Hair Dye Allergies and Chemicals

Some hair coloring products contain chemicals that cause hair dye allergies. People with sensitive skin may get allergic reactions to hair dye after using a product. Typical symptoms are skin irritation and redness on the scalp and around the hairline. More severe reactions can occur such as getting a rash and burning sensation. A hair color allergy that affects the skin is called allergic contact dermatitis. Many natural health care professionals and dermatologists agree that chemicals in hair dye can cause allergic skin reactions in some people. To alleviate the causes of some hair dye allergies you might try these popular products made with less chemicals and more natural ingredients.


What Causes Hair Dye Allergies?

The top chemical culprit that causes most dye allergies is well known. It's an allergy to paraphenylenediamine (ppd) that creates problems for people who suffer from an allergy to hair dye. The Center For Disease Control has listed this chemical as a contact allergen. In addition to being absorbed through the skin it can also be inhaled and cause throat irritation. Some users may experience other hair dye allergies such as a peroxide allergy, though this is not as common as a ppd allergy. Find out more about chemicals, hair dye and allergy relief in this WebMD Guide to Chemical Allergies.




Hair Color Ingredients

Many ingredients in hair dyes have been associated with increased risk of skin allergies and even some cancers. Permanent, oxidative hair dyes generally contain greater amounts of the suspect chemicals than demi- or semi-permanent products. Some hair color makers have responded to consumer concerns about hair dye allergies by creating products with reduced amounts of chemicals or by using safer substitute ingredients. To avoid exposure to these chemicals, check labels carefully for products that either don't use them at all or use lower concentrations. Try to minimize exposure especially to the following four chemicals.


1) P-phenylenediamine is used to create color and prevent it from fading. It belongs to a chemical family called arylamines. Studies have suggested a relationship between p-phenylenediamine in hair dye and cancer, especially bladder cancer. Darker dyes contain a higher concentration of this chemical. To minimize risk, choose lighter hair colors or highlights only. Choose a natural-based hair color product that doesn't use this chemical at all or uses reduced amounts.


2) Ammonia is another chemical in hair dye to avoid. It's used to open hair cuticles so dye can penetrate into the inner hair shaft. In high concentrations ammonia is a corrosive toxin that can damage the respiratory system. If used excessively in hair coloring it can cause chemical hair damage to cuticles. Tyrosine is a protein in hair that enables it to 'hold color' better. Using too much ammonia can destroy tyrosine over time which negatively affects hair color results.


3) Resorcinol is a 'color coupler' that helps to create permanent color. It can be a toxic skin irritant and is most dangerous when absorbed into the bloodstream. It should never come into contact with irritated skin, abrasions or open cuts. Different research both confirms and refutes a link between cancer and hair color products containing resorcinol. Because of the possible link between resorcinol in hair coloring and cancer it's recommended to look for products with no or low levels of resorcinol. However, checking labels for the presence of chemicals containing toxic resorcinol is confusing. Some chemicals have names that contain the word 'resorcinol' but actually are non-toxic. Other chemicals have names without 'resorcinol' but are toxic, as the following list shows.

        Non-toxic

  • 4-BUTYLRESORCINOL
  • BUTYLRESORCINOL
  • 4-CHLORORESORCIONOL
  • HEXYLRESORCINOL
  • 2-METHYLRESORCINOL


        Toxic

  • 1,3-BENZENEDIOL
  • CI DEVELOPER 4
  • M-DIHYDROXYBENZENE
  • RESORCIN
  • M-PHENYLENEDIOL

4) Hydrogen peroxide at a mild 3% concentration is a common household disinfectant and topical antiseptic. A concentration closer to 10% is included in hair coloring products to lighten hair by breaking down melanin. The 10% hydrogen peroxide hair products use can severely irritate skin. Other possible hair peroxide dangers include damaging delicate membranes by inhaling hydrogen peroxide fumes. To reduce risks of hair dye allergies look for products with no or low levels of hydrogen peroxide, avoid skin contact and use in a well-ventilated room. Other chemicals to avoid or minimize that have been associated with hair dye allergies as well as possible hair color and cancer risks are formaldehyde, lead acetate, toluene and cocamide DEA.




Hair Color and Pregnancy

Many women ask whether coloring hair while pregnant is safe. It is true many hair color manufacturers now offer products that contain lower concentrations of suspect chemicals. Some manufacturers use plant-based ingredients as much as possible. Although some research studies indicate using hair dye during pregnancy presents health risks, other studies show the risk is not warranted with proper use of products.


The topic of pregnancy and hair color safety is an on-going debate with proponents of both sides presenting conflicting evidence. To obtain more information read this WebMD overview of pregnancy and chemicals. It seems common sense to me to avoid hair color chemicals completely or as much as possible during pregnancy. The best pregnancy safe hair dye would be a natural-based product that contains none of the above mentioned chemicals.




Tips For Safe Hair Coloring

  • Use hair color products in a well-ventilated room. Avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Perform a skin patch test for possible hair dye allergies. Follow product's specific instructions. Apply product behind ear and keep it on for at least 2 days. Test needs to be repeated for new brands and also for different colors within same brand.
  • Wear protective gloves when applying colorant.
  • Don't apply hair color to irritated skin, open cuts or abrasions where chemicals can enter bloodstream.
  • Minimize use of permanent hair colors containing p-phenylenediamine, especially dark colors which contain more of this chemical. Color less often if possible and touch up roots with a natural based product.



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