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

Can some hair dyes actually cause death?

Source: Best Health Magazine, January/February 2012

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.

Don’t miss out! Sign up for our free weekly newsletters and get nutritious recipes, healthy weight-loss tips, easy ways to stay in shape and all the health news you need, delivered straight to your inbox.

Related content:

Secrets to Staying Healthy & Happy


Fashion Finds: Summery pastel jewelry

Pretty pastels are a huge fashion trend this season, and candy-coated the look is tinting everything from jeans, to makeup (as depicted in our May issue), to jewelry. This summer, leave your silvers and golds tucked safely away in your jewelry box and try out some sweetly-coloured icing instead.   Breezy & CasualAccessorize a floaty […]


Peach Iced Tea

We drink gallons of iced tea year-round, and like most southerners, we drink it sweet. But in the summer months we add sunny-syrupy flavor by stirring in peaches that we’ve liquefied in a blender.

Mediterranean roasted lamb

Just a few fresh ingredients, simply cooked, make a warmly satisfying meal. Eggplants and shallots, whose flavours intensify with roasting, make perfect partners for tender, succulent lamb. Serve with warm, crusty bread.


Warm Shiitake Walnut Salad with Quinoa

Garlic, olive oil, shiitake mushrooms and walnuts’what could be a more perfect blend for a side dish? Add to that the combination of two superfoods in one salad ‘ quinoa and walnuts ‘ and the side dish becomes a star on its own.


Event: Butt out for National Non-Smoking Week

We’re half way through January and many of us are struggling to hold on to those New Year’s resolutions. If your goal this year is to quit smoking, National Non-Smoking Week (NNSW) may be just what you need to get on track.Hosted by the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control, NNSW is now underway until January […]