The Problem With Synthetic Hair Dyes


Every week in a newspaper somewhere there is a chilling report about the effects of synthetic dyes on somebody’s body. Recently, there was a story in the Daily Mail about a mother who was left in a coma after using hair dye, the doctor’s warned that even if she survives she will almost certainly be brain damaged. The culprit or should I say, active ingredient in the hair dyes that seems to be causing all the hullaboo is called para-phenylenediamine, or a close chemical variant of para-phenylenediamine (PPD). This ingredient is in virtually every chemical hair dye, even some of the hair dyes, which claim to be natural.

Many persons are having severe allergic reactions to PPD and at times, like the case related in Daily Mail the effects can be devastating. Long-term effects from exposure to PPD includes: lupus, asthma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and there appear to also be links to breast, uterine and bladder cancer.

What is paraphenylenediamine (PPD)?

Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical substance that is widely used as a permanent hair dye. It is also found in textiles, dark colored cosmetics, temporary tattoos, photographic developer and lithography plates, photocopying and printing inks, black rubber, oils, greases and gasoline. It is a popular ingredient in hair dye because it is permanent, not easy to wash away and gives the hair color a more natural look. Additionally, the hair can be shampooed and chemically altered without changing the hair’s color, PPD acts like a stabilizer.

PPD is colorless and requires oxygen for it to become colored. In hair dye packages, PPD usually comes in two bottles, one containing the PPD dye preparation and the other containing the developer or oxidizer.

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When PPD is fully oxidized it rarely triggers an allergic reaction, hence persons who might otherwise be allergic to PPD can wear wigs or other cosmetics dyed with PPD. However when PPD is in a partially oxidized state it may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

PPD allergic reactions

The reactions to PPD can stem from mild- dermatitis, reddening of the scalp, face and nose to more severe reactions like swelling of the scalp and the face and even anaphylaxis (rapid onset allergy that may cause death).

Patch Test

It is very important to do a patch test before using any hair dye-even the natural ones. Usually, there are big warnings on the hair dye kits. It is imperative, that even if you are using a particular dye for a number of years that you still perform a patch test every time before you use it.

How To Avoid PPD Allergy

If you are allergic to PPD hair dyes, you should avoid all oxidation type hair dyes (the ones that comes in two bottles and you have to mix it). Inform your hairdresser or stylist of your allergy before you proceed with any hair coloring sessions.

Alternatives To PPD

  • Vegetable Hair Dyes -these may not provide long lasting effects but they are safest and the healthiest option for hair. See Natural Gray Hair Dyes: Henna, Indigo & Others for a color chart and other information on vegetable hair dyes.
  • Semi-permanent hair dyes may be a suitable alternative but approximately 10% of individuals who are allergic to PPD also react to these. Always do a patch test to confirm sensitivity before applying the dye.
  •  Metallic hair dyes
  •  Para-toluenediamine sulfate (PTDS) instead of PPD. This is likely to be tolerated by about 50% of people who are allergic to PPD. Patch testing is recommended prior to use.

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