have a phenylenediamine allergy

Hair Dye Allergy
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Many people dye their hair. In the United States, women are using hair dye earlier and more frequently as well as U.S. men, who use of hair dye more frequently now than ever. A similar pattern can be seen in many other areas around the world, including the Far East and Europe.

What Causes a Hair Dye Allergy?

Along with the increased use of hair dye has come an increased rate of allergic reactions to hair dye.

The chemical in hair dye most likely to cause allergic reactions is para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is found in more than two-thirds of permanent hair dyes and is very effective at penetrating the hair shaft and follicle, as well as binding to proteins in the skin, making it a potent contact antigen able to induce allergic reactions. For this reason, some European countries, including Germany, France, and Sweden, have banned PPD.

Other chemicals found in hair dye known to cause allergic reactions include cobalt, which is found in some brown hair dyes, and glyceryl thioglycolate, found in permanent wave solutions that may be used in conjunction with hair dye.

Symptoms of a Hair Dye Allergy

Common symptoms of hair dye allergy include contact dermatitis (an itchy, flaky, red rash) that most often occurs on the face, eyelids, ears, and neck.

Rashes on the scalp are less common due to the thickness of the skin on this area of the body.

It is not uncommon for severe facial swelling to also occur with contact dermatitis to hair dye, which may be mistaken for angioedema. Angioedema, however, unlike contact dermatitis, is not red, does not itch, usually only occurs on one side of the face at a time, and does not peel or flake.

If you are allergic to hair dye, symptoms of an allergic reaction will most likely occur two to three days after you've dyed your hair.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction can last anywhere from days to weeks after dyeing your hair.

How Is a Hair Dye Allergy Diagnosed?

If you think you have a hair dye allergy, ask your physician for a patch test, using a standard panel that includes para-phenylenediamine. A patch test involves the placement of antigens onto the skin, held in place with paper tape. The patch is left in place typically for 48 hours, with the results being interpreted both at the time the patch test is removed, as well as either 24 or 48 additional hours later. A positive patch test result is found when small, red bumps or blisters are present at the site of the test.

Treating a Hair Dye Allergy

If you have a hair dye allergy, you should avoid dyeing your hair. The main treatment of hair dye allergy is avoidance of the chemical responsible for the allergic reaction. If the antigen can be identified, it can be avoided, and you may be able to continue using hair dye that does not contain that antigen.

Once an allergic reaction to hair dye has occurred, you can use corticosteroids to calm the reaction. If the reaction is mild and limited to a small area of the body, topical corticosteroid creams can be used. Topical corticosteroids should be used with caution on your face, given the concern for serious side effects with long-term use.

Treatment of facial rashes is better treated with safer topical medicines, such as Elidel and Protopic. More severe rashes caused by hair dye allergy are best treated with systemic corticosteroids, either given in pill form or as an injection.


McFadden JP, White IR, Frosch PJ, et al. Allergy to Hair Dye. BMJ. 2007;334:220.