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How to cover gray hair when you’re allergic to hair dye

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 09, 2021 5:00 am

I received an email from a reader about an article I wrote four years ago. She’s bothered by her noticeably gray hair, but is sensitive to hair dyes and asked me if I could recommend better alternatives.

While some may find it a silly topic, allergy to hair dye is a real concern. I have been hospitalized twice for it.

The emergency doctors placed me in an isolation room wearing PPEs. I arrived in the hospital with swollen eyelids, a swollen and weeping scalp and red rashes all over my body. So why was I hospitalized a second time?

I used to own a salon and that’s where I first found out I had a bad reaction to peroxide. So I stayed away from colors with peroxide only to find out after my first emergency hospitalization that I have a severe reaction to PPD or Paraphenylenediamine, which is the chemical substance widely used in permanent hair dyes.

So why was I hospitalized a second time? It was actually the worst.

The emergency doctors placed me in an isolation room wearing PPEs because they had to rule out a highly contagious infectious disease. I arrived in the hospital with swollen eyelids, a swollen and weeping scalp and red rashes all over my body. Fortunately, I never experienced difficulty breathing. 

When my allergy doctor visited me, he had to ask if I made the mistake of using a PPD-laced product again. I said I never touched one after my first hospitalization.

I stock up on a semi-permanent hair color without peroxide and PPD from the US. Every time I need my hair colored, I would go to the salon and ask them to apply it for me. 

There are many options that use all-natural ingredients such as henna and indigo powder for those with hair dye allergies.

His next question was, “Did you also bring your own mixing bowl, your own applicator brush, your own comb?” I said no.

In retrospect, I went to a different branch and maybe the stylist did not fully believe my sensitivity. Imagine that, I got hospitalized due to some residue of PPD in the salon’s tools. 

Incidentally, I also learned from my doctor that reactions might take as long as 48 hours to manifest. So it is not really advisable to put the product behind the ear or the arm for just 30 minutes to an hour to determine if you are allergic to one of its ingredients.

Allergic symptoms include stinging or burning sensations on the scalp, face or neck, itching and swelling, welts, blisters, swollen eyelids/ lips, and red rashes. Others experience swelling of the throat and tongue, fainting, nausea, vomiting and trouble breathing. Those are very serious symptoms that may cause anaphylactic shock and may be fatal if not addressed immediately.

Some dyes wash off after a few times of shampooing the hair.

My advice to the reader is to determine what causes the allergic reaction. There are about nine common allergens in hair dyes. I had two complete allergy panel tests to determine what causes my allergies. Knowing what is bad for you is crucial in planning out what your other options are. 

What have I tried? There is Clairol Beautiful Semi-Permanent Collection, which doesn’t have peroxide or PPD. However, the color washes off after eight shampoos. They have the Beautiful Advanced Gray Solutions, which lasts longer but I react badly to it even though it also doesn’t have PPD. I used to get all my stocks from Amazon but there are already local sellers online in Shopee or Lazada.

The other one I have tried is Shine Moist Henna wax color treatment. This is widely available from online sellers. It is also known as a cellophane treatment. The temporary color lasts two weeks.

If you would like to go to a salon that uses all-natural ingredients then you can go to Bee Choo Origin. They will apply their own special herbal cream made from 16 herbal extracts. The effect of regular treatments on my hair and scalp was good. I only stopped because my gray hair was turning reddish orange.

That’s actually the same issue I have with henna powder. My hair gets a reddish hue.

So lately I discovered indigo powder. There are many YouTube videos about how you can combine henna and indigo to produce either a dark brown or black color on your hair. There is a two-step process where you apply the henna first and then the indigo the following day, which I just tried with great results. Others have successfully simplified it by combining them into one application.

As in cooking, it’s important to follow the steps patiently. It takes a lot of time to prepare but it assures a safer way to get the hair color you want.