To DYE or not to DIE
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 nave 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 dye. 

This ingredient goes by many names such as PPD, 1,4-Benzenediamine and numerous other aliases.  For a list of alternate names please see Attachment E.  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 coloring.

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 dye. 

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 patrons. 

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

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. 

I plan to work towards informing the public of the dangerous chemicals in hair dye.  The public has the right to make an informed decision about the chemicals they choose to be exposed to.  I hope to get congressional support to change this clearly corporate biased FDA guideline.  At the minimum I would like an accurate and informative warning label and an information campaign to everyone who uses hair dye.  I am currently in the process of contacting various television shows, newspapers, environmental agencies and members of congress to enlist their assistance in getting the word out.  This is a difficult task in this day of chemical and hair dye sponsors and lobbyists. 

I thank you for reviewing these documents and hope you will consider using this data to work with me to inform others.

Thank you,
Perri Jackson

Works Cited

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

    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. Available:

    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:

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