What One Editor Learned After a Scary Allergic Reaction to Hair Dye

If I had my way, I would probably change my hair color as often as I change my sheets (if it were totally damage-free to my hair). I have amassed quite a collection of hair color inspiration photos that range from blond ombre looks and sun-kissed babylights to chocolate brown locks. Unfortunately, changing my hair color from one end of the spectrum to the other is more of a pipedream for me than a reality since I discovered (the hard way through a nasty allergic reaction) that I am allergic to hair color. More specifically, it’s PPD, the key color molecule in dye that allows for darker pigments to cover the hair for long-lasting results, that I can’t tolerate.

For the past few years, I’ve resorted to strictly bleach-based highlights, which always end up turning brassy. The last round of highlights left me way too light and stripy looking—not what I was going for. I tried my best to stick it out and see if I could learn to like the color, but it just wasn’t happening. I remembered reporting on Wella Koleston Perfect Innosense, a permanent professional color line made just for people with allergic reactions to hair dye, and figured it was worth a shot. I mean, my hair couldn’t end up any worse than it was.

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What I learned was that allergies develop any time the body recognizes a substance as being dangerous, which are detected by T-cell receptors. When hair dye sensitivities and allergies are the problem, it’s usually the PPD that the body has an adversity to. But, Koleston Perfect Innosense doesn’t use PPD (or PTD, a similar chemical, for that matter), but rather a new type of dye molecule, ME+ that bypasses the T-cells because the shape of the molecule does not fit the T-cell receptor so there’s less of a chance of developing a reaction.

Call me crazy, but unlike most women out there, I had to patch test the color before committing to having it slapped all over my head. I couldn’t chance a reaction, a weeks worth of steroids, and feeling like my head, face and scalp were on fire. Two days after a quarter-size amount of the color was applied behind my ear, I was in the clear—no redness, itching or burning at all. I scheduled an appointment, and over the course of two hours watched my hair transform back to dark before my eyes.

For the first time in years I was able to go dark—and I mean super dark—without any major side effects. (Full disclosure: There was a small bit of redness at the nape of my neck, but then again, four bowls of color were used on my hair. It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle and a bit of hydrocortisone kicked it right out.) I couldn’t believe that after all these years—and all the attempts I made to try and find a color alternative—that there was finally something out there that worked.

Now the only question that remains is: Should I stay dark or switch it up again?

2 Comments
  • Nina
    Posted on

    Hey, I bookmarked this article. I also have allergies to hair dye. And my I'm beginning to have white hair. Thanks for writing this article. I am hopeful.

  • marcie
    Posted on

    I also have a PPD allergy and you need to really test a new product 3 times and 3 days apart to see if you are allergic. It's a tough allergy to have and there are some other products out there too. Just because it says PPD free does not mean there are not other products in the hair dye you could be allergic to.

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