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

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

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?

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 Flickr.com.

Sources:
p-Phenylenediamin, JADN Repository, March 2007, http://jadn.co.uk/w/paraphenylenediamine.htm.

“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. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2011-154/pdfs/2011-154.pdf.

Salynn Boyles, “As More Teens Use Hair Color, Incidence of Allergies Increases,” WebMD, February 1, 2007, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-beauty/news/20070201/hair-dye-allergies-rise.

Temporary Tattoos & Henna/Mehndi, FDA, April 18, 2001, http://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/productandingredientsafety/productinformation/ucm108569.htm.

“p-Phenylenediamine – Patient Information,” Allergen Patch Test, http://www.truetest.com/PatientPDF/Patient_pPhenylenediamine.pdf.

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78 Responses to “Ingredient Watch List: Phenylenediamine, the Hair Dye Allergen That Can Irritate Skin”

  • leroy courteaux says:

    There is a company that makes a Product called Ju-ja isometrics that will make any Hair Color or Bleach safe…..For information visit they web page at http://www.vidaofneworleans.com or http://www.juja.ca

  • Kristen says:

    I am extremely allergic to PPD and have lightened my dark blonde hair for years. I can no longer use permanent blonde dye as I react both box and salon brands contain PPD. Since my hair is dark blonde I found that sun in spray and Sanotint lightening kit (for highlights work very well) I am also sensitive to nickel and Sanotint is PPD and Nickel free.
    They both do contain peroxide however.

  • Crista says:

    What if someone’s suffering of that kind of allergy? What should he/she do? face become swollen and reddish.

    • Lindsay says:

      Discontinue any hair dye immediately ! PPD is lethal and can even cause the throat to close up in certain hyper sensitive individuals. if your face is swollen and red, you need to get to a hospital…. sometimes the symptoms can get better on their own but its not worth risking. I have found a product which is free of ALL chemicals, its HENNA without all the additives…”Love My Hair’ is the brand. I haven’t tried it yet but the darker colours and the reds apparently cover grey/white hair successfully. I got it from http://www.faithfultonature.co.za

  • Veronica says:

    Can my husband be allergic to my hair color? He does not color his hair but I do, he thinks that he is coming into contact with something in my hair color that is causing a rash on his left arm, which is the side I sleep on in our bed. Could this be true?

  • jenny says:

    My husband is very alergic to the black hair dye I was using. So yes

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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