Allergic reactions to hair dye

Updated July 19, 2017

The use of hair dye is one of the simplest ways to quickly change or improve your appearance. It is readily available and can be applied professionally or at home. Unfortunately, this availability has given way to the overuse or early use of hair dye products. This is believed to be somewhat responsible for the rise in chemical sensitivities seen today. It is estimated that 25 per cent of people have either an allergy or sensitivity to hair dye. Paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical found in hair colour that uses an oxidising agent to develop, claims the bulk of these allergic responses. These responses can range from mildly irritating to fatal.


A mild reaction to hair dye can manifest itself as slight itching or tingling in the scalp area, or a rash called allergic contact dermatitis. This mild itchy rash can also affect the back of the neck, the upper eyelids and the tops of the ears. Another typically mild reaction to hair dye is scaly skin. The scalp, skin, ears, face and neck can develop a scaly appearance. On the scalp, this may result in a mild dandruff-like condition.

More Serious

Inflammation, resulting in redness and swelling of the scalp and face, is a more serious reaction to hair dye. At this stage the eyes could swell shut and result in vision loss due to corneal damage. The allergic contact dermatitis or rash may increase in severity, become very painful and spread down throughout the body. During the hair dye application process, sneezing, coughing and nausea may also occur in chemically sensitive individuals.

Most Severe

In a highly allergic individual, the application of hair dye can result in respiratory distress, which can range from simple shortness of breath to a severe, possibly fatal anaphylactic reaction. This type of reaction is usually immediate and may be accompanied by hives that are itchy and spread quickly. As this is a life-threatening condition, immediate medical attention is necessary.


To help prevent an allergic reaction, whether hair dye is applied at home or in a salon, all precautionary guidelines should be followed. A patch test should be performed. This is usually a 24-hour test of a section of hair; however, in individuals with a history of chemical sensitivity, the test should span 48 hours. To perform the test properly, refer to the hair dye package instructions. As allergies can develop at any time, a patch test should be done every time hair dye is applied, even if previous use of hair dye has yielded no allergic symptoms.


If you are allergic to hair day, does this mean that your hair can never again be manipulated by colour? Not necessarily. For those who are sensitive or allergic to hair dye and are not yet ready to go completely natural, other hair colour options may be viable. Temporary colour rinses can enhance one's natural hair colour and blend grey hair. Professionally applied highlights and lowlights can also alter hair's appearance. Semi-permanent hair colour and henna could be another option. However, care should be taken and a patch test performed, as these may elicit an allergic response.

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About the Author

A freelance writer and a Demand Studios contributor, Charity Zapolnik has been writing since 1999. She holds a B.A. in scientific and technical communications from Michigan Technological University and currently resides in Northern Michigan.