Severe Allergic Reactions to Hair Dyes are on the Rise

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 by: Cathy Sherman
Tags: hair dyes, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) As highlighted by Oprah`s spotlight, big-name hair-color company products containing the chemical PPD are still causing disfiguring and painful reactions, even death. Though there have been lawsuits in the millions of dollars, hundreds of complaint letters, and bloggers sharing pains and solutions online, not even the popularity of Oprah can put an end to the use of dangerous chemicals like PPD in hair coloring products.

"Oprah is the only one who could contact the hair color companies and push for them to find a hypo-allergenic product! My emails to them in the past have been essentially ignored ..." writes an Oprah fan on the talk show host`s community blog.

Recently, a leading French cosmetics company had to pay a large non-disclosed sum to the son of a woman who died from using one of their products. Charges against the company included: failure to warn consumers of the possibility of death from anaphylactic shock, failure to test chemicals used in their products and to issue warnings for those deemed dangerous, failure to warn about PPD though it was known to cause death from topical application to the body since at least 1933, and failure to provide proper instructions for use of the product. The product could be considered defective for liability purposes since adequate warnings weren`t printed on the package. The product was marketed to the public as safe.

The drugstore where the product was purchased was also sued for selling a dangerous product called "not merchantable and fit" for coloring hair. The case was settled in December 2008 but the particulars have not been made public as yet. The plaintiff had asked for $50,000 from each of the two defendants and he was apparently satisfied with the outcome.

Another lawsuit was settled out of court. Many cases from victims are on the web. Often the maker of the product, or the salon administering the product, reimbursed medical costs of those suffering severe reactions.

Wrote one company representative in response to one such horror story online:

"Hair colorants have been extensively studied and their safety has been repeatedly confirmed by the scientific community and regulatory authorities alike. PPD is approved by the European authorities and is the most widely used permanent hair dye ingredient by many manufacturers worldwide.

[In fact, PPD has been banned in Germany, France and Sweden for use in hair dyes, and a variant of it was banned by the EU in December 2007. Current European Union legislation allows PPD to comprise only up to 6% of the constituents of hair dyes on the consumer market.]

".....reactions to hair colorants are extremely rare but can occur for a very small number of people, especially if they have previously had a black henna tattoo. These potential reactions can be avoided by carrying out the skin allergy test as instructed, 48 hours before you wish to use the product. Consumers can continue to use our hair colorants with complete confidence."

In fact, many of the incidents of allergic reaction did include a patch test 48 hours prior and there was no reaction, until the actual process of covering the hair. Another unfortunate fact is that many salons do not do the patch test at all.

Such allergic reactions are becoming less rare than in the past, as incidences have increased in number in recent years; this is usually attributed to the higher number of consumers dying their hair and at earlier ages. It possibly arises from increased exposure to the chemicals, which are used in many other types of products.

There is a long list of ingredients used in the hair coloring industry, each problematic in more than one way. In the one product involved in the lawsuit above, these chemicals were involved, listed here with the associated hazards of each:

Hydrogen peroxide: skin burns; dermatitis; potential gastrointestinal or liver toxicity hazards; eye burns with redness, tearing, inflammation and potential corneal injury and blindness; digestive tract damage; organ toxicity hazards; lung corrosion; neural toxicity hazards; respiratory toxicity hazards;

Sodium Stannate: Skin irritation with redness and pain; eye irritation;

Tetra-sodium pyrophosphate: Skin irritation; redness and pain to eyes;

Isopropyl alcohol: Skin irritation;

Resorcinol: skin irritation and redness, itching, dermatitis, edema or corrosion of affected area; loss of superficial skin layers; potential gastrointestinal or liver toxicity hazards; endocrine disruptor; neurotoxicity hazards;

Hexylene glycol: Skin irritation; lung irritant; eye irritant;

Pentasodium pentetate: Eye irritant;

Propylene glycol: Sense organ toxicity hazards; dangerous for those with
kidney disorders; may cause transitory stinging and tearing; penetration enhancer so it helps other chemicals penetrate the skin;

P-aminophenol: can cause immune system response resulting in lung sensitization;

Alcohol denat: may cause eye irritation; potential to reduce fertility or affect a healthy full-term pregnancy;

EDTA: eye irritant; neurotoxicity hazards;

Coal tar dyes -- M-aminophenol, Phenyl methyl pyrazolone, and 2, 4-diaminophenoxyethanol CCL: Linked to bladder cancer; potential neurotoxicity and respiratory toxicity hazards; potential to reduce fertility or affect a healthy full-term pregnancy;

Ammonium hydroxide: Respiratory toxicity hazards;

P-Phenylenediamine (PPD): Coal tar dye with links to bladder cancer, recognized as the most hazardous chemical used in hair dyes; can be absorbed through the skin and causes chemical leukoderma; potential gastrointestinal or liver toxicity hazards; mutagenic; can cause redness, pain and swelling of the eyelids, blurred vision and blindness; sense organ toxicity hazards; can form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds if mixed with amines; potential kidney and respiratory toxicity hazards; potential to cause immune system response resulting in lung sensitization and other damage to immune system; can cause asthma attacks; poses neurotoxicity hazards; pharynx and larynx irritation; and anaphylactic shock which can be fatal.

