Mya Care Blogger 12 Dec 2023

If you love changing your hair color, you may have experienced some unpleasant reactions after using hair dye products. Up to 27% of adverse reactions related to cosmetic products occur due to hair styling products, including hair dye. From minor irritation to severe allergic responses requiring emergency medical attention, these reactions can take many different forms. Most people who love to dye their hair are unaware of what triggered the reaction and that there are safer alternatives.

In this blog, we will explain what causes hair dye allergy, what are the symptoms, how to prevent it, and what to do if you have it.

What Causes Hair Dye Allergy?

Hair dye allergy is a type of contact dermatitis, which means inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an allergen. The most common allergen in hair dye products is a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD), which is used to create permanent and semi-permanent hair colors. PPD is also found in other products, such as temporary tattoos, printer ink, and gasoline.

PPD can cause allergic reactions when it is partially oxidized, which happens when it is mixed with an oxidizer (such as hydrogen peroxide) and applied to the hair. The oxidized PPD can penetrate the hair shaft and the scalp and trigger an immune response in people who are sensitive to it.

Other chemicals that can cause hair dye allergy include:

  • Ammonia
  • Resorcinol
  • Parabens
  • Sulfates
  • Propylene glycol
  • DMDM hydantoin
  • Fragrances

These chemicals can irritate the skin, damage the hair, and disrupt the hormonal balance. Some studies have shown that these ingredients, especially PPD, are linked to a substantially greater risk of cancer. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety of the European commission suggests that PPD be limited to 2% or less in hair cosmetics, although not all products are regulated as strictly. Pregnant and lactating women ought to avoid coloring their hair.[1]

Hair Dye Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of hair dye allergy can vary depending on the severity of the reaction and the individual’s sensitivity. They can appear immediately after applying the hair dye or up to 48 hours later.

Typical symptoms of an allergy to hair dye include[2]:

  • Burning or stinging feeling on the face, scalp, or neck
  • Welts or blisters
  • Itching or swelling of the face and scalp
  • Swollen eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
  • Red rash anywhere on the body
  • Hair loss or breakage

Rarely, an allergy to hair dye can result in anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction affecting the entire body. Symptoms of anaphylaxis may include:

  • Skin reactions such as stinging, burning, swelling, and rashes
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fainting
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

If you or someone you know has any signs of anaphylaxis, call an ambulance or get to an emergency room immediately.

How Long Does a Hair Dye Allergy Reaction Last?

An allergic reaction to hair dye can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of the reaction and how you treat it. The type, amount, how long the dye was left in, and how thoroughly it was rinsed out can increase the severity and duration of the reaction. Seeking professional help and getting it treated quickly can help resolve it faster and with minimal complications.

Does Hair Dye Cause Hair Loss?

Permanent hair dye is known to promote hair loss due to stripping the hair of the cuticle, which is the protective outer layer surrounding every hair. The cuticle tends to prevent color from leaching out during bleaching and from entering when dying. Hair loss after hair dye allergy occurs due to inflammation of the hair shaft coupled with the removal of the cuticle, which can cause whole hair to split in two and become brittle.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, the risk of hair loss after dying one’s hair can be reduced by sticking to just dying the hair as opposed to opting for a perm or other hair style service. Use gentler products, apply conditioner after washing your hair, and protect your hair from sun damage (a zinc-containing leave-in conditioner with a wide-brimmed hat might help).[3]

Other tips for preventing hair loss include:

  • Apply shampoo to the scalp and not the length of the hair (rinse through the hair length)
  • Rinse hair after swimming or wear a swimming cap
  • Let your hair air dry. Do not use a towel or blow dryer
  • Do not brush wet hair
  • Use looser hair accessories that do not pull too tightly on your hair

How to Prevent Hair Dye Allergy

The best way to prevent hair dye allergy is to avoid using hair dye products that contain the allergens mentioned above and to use hypoallergenic hair dye, meaning they are less likely to cause allergic reactions. Before purchasing or using any hair coloring product, make sure to review the ingredients list on the label or the manufacturer's website.

Patch Testing New Products

If you have sensitive skin or a history of reactions to cosmetics, then it is a good idea to do a patch test before using any given hair dye. A patch test involves applying a small amount of the hair dye to a discreet area of your skin, such as behind your ear or on your inner elbow, and waiting for 48 hours to see if any reaction occurs. If you notice any redness, itching, swelling, or blistering, do not use the product.

Some studies also confirm that certain skin types may be more sensitive to natural dyes, like henna.[4] Therefore, it is still important to patch-test natural or hypoallergenic hair dye to make sure you do not get an allergic reaction from them.

How Long to Leave Hair Dye in

Do not leave hair dye in for longer than the recommended time, wear gloves when applying the dye and follow the instructions. Most dyes will not ask you to leave the dye in for longer than 45 mins, although 30 mins is an average length of time. Some sources recommended trying 5-15 mins if sensitive, although this might cause the color to run prematurely.

