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Black Hair Medical News Online, Issue #002 -- Black Hair Dye Allergy
September 15, 2008

Black Hair Dye Allergy

A few weeks ago, a gentleman in his late 50ís came into the office with puffiness and swelling of his face, crusting and scaling of his scalp and small blisters around the hair line.

While discussing with him what had taken place, he revealed that he had recently dyed his hair a couple of days before this problem started. After I asked if he had used black hair dye, he stated that he had and the mystery was solved.

Black hair dye is a common cause of a type of skin rash called allergic contact dermatitis.

This condition develops when a susceptible individual has skin contact with a substance that is associated with contact sensitivity.

After exposure, an immune reaction is triggered which is usually followed in 48 to 72 hours by a rash known as allergic contact dermatitis.

Permanent black hair dye contains an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine, (abbreviated PPD or PPDA) which is usually responsible for the allergic sensitivity.

Once an individual becomes allergic to paraphenylenediamine, the sensitivity lasts for life. One of my patients who knew he was allergic to black hair dye avoided the product for 5 years. He then decided to see if he was still allergic to it by sticking his finger in the bottle. Needless to say, the finger became swollen, blistered, cracked and secondarily infected with bacteria requiring medical intervention. He now wears his gray hair gracefully.

In addition to black hair dye, paraphenylenediamine may also be found in some dark-colored cosmetics, black rubber, printing inks, oils, and gasoline.

Individuals who are allergic to paraphenylenediamine may also react to the following so they may need to be avoided:

  • PABA based sunscreens
  • Sulfa drugs
  • Other dye chemicals
  • semi permanent hair dyes
  • some caine drugs such as benzocaine

The following are examples of hair dye products that are free of paraphenylenediamine:

  • Henna hair dyes
  • Vegetable based dyes
  • Metallic dyes formulated for men.

Doing a patch test by applying a small amount of the product twice a day for 3 days to an area about the size of a quarter beforehand is one way to check for PPDA allergy before it is applied to the entire scalp.

So, be smart about coloring your hair and seek medical attention right away if a reaction occurs. Fortunately for the gentleman above he was treated with a medication regiment that helped him get back to normal within a week. In more severe cases, hospitalization and IV medications may be required.

Seymour M. Weaver, III, M.D.
Board Certified Dermatologist

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