Can You Have an Allergic Reaction to Hair Color?

The short answer is yes — anyone can have a hair dye allergy. Here's what to do if you experience symptoms after coloring your hair (at home or with a pro's help).

Dyeing your hair a new hue can be stressful enough without having to deal with side effects thanks to a hair dye allergy. (If you've ever DIY-ed and achieved a color completely different than what was on the box, you know that specific kind of panic.) Add into the mix the potential for an itchy scalp or even a swollen face and the desire to become a dirty blonde might no longer seem that appealing. And while an allergic reaction to hair color can oftentimes just involve some mild redness and irritation, cautionary tales on the internet paint a more serious picture.

For example, one young woman was actually sent to the hospital due to a severe and rare allergic reaction to the chemicals in the boxed dye she was using at home. Her entire head swelled up as a result of, what she later learned was an allergy to paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical widely used in permanent hair dye thanks to its ability to stick to strands through washes and styling without losing its color. (Emphasis on permanent. PPD typically isn't included in semi-permanent dye formulas — or natural options, obviously.) PPD has been known to cause severe allergic reactions despite the fact that it's been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in hair dyes.

Over on TikTok, some folks have been sharing footage of their post-dye job swelling. Recently, TikTok user @urdeadright posted a clip featuring photos of his reaction with text, "Remembering the time I tried going blonde and almost died." (They didn't specify whether their side effects were from PPD.)

Now, let's be clear: Not every allergic reaction to hair dye is this severe, and plenty of people routinely color their hair without a problem or any allergic reaction to hair dye at all. Still, it's best to be prepared (think: Benadryl on hand), especially if you have certain allergies (such as a textile dye allergy) that could be exacerbated by hair dye or if you've previously experienced side effects from dyes. That being said, if you've had severe allergic reactions to any PPD-containing hair dyes in the past, it's a good idea to steer clear of any similar chemical-laden products. (Non-toxic and natural versions are less likely to lead to after-effects.)

With that in mind, here's more of what you need to know about hair dye allergies. (

Hair Dye Allergy Symptoms

An extreme allergic reaction to PPD in hair dye only affects about one to two percent of users, according to Ava Shamban, M.D., dermatologist and founder of AVA MD, a dermatology clinic with locations in Santa Barbara and Beverly Hills. Para-toluenediamine (PTD) is another common chemical and allergen in hair dye, although it's generally better-tolerated than PPD, according to Medical News Today. Both PPD and PTD can be found in many of the widely used commercial permanent boxed hair dyes for DIY-ing at home as well as those used at salons.

Because any single usage or contact point can solicit an allergic reaction (even if you never experienced one before), you should always patch test a product on a small area of skin — such as behind your ear or elbow — before each use, even if you've used the item before, says Dr. Shamban. Let it completely dry and see if your skin has any sort of reaction to the chemicals. (More on what this would look like below.) And head's up: Even if you've patch tested a formula containing PPD, and used it to dye your hair a few times in the past without any issue, you can still have an allergic reaction to the PPD, says Dr. Shamban. It's possible that the exposure can make your skin more sensitive to the chemical, which can lead to a reaction the next time you use it, according to DermNet NZ. "While it does not accumulate or remain in the body, usage is like pulling the wild card out of the deck; one never knows when [a hair dye allergy] will occur." If you have any suspicions you might be allergic to a dye, it's best to consult with your colorist or dermatologist.

Hair Dye Allergies
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Extreme allergic reactions to hair color can involve difficulty breathing or eyelid and head swelling to the point of vision impairment or pain. However, a much more common reaction to PPD is contact dermatitis, "a skin irritation which can occur in many forms," such as a mild rash, dry, itchy skin, or red patches of skin, notes Dr. Shamban. "While uncomfortable, it can resolve relatively quickly with topical care. This can occur in 25 percent or more of people who come in contact with [chemicals, such as PPD, found in hair dye]," she says. (

"Generally, symptoms are redness, flaking, inflammation, blistering or swelling in the scalp and around the face, ears, eyes, and lips," says Craig Ziering, M.D., a hair restoration and transplant surgeon. That being said, more extreme reactions, such as potentially permanent hair loss, can definitely occur, adds Dr. Ziering. He also notes that although rare, anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction that causes extreme swelling that could inhibit blood flow and breathing) is also possible and requires immediate medical attention.

