How To Test for Allergic Reactions to Dye

Hair dye has been around for a long time.  There is archaeological evidence that in Egypt, hair dye was used as early as 3400 B.C.  Back then, the dye was henna--today, most dyes use a chemical substance called para-phenylenediamine (PPD) to achieve permanent color.  Some people experience allergic reactions to PPD that can range from itchiness, redness, and swelling to contact urticaria and anaphylaxis. 

Here are some things to keep in mind as you test for allergic reactions to dye:

  1. It is important to test for an allergic reaction to dye every single time that you dye your hair or have it dyed for you.  Even if you have used the very same product and color before, it is possible that you may have an allergic reaction to it this time because people become sensitized over time. 
  2. To test yourself for an allergic reaction, put a small swab of hair dye behind your ear or on your inner elbow and leave it there for 48-72 hours.  This is called a patch test.  If you experience any burning, redness, inflammation, itching, or other signs of an allergic reaction, you should not use this product on your hair!  If you do not develop an allergic reaction, odds are that you won't develop a reaction to the dye being put on your hair.  
  3. If you do experience an allergic reaction, you are most likely allergic to para-phenylenediamine (PPD).  PPD hair dyes usually come in two separate bottles, one that contains the dye, and the other that contains the developer or oxidizer.  PPD itself is a colorless substance that becomes colored as it becomes oxidized.  See if you can find a hair product that does not contain PPD and repeat the test for an allergic reaction.  Semi-permanent hair dyes are a possible alternative although some individuals who are allergic to PPD also react to semi-permanent dyes. 
  4. Never dye your eyebrows or eyelashes.  An allergic reaction in the eye area can be very dangerous, as can an accidental spill or splashing of dye into the eye.
  5. If you have an important event that you plan to dye your hair for, remember to leave time to perform the patch test several days ahead of time.  That way, if you do have a reaction, you'll have time to come up with some other options before the big day.  And if worst comes to worst, you should know that you can wear a wig that has been dyed with PPD as once PPD has been fully oxidized, it is not a sensitizer.


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