Hair Dye Alternatives

Choosing Hypoallergenic Hair Dye

Safe hair dyes for allergy sufferers include natural or organic hair dyes that are made from plant-based ingredients, such as quinones, tannins, flavonoids, henna, indigo, curcumin, and carotenoids[5]. Natural pigments have been used to dye hair throughout history before the invention of modern hair dye in the 1850s. The use of henna dates back to ancient Egypt, while the ancient Greeks used to bleach their hair with lye, pollen, and yellow flower petals and the Romans would dye their hair black with walnut extracts.

Organic hair dyes can enhance the shine, tone, and color of your hair without damaging or irritating your scalp. However, they may not last as long as synthetic hair dyes, and they may not cover gray hair completely. Combinations of natural ingredients may work better in this regard[6]. You should also check the ingredients of these hair dyes, as some of them may still contain PPD or other allergens.

Hair Dye Allergy Treatment at Home: How to Calm Down Allergy to Hair Dye

If you have a mild reaction, such as an itchy scalp after hair dye, redness, or dryness, you can try some home remedies for hair dye allergy to soothe your symptoms. These include:

  • Avoid scratching or touching any inflamed areas.
  • Rinsing your hair and scalp thoroughly with warm water and mild soap or shampoo to remove any excess dye.
  • Using a potassium permanganate solution to the afflicted area can help completely oxidize PPD and lessen inflammation.
  • Use a cold compress or aloe vera gel on the affected area to calm the skin and reduce irritation and blistering.
  • Taking an oral antihistamine for hair dye allergy, such as Benadryl, to help reduce skin inflammation and itching.
  • If a natural gel or oral antihistamine does not work, try applying a topical corticosteroid cream or lotion to the affected area to reduce itching and swelling. Only use a corticosteroid cream if the scalp is not infected.
  • Use a gentle moisturizer or conditioner to hydrate and nourish your hair and scalp.

If you have a severe reaction, such as contact dermatitis from hair dye, blisters, hives, or anaphylaxis, you need to seek medical help as soon as possible.

Your doctor may prescribe stronger corticosteroids, antibiotics, or epinephrine injections to treat your symptoms and prevent complications. You may also need to take antihistamines, painkillers, or anti-inflammatory drugs to ease your discomfort.

How to Recover from Hair Dye Allergy and Hair Loss

Recovering from hair dye allergy and hair loss may take some time and patience, depending on the extent of the damage and your hair growth cycle. The skin on the scalp needs to heal, as well as the hair shaft and follicle, which will have been stripped of the cuticle as well. This means your hair will likely split and be drier and brittle than usual.

Here are some tips to help you restore your hair and scalp health:

  • Avoid using any hair dye products until the scalp irritation from hair dye is completely healed and your symptoms are gone.
  • Avoid using any harsh or irritating hair products, such as shampoos, conditioners, styling products, or tools that may worsen your condition or cause further hair loss.
  • Use a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo and conditioner to cleanse and hydrate your hair and scalp without removing any of the natural oils.
  • Trim your hair regularly to get rid of any split ends or damaged hair.
  • Consume a diet rich in protein, iron, zinc, biotin, and other necessary vitamins and minerals to support healthy hair growth. Make sure your diet is balanced.

Consult your doctor or a dermatologist if your hair loss persists or worsens or if you notice any signs of infection, scarring, or bald patches on your scalp.

After scalp damage has healed, you can try the following tips to help promote full recovery:

  • Massage your scalp gently with your fingertips or a soft-bristled brush every day or second day to stimulate blood circulation and promote hair growth.
  • Take a hair supplement that contains biotin, collagen, keratin, or other nutrients that can support your hair growth and strength.
  • Use a deep conditioning mask or oil treatment once a week to nourish and repair your hair and scalp.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you experience a hair dye reaction that is moderate to severe and does not get better or gets worse after two days, you should seek professional help as soon as possible. Seek immediate medical assistance if you have a life-threatening allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis. You may also need to see a doctor if your scalp or skin gets infected if you suffer severe hair loss from hair dye, or if you have a medical condition that affects hair growth and want to color your hair.


Hair dye allergy is a common and sometimes serious condition that can affect anyone who uses hair dye products. It is caused by an immune reaction to certain chemicals, especially PPD, that are present in most permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes. The symptoms can range from mild irritation to severe dermatitis, and they can appear immediately or up to 48 hours after applying the hair dye. Hair dye allergy can also cause hair loss or extreme hair breakage, which can affect your appearance and confidence.

The best way to prevent hair dye allergy is to avoid using hair dye products that contain harsh chemicals or allergens, and before using any new hair dye product, conduct a patch test. You can also use hypoallergenic hair dyes that are natural or organic, which can give you the desired color without harming your scalp. You can also use hypoallergenic hair dyes that are natural or organic, which can give you the desired color without harming your scalp. Some basic home remedies, including washing, applying corticosteroids, or taking antihistamines, can help manage a moderate response to hair dye. It might potentially be fatal, so you should get medical attention right away if you experience a severe reaction to hair dye. You can also seek professional help if your hair loss is excessive or persistent.

Hair dye allergy is not a trivial matter, and it should be taken seriously and treated promptly. By being aware of hair dye allergy and how to treat and prevent it, You can safeguard the condition of your scalp and hair and enjoy changing your hair color safely and confidently.

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