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To Color or not to Color

Posted 10/28/2004
By: Perri Jackson

Act I: Scene I: Ignorance is far from bliss

Since the day I colored my hair, life has been like a Shakespearean
play. Act I begins on August 12th the day I walked into the salon to
try and roll back time. Women these days have bought into the
advertising campaign that aging is unacceptable and our natural
appearance is inadequate. We were naïve to think that the chemicals in
cosmetics and body products had been adequately tested and then approved
by our government. We all have been unaware that the chemical companies
were putting untested compounds in the products that not only adults
have put on their bodies, but have placed on our children. We have been
ignorant to the FDA's ineffective process of testing and regulating hair
dye, among numerous other products. If I had only known that the
government had placed money above the safety of its citizens, my story
would be much different.

Act I: Scene II: Know the enemy

Para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is an ingredient found in most hair dye
whether it is purchased at a store or an upscale salon. There are a few
brands that do not contain this ingredient but may contain other harmful
or highly allergic substances such as nickel. What is PPD? It is an
aniline dye also known as a coal tar dye. Basically, it is petroleum.
What is it used for? It is a substance used in rubber chemicals, photo
developer, oil, gasoline, ink, textile dyes, dark cosmetics and hair

This ingredient goes by many names such as PPD, 1,4-Benzenediamine and
numerous other aliases. For a list of alternate names please see . The National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stated that you should "prevent
skin contact" with PPD in order to avoid the "symptoms: Irritation
pharynx, larynx; bronchial asthma; sensitization dermatitis" (NIOSH, ). Recently, PPD received bad press
when it was used to darken henna tattoos and caused numerous disfiguring
scars. The FDA states "So-called "black henna" may contain the "coal
tar" color p-phenylenediamine, also known as PPD. This ingredient may
cause allergic reactions in some individuals. The only legal use of PPD
in cosmetics is as a hair dye. It is not approved for direct application
to the skin" (FDA, ). However,
when most hair dye is applied it does come in direct contact with the
scalp and quite often touches the skin on the forehead and ears. Hair
dye is in direct contact with the skin for sometimes up to 30 minutes.
The FDA apparently feels that it is unsafe to use PPD for a tattoo but
safe enough to apply directly onto your scalp.

Act I: Scene III: More than you bargained for

The most common allergic reactions are dermatitis of the eyes, ears,
scalp and face, which may include a rash, extreme swelling and a severe
burning sensation on the scalp. The most severe reactions are
cross-sensitization and in rare cases death. Cross-sensitization means
that it not only makes you sensitive to PPD but you become responsive to
all of its chemical cousins. This includes most textile dyes, pen ink,
gasoline, oil, food dyes, medication dyes, preservatives (Parabens) and
some drugs (all caine drugs (Benzocaine, Novacaine), Sulfonamides,
sulfones, sulfa drugs, and Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)). One last
cross-reactor would be fragrances since so many contain related
chemicals. You can see from this list that if you are cross-sensitized
as I was that you become allergic to just about everything found in
modern society. For a complete list of reactions please see

Now that I am cross-sensitized, exposure to any of the items listed
above can cause me to have a blister rash, breathing difficulties and
even anaphylactic shock which could result in death. I am unable to go
into most buildings and must stay away from everyone that is wearing
fragrances (shampoo, fabric softener, perfume). I have to carry an
Epi-Pen at all times in case I go into anaphylactic shock and a medic
alert bracelet has become a permanent part of my wardrobe. In a medical
emergency there is little they could do since I am allergic to most
medicines because they contain dye and/or preservatives.

Act I: Scene IV: Life in a bubble

If you have a minor reaction (slight burning, itching scalp or minor
facial swelling) these can be treated by antihistamines or steroid
shampoo. Most likely your reactions will become more dramatic with each

Cross-sensitization could occur the first or the 25th time you color.
Doing the patch test 72 hours prior to dyeing your hair could give you
advanced warning of an acute reaction. Most people at home or in salons
don't do the required FDA patch test. They believe no complications
last time ensures you will be fine this time. Nothing could be further
from the truth. If you become cross-sensitized you usually have
symptoms within 24 hours of the coloring. Severe swelling of the eyes,
ears, or entire face and possibly intense burning of the scalp (to the
point that standing under a cold shower for hours is the only relief)
may occur. You may find, as I did, that products you put on your body
before will now burn your skin. Your shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste,
makeup, detergent, fabric softener and even your soap may cause severe
irritation. Almost all commercial products contain ingredients that can
cross-react with a PPD allergy, such as, the preservative Paraben or

You will need to contact a Dermatologist immediately to be properly
diagnosed with a PPD allergy. They will advise you of all of the
chemicals you will have to avoid. You may also be referred to an
Allergist/Immunologist to perform tests to see if your immune system has
been damaged with the exposure. These specialists will tell you
avoidance is the only way to handle this allergy. This means you have
to avoid all places which may expose you to the chemicals you are now
cross-sensitized to. For example: cleaners, carpets, pesticides, gas,
oil, and fragrances. I have found avoiding fragrances to be the most
complicated. The average person walking around has placed so many
chemical fragrances on them before they leave the house; their soap,
shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, gel, hair spray, shaving cream, makeup,
scented detergent, fabric softener and they top it off with perfume or
cologne. It is impossible to go into any public building and avoid all
of the chemicals they use to clean or the fragrances on the staff or

If you are cross-sensitized you are usually referred to an Environmental
Medicine Specialist. This specialist will guide you on the life-style
changes you will have to make due to this allergy. Depending on the
level of the allergy you may have to change all of your linens, clothes
and towels to organic cotton or hemp which may have to be color free to
avoid skin reactions to dye. Some of your furniture that has polyester
fiberfill (mattress and couch) may have to leave the house. You will
also find that almost all of your medicines from prescription to over
the counter will be off limits due to dyes and preservatives.