"Symptoms to look out for with anaphylaxis may include the same stinging, burning, swelling, or rash but it will extend to the tongue and throat followed by trouble breathing with feelings of faint, nausea or vomiting," says Dr. Shamban.

Can You Still Color Your Hair If You Have a Hair Dye Allergy?

There's no clear answer because as with any allergic reaction, it depends entirely on the person. If you've had allergic reactions to hair color or PPD in the past, make sure to review the products carefully with your colorist (or read the box diligently if you're coloring at home). In light of the potential for PPD and other chemicals often found in hair dye to cause harm, some people are calling for additional research on the safety of common ingredients, reports The Washington Post. But for now, PPD is still found in many of the products stocked on shelves in stores and salons, so it's important to keep an eye out for any potential side effects or symptoms. And if you do experience an allergic reaction to hair color, even mild contact dermatitis, you should stop using the product and chat with your colorist about other options going forward.

Natural hair color products that don't contain PPD or similar chemicals shouldn't cause a reaction,adds Dr. Shamban. Overall, pure henna (not black henna), which can be used to dye hair, and semi-permanent dyesthat are ammonia-free (and, thus, is better for the health of your hair) should also be safer than other dyes; but as always, consult with your colorist and/or dermatologist if you have any questions about what's best for you, says Dr. Shamban.

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BRITE Naturally Henna Hair Dye Dark Brown

Naturally Brite Henna Hair Dye

"Organic hair dye or a natural formula without the chemical compounds we're addressing should not introduce an allergic event or reaction," seconds Dr. Ziering. (Even if you don't want to go with a completely natural formula, which may not provide as rich of a color, there are other readily available options such as permanent dyes that are labeled as PPD-free, semi-permanent dyes which are typically free of PPD, or color depositing conditioners.)"However, we are all susceptible to contact dermatitis in some form, and understanding the ingredients we put on our skin and scalp matters."

What to Do If You Have an Allergic Reaction to Hair Color

Ideally, you or your colorist would perform a patch test before trying a dye; although, again, a reaction-free result isn't a 100 percent guarantee that you'll be in the clear the next time you use the product. Another option is to visit a dermatologist or allergist for a PPD-specific patch test. During this test, a dermatologist will apply a low percentage of PPD in petroleum onto your skin with a patch to test to see if you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Hair dye allergy symptoms may occur immediately or up to 48 hours after contact with the chemical you're allergic to, so it's important to monitor any skin changes after application for up to two days later, according to Dr. Shamban. If you notice any dramatic changes, such as severe irritation or blistering, don't hesitate to visit a doctor.

"Oral medications are often prescribed in more severe cases," says Dr. Ziering. "Patients may be prescribed oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and antihistamines to relieve itching or antibiotics to fight any bacterial infection that may have occurred." (FYI: A bacterial infection could potentially occur more as a result of any "wet and weeping" sores, which can create an environment for harmful bacteria to thrive, according to an article published in Archives of Dermatology.)

For a less severe reaction (such as, say, redness and itching from contact dermatitis), Dr. Ziering recommends applying products with calming ingredients, such as aloe vera, chamomile, green tea, and colloidal oatmeal. Try: Green Leaf Naturals Organic Aloe Vera Gel Spray (Buy It, $15,, a calming aloe vera mist as needed until the itchiness goes away. (

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Green Leaf Naturals Organic Aloe Vera Gel Spray

Green Leaf Naturals Organic Aloe Vera Gel Spray

No matter the severity of the reaction, upon seeing hair dye allergy symptoms, you should immediately rinse the area "with warm water and a gentle fragrance-free, natural, or baby shampoo," says Dr. Shamban. "A shampoo with a topical corticosteroid such as Clobex can also be used." While you won't be

While you clearly can't wash off all of a semi-permanent or permanent product, it's important you rinse off what you can (think: excess dye, any product that didn't yet set in, or any smudges on your scalp or hairline). Once you've rinsed, contact your doctor as they can help you determine the best next steps and potential treatment depending on your reaction. For severe cases, you may also "mix one part hydrogen peroxide and one part water for a mild antiseptic solution that may help calm the skin and reduce irritation and blistering to skin or scalp," says Dr. Shamban.

Allergic reactions to hair color can range from mildly annoying to downright scary. But as long as you follow experts' advice (i.e. patch test) and keep an eye out for ingredients such as PPD, you should be good to go. But remember: Never hesitate to reach out to your doctor if the after-effects of your dye job are causing you concern.

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