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Ingredient Watch List: Phenylenediamine, the Hair Dye Allergen That Can Irritate Skin


Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice... read more

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is general in nature and for informational purposes. It is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. None of the statements on this site are a recommendation as to how to treat any particular disease or health-related condition. If you suspect you have a disease or health-related condition of any kind, you should contact your health care professional immediately. Please read all product packaging carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise, supplementation or medication program. Cosmetic products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. read less

Have you had your hair colored lately? If so, you were probably exposed to phenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical widely used in most hair dyes, even those that claim to be natural. It’s a popular ingredient because it helps new color to look natural, and to withstand numerous washings without fading. There are some concerns with this ingredient, however, that may make you think twice about how often you change your hair color.

What is Phenylenediamine?

Also known as paraphenylenediamine, p-phenylenediamine, or 1,4-benzenediamine, PPD is an organic compound used in hair dyes, as well as in rubber chemicals, textile dyes and pigments. Manufacturers like it because it has a low relative toxicity level, high temperature stability, and chemical and electrical resistance. In other words, it helps the new color stay on your hair despite numerous washings, dryings, and stylings.

What are the Concerns?

The main concern with this ingredient is that it is an allergen, and can create difficult skin reactions on the scalp, ears, or neck—wherever the hair dye comes into contact with your skin. The National Institute for 
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) notes the following:

  • PPD is potentially capable of causing multiple toxic effects following skin contact.
  • Data from studies of both humans and animals are sufficient to demonstrate that PPD has potent skin-sensitizing properties.
  • Several cases of contact dermatitis have been reported following occupational exposure to dyes containing the chemical.
  • Studies have also identified the chemical as the third most common ingredient, after fragrances and preservatives, that can cause contact dermatitis from cosmetics (mainly skin-care products, hair preparations and colorants, and facial makeup products).

In fact, a group of European dermatologists noted that as more young people color their hair, the incidence of hair dye allergies is on the rise. Patients with severe reactions suffer from painful rashes around the hair line or on the face. Facial swelling is also common. Some reactions are so serious that the sufferers must be hospitalized.

“Over-Exposure” Causing More Allergies?

What's Your Skin Score?

Experts theorize that as more and more people color their hair more and more often, the incidence of PPD allergies goes up. PPD is also present in many inks used for temporary tattoos. In 2001, the FDA noted it had received several reports of adverse reactions to these temporary skin-staining products, including “black henna” which may contain PPD.

The FDA stated, “So-called “black henna” may contain the “coal tar” color p-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD. This ingredient may cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The only legal use of PPD in cosmetics is as a hair dye. It is not approved for direct application to the skin.”

PPD used in skin tattoos has a greater potential to cause allergic reactions because it is often used at higher concentrations than in hair dyes, and is also applied while in it’s oxidation process. Still, the fact that it’s not approved for use on the skin raises concerns in itself—how can you get your hair colored without some of the stuff coming in contact with your scalp or the skin around your hair, neck, and ears?

How Do You Know if You’re Allergic?

You may not be allergic to PPD. It may not bother you at all today—but it may tomorrow. That’s how so-called “skin sensitizers” work. The more you use them, the higher your risk that your skin will become sensitive to them.

If you’re not allergic, you may just want to continue to color your hair with caution. If you are allergic, you’ll probably experience symptoms such as those mentioned above (rash, swelling), and you may also experience blisters and sores on the scalp, wheezing, hives, itching, and dermatitis on the forehead, eyelids or ears.

How to Avoid This Ingredient

If you are concerned about allergic reactions to PPD, read labels and avoid the following ingredients. Realize that PPD is also in many over-the-counter hair dye products for both men and women.

  • p-Phenylenediamine or paraphenylenediamine
  • 4-phenylenediamine
  • phenylenediamine
  • p-diaminobenzene
  • 4-aminoaniline
  • 1,4-benzenediamine
  • 1,4-diaminobenzene

For hair dyes that are PPD-free, I only recommend Henna. I feel that it’s the safest option. (Read more about Henna here.) If you’re looking for other less-toxic options, you may want to try the following:

  • Semi-permanent dyes
  • Lady Grecian® Formula
  • Palette by Nature
  • Sanotint Natural Permanent Hair Dye
  • Jerome Russell’s Color Mousse
  • Temporary Color Spray
  • Grecian® Formula
  • Clairol® Loving Care Haircolor
  • Sun-In®, Spray-In Hair Lightener
  • Vegetable-based hair dyes such as juglone from walnut shells


Do you have a favorite toxin-free hair dye? Please share.