Your grocery bill may triple because you can only consume organic food
to avoid preservatives and dye. Reactions may occur to the building
materials of your home, such as carpet, paints, sealants, and tar based
roofing material. Currently, it runs about $250 a square foot to build
an environmentally safe home for this allergy, which does not include
the purchase of land. Most people can not afford to buy a home of this
expense so they may stay sick from reactions to their current home. You
may be advised to purchase an infrared sauna to try and reduce the
severity of your allergic reactions over time. The average cost of
these saunas is around $3,000.

Even though Environmental Medicine doctors practice traditional
medicine they are not readily acknowledged in the medical community.
They have come under attack for speaking out on the subject of
chemically related illnesses, primarily by chemical and pharmaceutical
companies. Therefore, most insurance companies will cover a
chiropractor before they will cover an Environmental Medicine doctor.
This causes the victims of hair dye cross-sensitization to pay cash for
their medical care, despite having insurance.

Act I: Scene V: Justice is not only blind it's bought and paid for.

Do the chemical manufacturers and the hair color companies know the
dangers of this chemical? I asked for permission to include the
Material Safety Data Sheet on P-Phenylenediamine (PPD) from one of the
manufacturers, Dupont, and was declined. I strongly encourage you to
review the Dupont MSDS at The MSDS number for
PPD is 1067CR.

Most people think the FDA is minding the store and ensures the safety of
hair color. Reality is that the "FDA is responsible for overseeing the
safety of cosmetics sold in this country and can prohibit the sale of
any cosmetics found harmful--except most hair dyes. Although the
adulteration provision of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act enables FDA
to seek removal of a cosmetic from the market if it is shown to be
harmful under conditions of use, hair coloring made from coal-tar were
given special exemption from bans when the act was passed in 1938. The
main ingredient in the coal-tar hair dyes manufactured at the time
prompted an allergic reaction in some susceptible individuals. Fearing
FDA would ban the sale of hair dyes because some users might develop a
rash or have other allergic reactions, the industry successfully lobbied
before the act passed to get coal-tar hair dyes exempted from the
adulteration provision. Manufacturers were required, however, to include
a warning in the labels that the products can cause skin irritation in
certain allergic individuals" (FDA,

The industry was successful in lobbying to be exempted from regulation
and with only minimal information required on the label. Clearly our
government placed the industries desires before the safety of the
public. The warning label required on all hair dye reads as follows
(601(a) of the FD&C Act): "Caution - This product contains ingredients
which may cause skin irritation on certain individuals and a preliminary
test according to accompanying directions should first be made. This
product must not be used for dyeing the eyelashes or eyebrows; to do may
cause blindness" (FDA, ).

When one reads that this product can cause skin irritation, visions of a
rash or itchy skin comes to mind. One wouldn't gather that the product
could cross-sensitize them to numerous chemicals found in every day
products. Do you see anything on the label that warns of a possible
death from anaphylactic shock? Or anything to alert someone with liver,
kidney or lung disorders that they are more at risk for side effects?
Because a label that contained all of that information just might stop
people from using the product. However, the unsuspecting patrons of
salons never see the box and the pretest is not among common practice. I
believe the industry got a label saying just what they chose to reveal,
not including the more severe side effects.

Does anyone else besides the manufacturers and the FDA know about the
risk? Just take a look at the following links from the EPA , National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Occupational
Safety and Health In the Medical
Journal entries provided by the Henna Page there are numerous listings that
point to cross-sensitization and death from hair dye. There are so many
articles on this chemical it is impossible to list them all.

Act II: Scene I: The Canary sings the blues

The coal miners knew that canaries were very susceptible to gas vapors
and used them as an early warning device, if the birds stopped singing
they knew to run for the exit. Those of us who have had anything from a
minor reaction to the more severe cross-sensitization or death are the
canaries of the dangers in hair dye. How many people have to be trapped
in their homes or die from this chemical before something is done? We
all remember that there were concerns about the dangers of tobacco long
before court cases were won. Our government waited until it was a
national epidemic before acting. The chemical industry makes the
tobacco industry look like a bunch of Girl Scouts.

Perri Jackson
Albuquerque, NM 87111

Works Cited

. Ngan,Vanessa. (2004, February10). Allergy to Paraphenylenediamine.
[Online] In New Zealand Dermatological Society.

. Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics Website. (2003, February
12). p-Phenylenediamine. [Online] In U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency. Available:

. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (1998, November 17). Chapter VI -
Cosmetics. [Online] In Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

. Patlak,Margie. (1993, April). Are Hair Dyes Safe. [Online] In U.S.
Food and Drug Administration website. Available:

. Office of Cosmetics and Colors Fact Sheet. (2001, April 18). Temporary
Tattoos and Henna/Mehndi. [Online] In U.S. Food and Drug Administration
website. Available:

. Cartwright-Jones,Catherine. (2002, March 21). Warning: PPD Black Henna
Page. [Online] In The Henna Page. Available:

. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2003, January
3). p-Phenylenediamine. [Online] In NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical
Hazards. Available:

. National Library of Medicine. (2003, January 24). 1.4 Benzenediamine.
[Online] In The Hazardous Substances Database.
Available: Search for 1,4 Benzenediamine and
select the HSDB, select the first article.