Para-phenylenediamine is an ingredient used in all chemical hair dyes. It is a type of chemical known as a Para-dye. Brunette and black hair dyes contain higher concentrations of PPD/Para-dyes, though all colors can contain PPD and other Para-dyes.

Para-phenylenediamine/Para-dyes can present many health risks. Despite a well-documented history of allergic reaction, increased risk of cancer, and other serious health issues, these chemicals are still used in hair dyes, because without Para-dyes, chemical dyes would not work.

Symptoms of allergic reactions to PPD/Para-dyes may include itching, swelling, hives, blistering, depigmentation, and permanent scarring.

The allergic reactions often require emergency treatment to keep airways open, and further treatment in an ICU or burn ward​​ A person may additionally experience difficulty breathing and swelling of body parts near the site of exposure. In the case of hair dye use, this means swelling of the face, eyes, and throat. Reactions near the eyes can cause damage and loss of sight.

PPD/Para-dye sensitization can happen to anyone.

Even if you’ve been using chemical hair dyes for years, you can still suddenly develop an allergic reaction. In a well-known study 100% of subjects exposed to 10% concentrations of PPD developed a reaction within five patch tests.

The chances of becoming sensitized to PPD/Para-dyes after getting a “black henna” tattoo is about 50%. Once sensitized, a person will experience a reaction the next time they come in contact with PPD/Para-dyes. ​​ Don’t ever have a ‘black henna’ tattoo!

The rate of PPD/Para-dye sensitization is increasing. Studies have shown that people are using hair dye at younger ages and at higher frequencies. While hair dye was once more commonly used to cover grey hairs that came with age, it is now a common at any age to change hair color on a whim.

It is projected that by 2030, about 16% of middle class people in various countries around the world will be allergic to PPD/Para-dyes.

The allergic reaction gets worse over time.

Reaction symptoms often start out mild and worsen each time a person makes contact with the chemical dye. A person who has dyed their hair using a chemical hair dye for several years may at first experience no reaction, then one day notice some itching or burning, or have puffy eyes after applying hair dye. The next application might cause more painful symptoms. Before long, that person could require emergency hospital care for a reaction that has caused intense swelling to the entire face and head, and difficulty breathing.

In 2012, a woman in England died after experiencing a reaction to an over-the-counter chemical hair dye. Further investigation discovered she had previously had a “black henna” tattoo, which likely had sensitized her to future encounters with PPD/Para-dyes.

One study found that even after participants were found by way of patch test to have a PPD/Para-dye sensitivity, more than half continued to use hair dyes anyway. This shows that the average person does not take their allergy seriously, and is willing to endure an allergic reaction for the sake of their idea of beauty. Don’t do it, your health is more important!

I have customers who swell up like balloons after dyeing with a chemical hair dye. They take anti-histamines…. And then dye their hair again at a later stage!

How much PPD is too much?

The quantities of PPD/Para-dyes in hair dyes are not strictly monitored. Europe has a maximum allowable amount of just PPD at 4%, the USA is at 6%.

One study found that packages of black hair dye manufactured in China and India (often sold as black, brown or burgundy henna) contained 12.5% to over 30% PPD, far in excess of legally allowed levels. Other samples have been found to have as high as 60% PPD.

These dyes are cheap, but nasty.

What is Black Henna?

There is no such thing. Pure Henna is not black, and cannot dye anything black. A solid form of pure PPD is sold as “henna stone” from the banks of the Nile River, which creates instant black results. This leads uninformed buyers to believe that a) the product is natural and safe; and b) that natural henna produces a black stain. It’s all a dirty lie.

PPD-free hair dyes – there is no such thing.

Hair dyes that are labeled “PPD free” definitely contain other Para-dyes. Chemical hair dyes can’t work without them.  If a person is allergic to PPD they are going to react badly to the other Para-dyes as well.  Any ingredient containing the words ‘para’, ‘phenyl’, ‘benzo’, ‘diamine’, ‘toluene’ are going to cause allergic reactions.

Be a careful shopper.

  1. Read labels.
  2. Don’t be fooled by ‘PPD-free’ hair dyes. It’s a marketing scam.
  3. Just because a product calls itself ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ doesn’t mean it is.
  4. Calling a dye a ‘Henna’ dye makes it sound nice and natural. Henna is a plant right? Read the label.

Use pure plant dyes like Henna, Indigo and Cassia to dye your hair. It’s healthy, it’s fun (ok, messy fun) and you know that millions of people for thousands of years can’t be wrong.

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