Are You Allergic to Your Hair Dye?

Causes and Treatment of Dye-Related Allergies

Chemicals in hair dyes may cause allergies for some people. Around 38% of people who color their hair report having an allergic reaction to the dye. The most common allergic reaction to hair dye is contact dermatitis, which causes itchy, flaky skin.

This article will go over the symptoms of a hair dye allergy, what causes it, and how it's treated.

A woman getting her hair dyed with foils
Cavan Images Collection / Iconica / Getty Images

Hair Dye Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of contact dermatitis related to hair dye are redness, itchiness, and rash on the face, eyelids, ears, and neck. Rashes are less common on the scalp because the skin is thick, but you may feel a tingling or burning sensation and notice some generalized redness.

An allergic reaction to hair dye will usually start within two to three days of using the dye and get better in several days to weeks.

It's rare, but hair dye chemicals can cause a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. The symptoms of anaphylaxis come on quickly (within minutes to hours) and include:

  • Raised and swollen hives
  • A severe blistering rash
  • Swollen eyes, lips, tongue, hands, or feet
  • Lightheadedness or fainting
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion

When to Get Emergency Care

Call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you experience symptoms of anaphylaxis. If left untreated, anaphylaxis can lead to coma, shock, heart or lung failure, and even death.

Hair Dye Allergy Causes

Hair dye allergies happen when the immune system responds to chemicals when they are put on the skin. Contact dermatitis happens because an allergen that contacts the skin triggers an immune response from the body.

The allergens become antigens and interact with a part of the immune system's defense (T-lymphocytes). The interaction triggers the release of cells (cytokines), which causes an inflammatory response in just that part of the body (localized). The response fights off the allergen, which the body sees as an invader.

Some people will have more serious allergic reactions. When this happens, the body makes and releases immunoglobulin E (IgE) into the bloodstream. IgE triggers special white blood cells called mast cells to flood the body with a substance that triggers allergy symptoms (histamine).

The chemical in hair dye that is most likely to cause an allergy is called para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is found in more than two-thirds of permanent hair dyes and can penetrate the hair shaft as well as bind to proteins in the skin.

Other potential allergens in hair dye include cobalt, found in brown hair dyes, and glyceryl thioglycolate, which is used for permanent cold hair waves.

How Hair Dye Allergies Are Diagnosed

A hair dye allergy is often easy to spot, but an allergy test can be used to find out if a person has multiple allergies or has had a very bad reaction. Some people have the test done to figure out if there are other hair dye products they could use.

Allergy testing should be done in a provider's office. The most common test is the patch test. For this test, suspected allergens are placed on the skin. The patch is taken off after about 48 hours. A final reading is done about four days after the patch was placed to see what, if any, reactions happened.

The appearance of small, red bumps or blisters means the test is positive. Areas of redness seen on the day that the patch is taken off may go away by the time the final reading is done. In that case, it just means there was irritation and not a true allergy.

Hair Dye Allergy Treatment

If you have a hair dye allergy, you can use topical corticosteroid creams to relieve inflammation and itching. Weaker versions of the cream, such as hydrocortisone 1%, are available over the counter (OTC).

If you have a bad reaction and need a stronger cream, you'll need a prescription from your provider. However, you should know that overusing stronger creams can lead to permanent thinning of the skin (cutaneous atrophy). The risk is higher if the cream is used on the delicate tissues of the face.

There are other topical formulations, such as Elidel and Protopic, that can be used to treat a facial rash.

Note that topical corticosteroids are generally not used around the eyes, and should only be used in that area when directed by a provider.

If you have severe allergies, you may need systemic corticosteroids in pill form or given as an injection.


Some people who color their hair have an allergic reaction to the dye. The most common reaction to hair dye is contact dermatitis which causes an itchy, flaky scalp. It’s less common but some people experience a rare and very serious kind of allergy to hair dye called anaphylaxis. This is a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment. 

A mild allergy or irritation from hair dye can be prevented by using gentler products to color your hair. If you get a scalp or face rash from hair dye, many OTC products can ease the irritation. If you have a more severe reaction, you may need to see your provider for prescription treatment.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Daniel More, MD
Daniel More, MD, is a board-certified allergist and clinical immunologist. He is an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and currently practices at Central Coast Allergy and Asthma in Salinas, California.