Photo: Graeme Montgomery/Trunk Archive
“NCIS” star Pauley Perrette is a natural blonde who’s been dyeing her hair black for 20 years, so imagine her surprise when she wound up in the hospital this week with a severe allergic reaction. “Did my head look a bit puffy on the red carpet last night? Turns out I was having a dangerous allergic reaction to hair dye,” Perrette wrote on her Twitter account. The 45-year-old actress shared a photo of her swollen face with her fans, saying, “this was me at the hospital today and it got worse.”
But Perrette’s reaction wasn’t totally out of the blue. She told a KCAL9 reporter that she experienced an itchy rash on her neck and scalp six months ago after dyeing her hair—she just ignored it. Dr. Sejal Shah, a New York-based cosmetic dermatologist, says Perrette’s allergy was likely caused by para-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient commonly found in back hair dye, temporary tattoos, black henna tattoos, and even some black clothing.
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Photo: Getty Images
“According to most studies, about five percent of people experience allergies to hair dye, but there is this sense that it’s probably very underreported,” says Shah. “Because PPD is now being used more widely, more people will react from it.” While PPD is a potent chemical in permanent dye and semi-permanent dye, other ingredients can cause reactions as well. Shah says when dyeing hair at home, check the label on your boxed color for PPD, m-Aminophenols, p-Aminophenols, toluene-2,5-diamine, and resorcinol—all known irritants.
“The first time you use hair dye you may not have a reaction,” says Shah. “Your body has to get sensitized since it’s an acquired allergy. People can use things for years and then one day experience a serious allergic reaction.” Shah advises always performing a patch test before applying dye to your head. In salons, you can ask your colorist if PPD is in the dye to be safe.
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“An allergic reaction is usually immediate in the first couple days,” says Shah. “If you have any facial swelling, tongue swelling, or shortness of breath go straight to the E.R.. Most commonly you’ll experience a rash that affects the hairline, eyes, or ears. In this case, you can probably just make an appointment with a dermatologist and have them examine it.”
If you’re sold on having black hair and want to avoid harsh chemicals, there are PPD-free dyes on the market. Manic Panic, typically known for their neon dyes, has some dark options that are PPD-free. Tints of Nature is certified organic, Herbatint uses natural herbs to color hair, and Palette by Nature is lacking many of the rough ingredients like PPD that cause reactions. No matter what you use, pay attention to your body and do not to ignore the warning signs. “Hair dye can potentially be really dangerous, so take your reaction seriously,” says Shah.
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