Thursday, November 24, 2011

How dangerous are the chemicals in the hair dye?

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Little did Julie McCabe, 38, know that the hair dye she was applying would 
push her into coma. Doctors attending her in a UK hospital say Julie has only an eight 
per cent chance of survival and she may have suffered a severe allergic reaction to a 
chemical in the L’Oreal Preference product. They blame it on the chemical called
para-phenylenediamine, present in almost all brands of hair dyes including L’Oreal.

Though no definitive link has yet been established with the L’Oreal product, the doctors’ 
team has asked for the kit and gloves Julie used so they can conduct laboratory tests.  
Julie’s case is not an isolated one. Back home in India, thousands of cases of allergic 
reaction to hair dye are reported every year. There are instances of people committing 
suicide by consuming hair dyes containing para-phenylenediamine.

L’Oreal, however, is silent on the product recall in India. However, it insists that all 
its products contain only permitted constituents, and consumers should invariably undergo 
the patch test 48 hours prior to each application of hair dye to rule out any allergic 

“It all depends how severe is the allergic reaction. Those, who had allergic reaction to 
a hair dye, should never use it. If they use it for the second time, the reaction will be 
more severe. Generally, second time or third time reaction to any product will lead to 
major health issues including breathlessness, drop in blood pressure, shock and even
coma” warns senior physician Dr Aftab Ahmad  of Apollo Hospitals, Secunderabad.

Para-phenylenediamine or simply PPD is a hazardous chemical and if inhaled or consumed, 
it will prove quite disastrous to health. “There have been attempt to suicide cases 
wherein people consume hair dye. The death rate is always high if timely medical 
intervention is not provided,” Dr Aftab observes to drive home the point how dangerous 
the chemicals used in hair dyes are.

PPD, though harmful, is not banned as it is used in a number of applications including 
development of colour films and oxidation of rubber. It is a preferred product in most of 
the hair dyes as it gives colour to the hair that is long lasting. If PPD is not used in 
a hair dye, the colour fades away after a few shampoo wash. The best way to identify 
whether a hair dye brand uses PPD is to the look out for two bottles in the pack. If 
there are two bottles in a hair dye pack, it means one of them (colourless solution) is 
PPD. The chemical can trigger asthma and eczema and damage kidneys and lungs. Those 
applying hair dye in parlours and saloons may also get skin problems.

Recently, doctors at the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology in  the city treated a 
middle-aged person, who had developed jaundice and liver problem after she used a hair 
dye. In some people, the chemicals in the hair dye gets absorbed into the blood stream 
through the skin. Those who have history of allergy and the immune-compromised people 
should avoid chemical hair dyes and go in for the simple natural mehndi or henna, city 
doctors advise. People with dandruff, eczema, abrasions and cuts on the scalp should 
avoid chemical hair dyes, as the chances of absorption are higher.

Says senior dermatologist Dr Radha Shah, “certain percentage of dye users get allergic 
reactions like rashes, itching, oozing, which sometimes spreads on to the face, behind 
the ear and complete body. Instead one should use freshly prepared henna and watch out 
for preserved hennas available in the market as they may contain PPD”.

When contacted, a L’Oreal spokesperson pointed out that the company gives highest 
priority to the safety of its consumers. “All of the ingredients used in our hair 
colouring products have been subjected to an exhaustive safety evaluation procedure. We 
comply strictly with current Indian and international legislation in choosing our 
ingredients and use them in ways that have been proven safe for consumers,” she says, 
adding that hair dyes are among the most thoroughly studied consumer products and they 
can be used with complete confidence when the recommended instructions are strictly 

“In order to reduce as far as possible this risk, L’Oreal has, for many years, 
recommended that users carry out a skin sensitivity test 48 hours prior to each hair 
colourant application. The precautionary measures that we consider necessary are very 
clearly indicated and detailed on all of the packaging and instructions for use of the 
L’Oreal Group’s hair colourants,” the spokesperson adds.

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