Hair Dye Color Reactions-Why it happens & What can you do?

Adverse hair color reactions to hair dye are nothing new. As a professional the most dreaded thing is when your client has an unfortunate hair color reaction.  If you are dyeing your hair, home hair color is not necessarily safer.

Lack of knowledge and experience can be a life-threatening danger.

Overconfidence as professionals, is very dangerous. You may think “I know my product, I’ve used it a thousand times before.”

My experience with hair color reactions really scared me. I want to share what happened:

My color reaction happened in 2014 after I had Chikungunya. I was away from home, so my friend did an all-over color. An hour later, I still had tingling by night time, and my scalp was swollen

That’s when I started doing research.  Apparently, she mixed the color incorrectly; instead of the typical 1/1 ratio of color to developer, that color demanded 1/2. 

I started applying hydrogen peroxide (3%) 2 times the first night for 30 minutes, and one more time the following day. Along with shampooing and Benadryl that’s what saved me. Since then, I have a dark spot on my face.

The next hair color service, I also reacted but not as badly. After that,  I went back to the off-scalp hair color process of foil highlights and lowlights.

What are the symptoms of hair color allergy?

How can you treat allergic reactions to hair dye on the scalp?

How can you prevent a hair dye reaction?

Why did I react to my hair dye?

Mild sensitivity to hair dye is common because the permanent hair color chemicals are quite powerful. These reactions are usually mild and last for 30-45 minutes until your hair color finishes processing, and is washed out.

Recently my fellow Hairdressers have noticed that people who have had Coronavirus are more likely to react to hair color.

Hair dye reactions are also frequent in pregnant women, and those undergoing chemotherapy. In part, due to lower immune response

True hair color allergy effects are not temporary. Allergic reactions become worse over time.

The most frequent culprit of hair color reactions is paraphenylenediamine, aka PPD.

PPD can cause hair color oxidation reactions. When PPD is only partially oxidized, that’s when it’s the biggest offender and causes allergic reactions.

PPD is found primarily in permanent hair color, although some henna products and other kinds of hair color also contain it.

Different names for PPD are  PPDA, 1,4-Benzenediamine, and Phenylenediamine base.

Alternatives to PPD are para-toluene diamine (PTD) and toluene diamine sulfate (TDS), which can be tolerated more than PPD but can also cause contact dermatitis and allergic reactions in some people. 

How serious is Hair dye allergy?

A sensitivity to PPD may cause contact dermatitis, symptoms include itching, stinging, red, or dry skin.

Hair dye reactions may occur immediately or take up to 48 hours to manifest.

Symptoms of hair color allergy can be severe or mild. They include:

  • Tingling or burning feeling on the scalp, face, or neck
  • Blisters or bumps
  • Itching or swelling of the scalp and face
  • Enlarged eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • Red rash anywhere on your body

A Serious deadly hair color reaction includes :

  • Severe swelling
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing 
  • Anthraphalaxis

Call 911 or your local emergency HOTLINE and seek immediate help

What do you do if you have an allergic reaction to hair dye?

If you have an immediate reaction to the hair dye, rinse off the color rapidly, rinse thoroughly with warm or lukewarm water, then wash the scalp and hair with a mild shampoo at least twice.

If you are still feeling an itchy sensation or swelling, you may need to include one of the following remedies.

For delayed reactions:

  • Apply a mild 3% (10 volume) or less hydrogen peroxide to the scalp.
    • DO NOT use a Strong 30 or 40 volume (12%) peroxide; these will also burn the skin.
    • It’s a mild antiseptic and can help calm the skin and reduce irritation and blistering. The hydrogen peroxide will help to fully oxidize any remaining PPD dye left on the hair and scalp and make it non-reactive.
  • Apply potassium permanganate to the affected area that’s blistered or oozing pus. It can help treat bacterial and fungal infections. The astringent action helps to dry out the blistering.
    • Make sure to apply correctly, as it can cause skin burns.
  • Use an over-the-counter, topical corticosteroid skin cream, for Contact Dermatitis symptoms, such as skin rash or itching.
  • Use shampoos for eczema and contact dermatitis.
  • Take an oral antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to help reduce skin inflammation and itching.

If your symptoms don’t improve, or if they get worse, contact your doctor immediately. 

How can you prevent a hair dye reaction?

We recommend our clients avoid caffeine and other nerve stimulants a day or two before having a chemical process in the salon. This will decrease your chances of reaction.

If you are using a product for the first time, ALWAYS do a patch test beforehand, This will help you determine your sensitivity to the hair dye.

Follow the instructions for each particular dye carefully to prevent any reactions caused by incorrect usage. Instructions include:

  1. Correct mixing of color to oxidizer ratio
  2. Don’t leave hair dye on for longer than recommended.
  3. Wear Gloves whenever handling or applying hair dye.
  4. Hair and scalp should be washed thoroughly after the application is complete for permanent dye. Rinse thoroughly and Shampoo at least twice.
    • Inadequate washing and rinsing leave behind a residue of color dye on the hair and scalp. 

Switch to Off-scalp hair color applications such as; highlight with foils or highlighting cap. Instead of all-over color.

Let a professional help you. Go to the Salon instead of trying to dye your own hair.

In Summary

  • Use better alternatives to PPD.
  • Always follow instructions on the hair dye packaging.
  • Always do a patch test.
  • Recent illness can cause you to react to hair color even if you’ve never had a problem before.
  • Allergic reactions worsen over time (as a hairdresser I didn’t always use gloves when applying hair color), those chemicals get absorbed through the skin. 

Infomation Sources: Medicalnewstoday, Heathline,

As an Amazon associate I earn a small commission on qualified purchases. I try only to recommend products I actually use or that I think will be helpful.


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