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

Hair Dye

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 or temporary hair dye
  • 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.

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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,

comments (110 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. Prada says

    Hi From African Caribbean background and used sta sof fro non permanent hair dye have used for over 20 years. Had adverse skin reaction swelling itching hives blotches etc. So changed to Nice and Easy used a couple of times great coverage for grey hair (on black hair). After third used a more severe reaction than with previous dye. I am so scared to try any others as I nearly ended up in hospital this time.


  2. kemme says

    I have a friend who had this allergy problem with hair dye ingredients for many years. During a breakfast gathering, a friend recommended a hair moisturising shampoo and a conditioner that she said worth using that could repair damaged hair. After tried 2 weeks the hair scalp was healed. The company also sell hair dye, only available in dark brown colour. This is the first hair dye that is friendly with no allergy to her scalp.

  3. Barbara Savage says

    After having a severe reaction to PPD four years ago, I have been successfully using CoSamo Love Your Color. I buy it online and have my stylist apply it (the dark brown can be very messy in my white bathroom!). I am not all grey – mainly on my temples and a little throughout, but she saturates my whole head, and puts me under the steamer for 10 minutes and then I sit for another 20. I only go every two months, although it should probably be done every month. I also don’t wash my hair every day, so I can make it last the two months.

    I have been very happy with this product. It’s one bottle – no PPD (obviously), no ammonia, no peroxide, and as gentle as shampoo. It basically stains the hair and I think multiple applications of it helps layer on the stain. Anything product that requires mixing 2 bottles together just aren’t worth the risk!

  4. Michael Anthony says

    I was a hairdresser for 55 years and first used L’Oreal tints in 1960. As far as i am aware para/phenylenediamines often referred to as PPD is a banned substance and it is not used in any hair colour dye. If you read the labels it clearly says that the tint contains a colour dye known as Toluene-2,5-Diamine, unlike PPD there is no known colour test for it. If Garnier are saying in their OLIA adverts to be colour-safe and test 48 hours before use then perhaps they can explain why it has failed to protect both salon and home-users on numerous occasions. Schwarzkopf actually put a disclaimer within their instructions where it offers no guarantees the test will work. I also do not believe that Garnier tints are ammonia free. All dyes used in hair colour derive from ammonia and there is no alternative to it. Go into a website which states a List of banned substances used in hair colour dyes and you will find that phenylenediamines is number 2 on that list.

    • Stephanie says

      I have been a Stylist for over 30 years and worked on the manufacturing side of the business as well. PPD is not banned, there are ammonia alternatives, oil delivery and mono-ethanolamine (a type of ethanol)

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