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Hair Dye Sensitivity (Allergy and Irritation) in the Elderly

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Hair Dye Sensitivity (Allergy and Irritation) in the ElderlyHair dye is a commonly used aesthetic product by seniors in a bid to cover up graying hair. It offers a temporary solution in masking the effects of aging and can be conveniently applied at home without any specialist knowledge. Alternatively, commercial products available at hair salons offer a more long lasting hair dye solution.However, hair dyes are associated with significant skin irritation and allergies sometimes to the point that no dye can be used at all. This is often inconvenient for sensitive individuals and in rare cases can cause severe symptoms such as hair loss, scarring of the skin and intolerable itching.

What is hair dye sensitivity?

Hair dye sensitivity may be a result of the chemicals in the dye causing irritation to the skin or skin irritation when a person has an allergy to one or more chemicals in the dye. With hair dye sensitivity, it is the skin on the scalp, forehead, neck and sometimes even the back that is affected and not the hair itself. This is known as contact dermatitis and may be irritant or allergic in nature.

It largely presents in the same way but there is a difference. Irritant contact dermatitis will arise in any person who is exposed to these chemicals – some people respond sooner or more severely than others which is just a matter of individual tolerance. Allergic contact dermatitis is an immune reaction to the presence of certain chemicals as a result of hypersensitivity – not every person is affected in this way.

Causes of Hair Dye Sensitivity

There are number of different chemicals in hair dyes. The main cause of skin sensitivity is a chemical known as paraphenylenediamine (PPD) which is a permanent hair dyeing agent. Over time as the hair grows though, its original color shows and hair has to be dyed again. Therefore there is repeated exposure to paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Even if there is no irritation with first contact or even several times thereafter, a reaction may eventually occur.

Other chemicals may also play some role in hair dye sensitivity but none have been as strongly implicated as paraphenylenediamine (PPD). Sometimes a hair dye sensitivity arises in a person with previous injury to the skin, with certain skin diseases like scalp psoriasis or when it interacts with other substances already on the scalp and body. Less commonly, harsh chemicals that are not suitable are used by unscrupulous hair stylists and cheap hair dyes from unethical manufacturers as a dyeing agent.

Symptoms of Hair Dye Sensitivity

The symptoms of hair dye sensitivity are mainly seen on the scalp but may also be present on the forehead, face, ears, neck and back. These are the areas that are either in contact with long hair or the parts of the body where the hair dye drips onto during washing. The main symptoms of hair dye sensitivity includes :

  • Itching of the scalp and skin on the body.
  • Redness and sometimes burning of the affected area.
  • Drying and scaling of the skin a short while after exposure.

Hair loss is a complication of hair dye sensitivity that may occur in some people after weeks or months.

Treatment of Hair Dye Sensitivity

The first measure in hair dye sensitivity is to stop using the hair dye immediately. The hair and skin should be washed immediately with cold water to remove any remnants of the substance. Emollients can be used to soothe the skin and prevent any drying of the skin that may follow the episode.

Drugs such as antihistamines and corticosteroids may be helpful. It may also be available as a shampoo or ointment which can be applied directly to the skin. However, this is a short term solution to ease the symptoms and inflammation caused by the hair dye. It cannot be continued indefinitely.

Mild soaps and baby shampoos should be used thereafter to reduce the risk of further irritation. It is important to first speak to a dermatologist or trichologist about a hair dye sensitivity before attempting to dye the hair again. Some products marketed as having natural ingredients and being safe to use may still cause irritation. Skin patch testing is therefore first recommended before using another dye.


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