Hair Dye Allergies on the Rise


Feb. 1, 2007 — Tattoos and body piercings are so yesterday. These days thehottest fashion trend among teens is hair that screams in shocking colors likeNapalm Orange, Atomic Pink, and Electric Blue.

Some parents may breathe a sigh of relief; even the most “permanent”dye job isn’t as permanent as a tattoo, or a pierced lip or tongue.

But as more and more young people color their hair, the incidence of hairdye allergies is also increasing, warns a group of European dermatologists.

The culprit is a common chemical ingredient in permanent hair dyes, calledpara-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD is found in more than two-thirds ofcommercial dyes, the researchers say, including many of the top-sellingbrands.

Patients with severe PPD reactions commonly develop painful rashes aroundthe hair line or on the face, which often require treatment and canoccasionally lead to hospitalization. Facial swelling is also common.

Many Don’t Seek Treatment

In his own London clinic, dermatologist John P. McFadden saw a doubling ofPPD reactions over the past six years.

“Dermatologists report anecdotally that the frequency of positive reactionsto PPD on patch testing is increasing,” McFadden and colleagues write in aneditorial published in the Feb. 3 issue of BMJ.

Last October, editorial co-author Heidi Sosted of the University ofCopenhagen reported on eight cases of severe hair dye reactions among teensbetween the ages of 12 and 15.

Reactions were so serious that five of the teens had to be hospitalized, andone reportedly ended up in intensive care.

In an earlier study, Sosted and colleagues examined the frequency of hairdye reactions in a sample population of 4,000 adults living in Denmark.

A total of 18% of the men and 75% of the women said they had used hair dyes,and slightly over 5% said they had experienced allergic reactions to them. Butonly 15% of those who had allergic reactions reported seeking medicaltreatment.

“Wider debate on the safety and composition of hair dyes is overdue — amongmedical and scientific communities, the public and legislators,” McFadden,Sosted, and colleagues write in the BMJ editorial.

 “Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair and, perhaps,the widespread obsession with the ‘culture of youth’ are putting people at riskand increasing the burden on health services.”

Hair Dyes ‘Thoroughly Studied’

In a statement issued to WebMD in response to the editorial, the Cosmetics,Toiletry and Fragrance Association countered that hair dye is among the mostthoroughly studied of consumer products and that safety tests on the individualingredients that make up hair dyes are “continually updated.”

“Just like many other products in common use, such as certain foods ordrugs, hair dyes can cause skin allergic reactions in some individuals,” CTFAofficials write. “The number of consumers allergic to hair dyes is very smalland the majority of these reactions occur at the site of contact many hoursafter hair dye use and resemble other contact-allergy reactions like nickel,poison ivy, etc.”

First-time users can greatly reduce their risk of allergic reactions byconducting a skin-sensitivity test 48 hours before coloring their hair.

“The necessary warnings and instructions for skin testing are on haircoloring packages,” notes the CTFA statement. “If a consumer is positivelyidentified as allergic to a hair dye ingredient, they can (and they should)avoid use of all permanent hair dyes and consult a physician before any furtheruse.”

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