The most common allergic reactions to PPD are dermatitis of the eyes, ears, scalp and face, which may include a rash, extreme swelling and a severe burning sensation on the scalp. Other names and related compounds include: PPDA; Phenylenediamine base; p-Phenylenediamine; 4-Phenylenediamine; 1,4-Phenylenediamine; 4-Benzenediamine; 1,4-Benzenediamine; para-Diaminobenzene (p-Diaminobenzene); para-Aminoaniline (p-Aminoaniline); Orsin; Rodol; or Ursol; Para-Touline Diamine; and Touline Diamine-Sulfate.

The biggest danger with PPD involves the occurrence of cross-sensitization, wherein a person is not only sensitive to PPD, but one or more related substances. These are present in most textile dyes, pen ink, black rubber, gasoline, oil, food colors, medication dyes, preservatives (parabens) and some drugs (all caine drugs such as Benzocaine and Novocain), Sulfonamides, sulfones, sulfa drugs, Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) used in sunscreen, and fragrances.

Even semi-permanent hair rinses , which don`t contain PPD, might include anthraquinone dyes or nitrophenylediamines. Though these rarely cause primary sensitization, they may cause a reaction in people cross-sensitized to PPD and its derivatives.

Adding to the concern is that a person may have never had a reaction to any of these and all of a sudden, the reaction occurs. As mentioned previously, even doing the recommended patch test 48 to 72 hours before usage doesn`t always bring on the reaction.

It is extremely important that if anyone has ANY type of reaction, an allergist should be seen to confirm an allergy. Ignoring such a reaction and failing to follow it up could be deadly. It is recommended to have the complete patch test panel done so that any other allergies can be ruled out.

Though death due to an allergic reaction to hair dye is relatively rare, death from cancer is less rare. The National Cancer Institute suggests that one out of five of all cases of non-Hodgkin`s lymphoma among women are due to women`s regular use of commercial hair dye products. This is the disease that killed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who used the more damaging darker dyes. Breast, bladder and other cancers are also linked to the use of PPD.

The FDA has no authority to ban hair care products or ingredients, but can only make recommendations to producers to limit unsafe ingredients. This limitation and other major gaps in public health laws allow cosmetics companies to use almost any ingredient they choose - even lead, mercury, and placenta. In 1938, coal tar dyes like PPD were specifically exempted from FDA oversight.

To protest this, two different petitions being sent to Congress can be signed at: to.

The FDA has been called corrupt by more than one critic. Melanie Segala, Managing Editor of Total Health Breakthroughs, wrote in a recent email:

"The situation is so bad in fact, that NINE of the FDA`s own scientists recently wrote a letter to President Obama citing gross mismanagement at all agency levels and laxity in protecting consumers against new products. Here`s the real kicker. According to these scientists, `there is an atmosphere at FDA in which the honest employee fears the dishonest employee, and not the other way around."

"Among their other concerns, scientists have been threatened with reprisal and told to ignore the agency`s own regulations, manufacturers have excluded FDA overseers from strategic meetings fearing they would be `biased,` and the agency has allowed manufacturers to sell their products WITHOUT obtaining necessary approval."

In addition to petitioning Congress to increase the FDA`s authority and oversight, consumers might contact companies making chemical-free or safe products and suggest that they label products as "PPD-free" or "Completely Chemical-free".

Besides using products from the kitchen, such as tea and coffee, the best totally environmentally friendly and health-friendly products are henna, and henna only. Some products are henna-based but also contain chemicals.

When using a henna product, it`s important to remember that it`s a plant-derived product with such powerful staining ability that it`s also used for tattooing. A good suggestion is to apply olive oil or moisturizing cream, or something similar, to areas around the scalp as a protective layer, so the henna doesn`t stain the face, neck or ears.

In addition, one must be careful to use natural, pH-balanced shampoos on the hair following a henna treatment, to maintain the healthful effects. Other helpful ideas shared by a community of consumers can be found at

In the interests of scientific inquiry, this writer did try a henna product that has received good reviews by health conscious commentators. Previous use of henna left the grays a coppery, orange that wasn`t really preferable to the gray. This time, per the optional instructions, day-old coffee was substituted for some of the water used to mix the color mixture. Results were wonderful, as there is now a reddish brown look to the former grays which blends in well with the darker brown. The bright red was eliminated, presumably with the coffee addition. Time will tell if the coffee influence washes out sooner than expected.

For men, and women with very short hair, there is another alternative to henna which has not been found to be hazardous. These "progressive" hair dye products work by acting like melanin in the keratinocytes. Though they`re applied like a hair tonic, gradually over time, they restore the person`s original hair color. Whether brunette or blonde, the amount of darkening can be controlled by the frequency of application.

So, next time you feel like changing your hair color or covering the gray, do consider trying the truly natural and chemical-free products. If not only for your own health, please consider the potential for damage to the environment. Remember, the chemicals used end up going down the drain and back into our drinking water supply.

Whichever type of hair coloring you decide to use, drink lots of water. If the product contained any chemicals, plan to do a detox soon after the coloring. That way, you will at least rid your body of some or all of the toxins you just put into your bloodstream. To learn more about detoxing, do a search on this Natural News website.

Also, whether you color your hair or not, keep in mind the high number of people around you who are sensitive to cosmetic chemicals. The existence of cross-sensitization means that many people around you - on the bus, in the office, in the movie theater or restaurant - may very well be allergic to fragrances. So do keep your use of perfume within your personal space and be considerate of not causing discomfort to those around you.


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About the author

Cathy Sherman is a freelance writer with a major interest in natural health and in encouraging others to take responsibility for their health. She can be reached through

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