Henna is thought to be a safe, natural alternative to boxed haircolor kits—so why did one woman have a severe allergic reaction to it?

By Rachel Jacoby Zoldan
Updated: March 22, 2016

A recent report speculates that over 75 percent of American women color their hair in some form, whether they're trying highlights (the most popular look), a single-process, or a root touch up. And while dying your hair is usually just another day in the salon, one woman found herself in the emergency room as a result. (Craving a color change? Try one of these 6 Celeb Hair Color Ideas to Steal.)

Backstory: Chemese Armstrong, 34, of Abilene, Texas went to have her hair colored at a salon because they used henna, a temporary plant-based dye. (You likely have seen henna used for semipermanent tattoos on hands and arms, like this rad look here.) Three years ago, she realized she had an allergy to paraphenylenediamine, a chemical used in permanent hair dye. Dr. Howard Sobel, a New York City-based dermatologist and founder of DDF Skincare says this type of allergy is relatively common. "Paraphenylenediamine, a chemical frequently added to hair dye products, is used to intensify the color and shorten the application time," Sobel explains, "but it's a very powerful allergen." Normally, henna hair dye does not have PPD-but Sobel warns it is often added.

In Armstrong's case, it was. In the days that followed, her symptoms escalated from an itchy scalp to her eyes becoming completely swollen shut, landing her a trip to the ER, needing a full week's worth of recovery time. According to Armstrong's post on Instagram, the henna dye she used did, in fact, contain paraphenylenediamine. She reached out to the unnamed salon but did not receive a response. (We have 9 Ways to Guarantee You'll Leave the Salon Loving Your Hair.)

"It just made me realize that I need to pay more attention to what I put in my body and what I put on my body," she said in a YouTube video she uploaded last week. Sobel agrees, saying a quick hair patch test is not enough. Rather, "to do a real skin allergen test, the product should be put on your inner arm and remain there for at least one hour to see if any symptoms develop," he says. Point being: Don't trust someone's word; do some investigating. For example, Dr. Sobel says Natural Moon makes a great vegan hair dye-but ultimately, every product works differently for everyone, and a patch test is always a good idea.



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