In this article:
A ton of chemicals are present in hair dyes, because of which they can be associated with health risks, even if you use them following the directions on the box. This is why it is very important to learn about these things before using hair dyes.
The use of dyes is documented since the olden days. People used dyes even in ancient Egypt and Rome. Even today it is a very common practice and is a very big industry.
Nowadays, people play around with different hair colors and give their hair a new look every now and then. Hair dyeing is a seven-billion-dollar industry worldwide. (1)
How to Treat the Side Effects of Hair Dyes
You can counter the harmful side effects of hair dyes in the following ways.
1. To alleviate mild allergic reactions to hair dyes
a. Petroleum jelly/moisturizer
If you experience mild irritation after using a dye on your skin, try applying a moisturizer or emollient such as petroleum jelly to the affected area to soothe it down. (2)
b. Mild shampoo
If you experience mild irritation on your scalp, wash it thoroughly with mild shampoo to remove any excess dye. (2)
2. To alleviate severe hair dye allergy
Around 42% of people who use hair dyes have reported mild reactions such as headaches and itchiness of the scalp. Out of them, about 67% experience the symptoms as quickly as within an hour of using the hair dye. (3)
a. OTC creams
A corticosteroid cream, which can be found easily as an over-the-counter (OTC) topical agent, can give you some relief from the pain and irritation caused by hair dye allergy.
If you experience inflammation of the scalp after using hair dye, which is characterized by redness, itchiness, and pain, apply a steroid cream, which is available at most pharmacies as an OTC drug. (2)
Note: Avoid applying this cream around your eyes and mouth. (4)
b. Oral antihistamines
If you experience symptoms of mild allergies such as skin inflammation and itching, you can take an oral antihistamine, which is also easily available at most pharmacies. (2)
c. Potassium permanganate
A partially oxidized form of PPD, a common ingredient in hair dyes, may cause contact allergic dermatitis in sensitive individuals. PPD was declared the Contact Allergen of the Year for 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS).
Apply a solution of a pinch of potassium permanganate crystals in 1 ml of water (1:5000 dilution) to the affected areas to completely oxidize the PPD. (5)
d. Hydrogen peroxide
OTC hydrogen peroxide is also an oxidizing agent that is helpful for PPD allergy.
Apply a 2% hydrogen peroxide solution to the affected area. This gives instant relief from itchiness and burning sensation. (5)
3. Home remedies to alleviate hair dye allergy
Using a cotton ball, dab honey on the affected part of your skin to reduce inflammation. Honey has immunomodulatory properties that improve skin conditions caused by contact dermatitis. (6)
b. Aloe vera
Aloe vera gel is known for healing wounds and reducing swelling because of its anti-inflammatory properties. You can apply it to the affected area directly and leave it for some time to reduce itching and redness. (7)
c. Coconut oil
Massaging the affected scalp and skin areas with coconut oil will soothe any irritation caused by hair dyes. (8)
4. Alternatives to artificial hair dyes to avoid side effects
Organic hair dyes
Organic hair dyes are considered to be better than conventional hair dyes because they use natural and safe ingredients. Organic hair dyes are derived from plants and contain organic botanical components. They reduce the chances of side effects such as irritation and allergic reactions. (9)
- Black walnut hair dye
- Herbal paste of gooseberry
- Henna paste
- Indigo dyes
- Vegan dyes that are chemical-free
Side Effects of Using Hair Dyes
The most commonly observed side effects of using hair dyes include allergic reactions such as: (1)
- Skin reactions
- Skin irritation
- Burning sensation
When the allergic reaction is extreme, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Swelling of the face
- Swelling of the neck
- Difficulty breathing
These extreme symptoms may indicate an emergency condition. These symptoms may spread to the entire body (anaphylaxis) and can become fatal or lead to coma and heart failure. In such a case, you should seek professional medical help immediately. (10)
Note: Some ingredients found in hair dyes are suspected of causing cancer, but more research on the topic is needed. (11)
Why Are Some People Sensitive to Hair Dyes?
Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction that makes your skin red, dry, blistered, and irritated when your skin comes in contact with an allergen or an irritant. PPD is a well-known ingredient in hair dyes that is an irritant and causes this skin reaction.
People who have sensitive skin or are prone to contact dermatitis will automatically be sensitive to hair dyes. The darker the color of the hair dye, the higher the level of PPD it contains. (2)
- Make sure that you remove the dye and wash it off after the recommended time. Do not leave it in your hair for a longer duration.
- Wearing gloves while you apply the dye is very important so the dye does not come in contact with your skin.
- Rinse your hair properly after applying the hair dye.
- Follow the instructions given on the dyeing kit and do not skip the safety measures.
- To make sure that you are not prone to allergic reactions from a hair dye, always perform a patch test. This involves dabbing a small amount of the dye on your arm and checking if you develop any irritation in that area. If you feel unwell or observe any reaction after the patch test, it is better to not use the product at all. (2)
When to Call a Doctor
Ingesting or swallowing a hair dye can lead to hair dye poisoning, which requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms of dye poisoning include:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody vision
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain in the throat
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Low blood pressure
Other than this, severe allergic reactions that can occur by coming in contact with a hair dye may also require emergency attention. This is because allergic reactions can slowly progress into anaphylaxis, which can be life threatening. (12)
Most-Asked Questions About Hair Dyes
Should I limit my exposure to hair dyes?
It is not clear how much hair dye is really bad for your health. If you are prone to allergic reactions or skin/hair sensitivity, then you may want to limit your exposure to hair dyes. (11)
Can I use hair dye on my eyebrows or eyelashes?
FDA strongly suggests against using hair dyes on eyebrows or eyelashes. This is because the dyes can end up damaging your eyes and can even make you go blind in the worst possible cases. (11)
What is PPD?
PPD stands for paraphenylenediamine, a chemical found in hair dyes. It is a well-known irritant and an allergen.
Hair dyes that contain PPD are generally safe to use, but you must follow the safety instructions properly. Also, make sure that the product you’re buying is from a known brand so that only a safe limit of PPD is present in the dye. (2)
How do hair dyes work?
Naturally, your hair color comes from melanin, which is a pigment made by the cells in your hair follicle. As you grow older, the production of melanin stops, and therefore, your hair turns gray and then white.
Hair dyes work by removing the natural color from the hair shaft and adding a new color instead of it. The hair shaft is what sticks out of the hair follicle and does not consist of living cells. (1)
What are the different types of hair dyes?
Hair dyes can be of natural or synthetic origin. If they’re natural, they’re obtained from plants such as henna, whereas synthetic dyes are chemically made and can be further categorized into temporary dyes, semipermanent dyes, and permanent dyes. (1)
Temporary dyes are only able to penetrate the outermost layer of the hair shaft, because of which they do not last for a long duration. They may be washed away after shampooing your hair once.
Semipermanent dyes go a little deeper into the hair shaft, which is why they last for a much longer duration than temporary dyes. Based on the quality and type, semipermanent dyes can be removed after 4–12 washes.
They often contain chemicals that remove melanin from the hair shaft to bleach the hair, but these chemicals are not as strong as the ones found in permanent dyes.
Permanent dyes go so deep into the hair shaft that they are not removed by shampooing your hair. This is because they cause chemical changes in the hair shaft to increase the penetration of the product.
They contain certain chemicals that bleach the natural melanin and create color molecules that get trapped inside the hair shaft. Because chemical changes are involved, permanent dyes can be damaging to your hair.
What are some harmful ingredients present in dyes?
The harmful ingredients in dyes are: (12)
- Toluene diamines
- Denatured alcohol
Although dyeing your hair seems like a very fun activity to do, you have to consider that reactions to a dye can happen to anyone at any time.
A lot of ingredients in hair dyes can cause allergic reactions and other health risks. It is very important to first check the label to see what you are buying and make sure that it does not contain harmful ingredients that might put you at risk.
If you are planning to color your hair but avoid the risk, you can look for a substitute and natural dyes that will not cause any such harmful reactions.