HM Insights

From Hair Do to Hair Don’t: being aware of the risk from at-home hair treatments

As we enter the fifth week of the government lockdown many of us are turning to at-home hair dye to freshen up our isolation looks or to try something new while no one else can see.

However it is important to remember that your D.I.Y dye comes with its own risks if you don’t follow the manufacturer's guidelines.

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PPD and the risk of reactions

Many permanent and semi-permanent hair dye products contain the chemical paraphenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is an allergen and irritant and is the ingredient responsible for causing most reactions to at-home colourants.

Hair dye products containing PPD are safe to use as long as the recommended guidelines are followed. Failure to follow the guidelines on dye products can result in serious adverse reactions, including anaphylactic shock.

The easiest way to avoid having a reaction to hair dye is to follow the instructions contained within your product. Each hair dye will have their own tailored instructions and even if you are a regular with your at-home treatment, these should not be ignored.

The first rule of any at-home dye is a patch test. Patch testing does not only apply to permanent hair dyes; it should be carried out when using semi-permanent hair dyes and products used for eyebrow tinting, beard tinting or anywhere you want to tint.

The dye that you are using will have its own instructions on how to best carry out a patch test but most tests include applying a small amount of the product behind your ear or on the inside of your elbow. Leave the product for 24 hours (on some products it may be 48) and check the area to ensure you have not suffered from a reaction. If at any point you feel unwell; have any redness, irritation, itching or swelling then remove the dye from the patch test area and do not apply any further product.

For those who are regulars at hair dying or hair tinting at home, the patch test rule should still be followed every time. Even if the dye you are using is your tried and tested favourite, or your failsafe product when your eyebrows or beard need a revival; a patch test of the product should be done before every use. Manufacturers frequently change the ingredients in their products and you can therefore have a reaction to a dye that you have used multiple times before.

If you are having a reaction to PPD then you may experience itching, redness and swelling to your scalp, face and ears or a burning or stinging sensation to the area exposed to the product. A reaction can also trigger other symptoms throughout the body such as hives or a general unwell feeling. A mild reaction to PPD may see symptoms develop within hours of using the product but can take up to 48 hours to present.
NHS guidance on mild reactions to hair dye recommends thoroughly washing the affected area to remove excess dye and to apply an emollient or over the counter steroid cream to the affected skin.

The real danger with PPD is its ability to cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock is a severe allergic reaction that presents within minutes and can cause;

  • Itchy skin or a red skin rash;
  • Swollen eyes, lips, hands, ears, and feet;
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint;
  • Swelling of your mouth, tongue and throat which can result in swallowing or breathing difficulties;
  • Wheezing;
  • Nausea and vomiting; and
  • Unconsciousness

If after using a dye product you experience any signs of anaphylaxis, NHS guidelines recommend calling 999 for emergency medical assistance.

In order to reduce the risk of any adverse allergic reactions at home, always patch test your product, consider PPD free hair dye, or just leave it to the professionals and embrace the natural during the lockdown.