* * *

Photo courtesy BedazzledSalonSpa via

p-Phenylenediamin, JADN Repository, March 2007,

“NIOSH Skin Notation Profiles, p-Phenylene Diamine (PPD),” Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Salynn Boyles, “As More Teens Use Hair Color, Incidence of Allergies Increases,” WebMD, February 1, 2007,

Temporary Tattoos & Henna/Mehndi, FDA, April 18, 2001,

“p-Phenylenediamine – Patient Information,” Allergen Patch Test,

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COMMENTS ( 95 and counting )
  1. jenny says:

    His reaction started on his shoulder front and chest which was where I slept. A few months later he then started getting it on his mouth area from kissing my head and his hands from running his fingers thru my hair. The dermatologist did a patch test an we found out he’s allergic to ppd

  2. jasmine says:

    I was looking this up for a research paper and I am planning on dyeing my hair bright blue soon. is it safe for my hair

  3. Jennifer says:

    I had scarlet fever, and decided to dye my hair while I was ill. I have been dying my hair blond for many years, and decided to do something different. I dyed the bottom half of my hair grape black, and within a day, I was covered in a rash from head to foot. I was on cortisone, phenegans, 3 x daily, injections or both for a few weeks, and it never made any difference. I literally wanted to scratch my skin off. My scalp was covered in large bumps like huge mosquito bites.
    After suffering for 3 months, I finally started not itching. I then decided to literally do 3 blond foils on my hair, and…WHAM….. the itches were back with a vengeance.

    I have come to the conclusion that I am allergic to PPD. I have not dyed my hair for 3 months, and I have finally lost the last itchy bump on my scalp. My reaction was a full body reaction, and I was really sick for some time afterwards. This is really a pain, as it is virtually impossible to find dyes in South Africa without PPD.

  4. fran cooperman says:

    half the products advertised on the net for people who are allergic to PPD have long been taken off the market. lady grecian formula and loving care have not existed for years. why on earth clairol does not bring back loving care when so many people are allergic to PPD is beyond me. if everyone wrote them perhaps they would consider it.

  5. Steve says:

    Check Original Minerals” from Australia/ England

  6. Anupma says:

    Hi all
    I m very allergic to hair colours and even henna as a matter of fact . I was looking for hair colour for so many years and found a nice hair colour . It does not give any allergies and it contains all herbal ingredients. Email or message me and i can send you a sample . I m sure you wont have any complaints .
    I m in sydney Australia

  7. Kathy says:

    I’m in the U.S., but here’s my story. Three months ago I went into anaphylaxis from hair dye applied at the salon. I had ALL the symptoms, progressing rapidly, and went to the hospital emergency room. I’m certain that 10 more minutes’ delay and I would have died. I also felt toxic/poisoned for the subsequent 3-4 weeks and continue to be hypersensitive to all shampoos. Welcoming my emerging lovely silver hair now. Applaud your efforts to get it banned! It’s deadly.

    • suzanne says:

      Hi I’m a hairdresser that has had the same reaction but I’ve found a product online anyone can buy called chi it’s ammonia and pod free and i can finally colour my hair good luck

  8. Margaret says:

    My favourite is Vegetal, made by Herbatint. Lovely and natural looking colour, although I need to re-do it weekly as it washes out easily. Covers my grey well – perhaps because my hair is fine – so I’m happy to invest the time in it!

    Hope this helps someone.

  9. suzannr says:

    I’ve been a hairdresser for the past28 years and am now allergic to ammonia and ppd it gives me an anaphalatic reaction . I had to give it up untill I found an amazing product called chi you can buy it online and it was made through a hairdresser that suffered the same reaction.I have also used the colour on myself and had no problems with it so I hope this helps you too

  10. Katie says:

    Has anyone ever tried Kenra hair products?

    I have an allergy to PPD and have had it since I got a temporary henna tattoo 15 years ago. To date the only hair colour I have found that work are bleach (no toner) and Elumen by Goldwell. Elemen is great for colour except it is impossible to reverse and does not cover grey! I’m currently looking for alternatives. I had a patch test of Kenra 2 days ago and have no reaction so far but am still hesitant to cover my scalp in it.

  11. denise says:

    I read about a hair dye from Germany called Logona in a book called Healthy Beauty by Epstein, a medical doctor. This dye is supposed to be free of ppd and many other toxic ingredients. I’d love to know how to find it in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area)

    • Aiden says:

      Hi Denise
      I live in Ireland and purchased logona online through Amazon:) I have recently had a bad reaction to PPD and to be honest the logona is just sitting here as I am afraid to use it! Also I have just had delivery of hairprint from the US and that is actually edible! You should look into it!

  12. henrietta wolfe says:

    When I type in a product to see if it contains PPD’s. I see the following Missing:ppd’s with line thru PPD’s. What does this mean?

    • Annmarie Skin Care says:

      If you see a line though PPD, it means that it isn’t listed on the page or in the product that you’re looking at. You might want to use the full word and search for other names for a PPD to conduct your search.

  13. Dusty says:

    I was training to become a hairdresser and became severely allergic to hair dyes and perms, a horrible rash went over my whole body for 2 years!!

    Now I’m looking to get a tattoo. Does anyone know if there is PPD in tattoo ingredients?

    Thanks for any help.

  14. John says:

    I am suffering from an extreme chemical burn from using Redken Color camo, I used it for about 4 years, stopped 9 years ago, my head is still swelling chronically and the pain is incredible day and night. Its been 9 years.