WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Feb. 1, 2007 -- Tattoos and body piercings are so yesterday. These days the
hottest fashion trend among teens is hair that screams in shocking colors like
Napalm Orange, Atomic Pink, and Electric Blue.
Some parents may breathe a sigh of relief; even the most "permanent"
dye job isn’t as permanent as a tattoo, or a pierced lip or tongue.
But as more and more young people color their hair, the incidence of hair
dye allergies is also increasing, warns a group of European dermatologists.
The culprit is a common chemical ingredient in permanent hair dyes, called
para-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD is found in more than two-thirds of
commercial dyes, the researchers say, including many of the top-selling
Patients with severe PPD reactions commonly develop painful rashes around
the hair line or on the face, which often require treatment and can
occasionally lead to hospitalization. Facial swelling is also common.
In his own London clinic, dermatologist John P. McFadden saw a doubling of
PPD reactions over the past six years.
“Dermatologists report anecdotally that the frequency of positive reactions
to PPD on patch testing is increasing,” McFadden and colleagues write in an
editorial published in the Feb. 3 issue of BMJ.
Last October, editorial co-author Heidi Sosted of the University of
Copenhagen reported on eight cases of severe hair dye reactions among teens
between the ages of 12 and 15.
Reactions were so serious that five of the teens had to be hospitalized, and
one reportedly ended up in intensive care.
In an earlier study, Sosted and colleagues examined the frequency of hair
dye reactions in a sample population of 4,000 adults living in Denmark.
A total of 18% of the men and 75% of the women said they had used hair dyes,
and slightly over 5% said they had experienced allergic reactions to them. But
only 15% of those who had allergic reactions reported seeking medical
“Wider debate on the safety and composition of hair dyes is overdue -- among
medical and scientific communities, the public and legislators,” McFadden,
Sosted, and colleagues write in the BMJ editorial.
“Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair and, perhaps,
the widespread obsession with the ‘culture of youth’ are putting people at risk
and increasing the burden on health services.”
In a statement issued to WebMD in response to the editorial, the Cosmetics,
Toiletry and Fragrance Association countered that hair dye is among the most
thoroughly studied of consumer products and that safety tests on the individual
ingredients that make up hair dyes are "continually updated."
“Just like many other products in common use, such as certain foods or
drugs, hair dyes can cause skin allergic reactions in some individuals,” CTFA
officials write. “The number of consumers allergic to hair dyes is very small
and the majority of these reactions occur at the site of contact many hours
after hair dye use and resemble other contact-allergy reactions like nickel,
poison ivy, etc.”
First-time users can greatly reduce their risk of allergic reactions by
conducting a skin-sensitivity test 48 hours before coloring their hair.
“The necessary warnings and instructions for skin testing are on hair
coloring packages,” notes the CTFA statement. “If a consumer is positively
identified as allergic to a hair dye ingredient, they can (and they should)
avoid use of all permanent hair dyes and consult a physician before any further
SOURCES: McFadden, J.P. BMJ, Feb. 3, 2007; vol 334: p 220. John P.
McFadden, senior lecturer, St. John’s Institute of Dermatology, London. “Severe
Allergic Hair Dye Reactions in 8 Children,” Contact Dermatitis, October
2006. “Contact Dermatitis to Hair Dyes in a Danish Adult Population: An
Interview-Based Study,” British Journal of Dermatology, July 2005.
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