Can some hair dyes actually cause death?

What are the risks of colouring your hair? Find out whether an allergic reaction to hair dye is something you should be concerned about

By Lisa Hannam

Can some hair dyes actually cause death?

Yes, but only in extremely rare cases. Late last year, U.K. media reported that a 17-year-old girl in Scotland had coloured her hair with an at-home kit, and within 20 minutes began vomiting, collapsed and later died in hospital. Since then other reports from the U.K. have come out about teens with disfiguring swelling after dyeing their hair.

The news suggested they'd had severe reactions to PPD, which stands for paraphenylenediamine, a colour-enriching ingredient used in some at-home and salon permanent dyes. We asked Dr. Benjamin Barankin, a dermatologist and medical director of the Toronto Dermatology Centre, if there's truth to such a connection. "Millions of people can tolerate PPD just fine. But there is a small percentage of people who can become allergic to it." He says that the darker the dye colour, from brown to black, the more likely it contains PPD. Reactions, such as irritation, swelling and redness, can progressively worsen with repeated exposure, to the point of anaphylaxis. But he stresses that any reactions at all are extremely rare.

Health Canada bans PPD in cosmetics that are applied directly to the skin. And if you read the instructions on semi-permanent hair colour kits (both at-home kits and the salon variety), they advise you to avoid having the dye coming into contact with your scalp.

Some brands offer PPD-free colouring. But often another chemical is used in its place: paratoluenediamine, or PTD. It is possible to be allergic to this as well. Some henna-based dyes also contain PPD or PTD.

Barankin stresses the importance of doing what the packages instruct: Test the dye on a patch of skin, such as on your arm, the first time you use it. If you have any irritation, redness and/or swelling, make an appointment with a dermatologist to confirm and diagnose a potential allergy.

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Best Health Magazine, January/February 2012

Average: 2.7 (6 votes)