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
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 Flickr.com.
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.