May 25, 2013

Hair Dilemma Story: Dyes and Allergies.

me and... my hair, ca 2011

I am often asked what I do to keep my skin looking so young. The truth is: I mostly owe it to my good genes - both my parents aged without many wrinkles.
When it comes to hair, I have to give credit for my situation to my genes as well: both my parents went grey in their 30's. My dad had loads and loads of hair (if there is such thing as too much hair, he had it), while my mom had fine hair and few of it, with a tendency to hair loss due to various factor, one being hair dyes so she eventually had to stop coloring her hair.
As a result I used to have tons of fine hair, did suffer from hair loss as well for various reasons but still have a normal amount of it, but at the ripe age of 36 *gasp*  a good 30% of my hair has gone white already. My 32 years old brother is already 50% grey and balding so in comparison I guess I can't complain...

I started dying my hair in my early 20's just for the fun. Then in my late 20's I got tired of it and decided to grow out my natural hair, and that's when I discovered that I already had quite a few grays and so I kept dying it to hide them. I even learned how to do it myself at home with professional products so that it wouldn't take me more than one randome hour on a Sunday afternoon once every 6 to 8 weeks. Not big deal. And the opportunity to change up once in a while.

That was until last January.
I told you my mother would lose her hair because of hair dyes, and you would think that, just like makeup, hair dyes have changed a lot since the 80's and 90's. The truth is they mostly haven't. While the industry has found ways to remove ammonia and its smell (by using an ammonia derivate, anyway) or to add nourishing oil, the chemicals in hair dyes are still pretty much the same that were used decades and decades ago. And the specific ingredients that cause the most allergic issues (with 50% of the population being potentially allergic to them to various degrees) are still present in all semi-permanent and permanent dyes.

One ingredient, in particular, is known to cause a lot of allergies. It's called PPD and it is used in all semi-permanent or permanent dyes because it's the ingredient that opens the cuticle of the hair so that tue dye will penetrate it and hence cover all the hair including the grays.
The problem with PPD and its derivate is that it can cause all kinds of allergic reactions - it was voted  "Allergen of the Year" in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. It can cause rash, dermatitis, eczema, asthma, swelling and, in more extreme cases, death

I'm not even going to talk about the fact that chemicals in hair dyes might cause cancer or other diseases, I don't know enough to have an opinion on that. But allergies can affect everyone, even if you have never had a reaction before and have been coloring your hair for years.
In January I had my hair done at the salon with the L'Oreal Inoa, and after that I my scalp felt itchy and burning for... 3 weeks. I didn't know it back then but Inoa contains much more PPD than the color I was using previously (L'Oreal Richesse) but Inoa is promoted as better because it doesn't have ammonia - while in fact ammonia doesn't cause the reactions that PPD does. 

Knowing what I know about hair dye allergies, and having had this reaction, can I really keep on coloring my hair and playing russian roulette? It looks like despite the risks, the industry isn't interested in finding an alternate solution to cover grey hair, even though some chemical companies have developed new ingredients. The industry isn't interested in removing PPD from our dyes.
Also, I have the impression that after 4 months without dye, I am not losing as much hair as I usually do. Since some people claim that dyes can cause hair thinning, and given the fact my mother definitely had this issue every time she would dye her hair, I'm tempted to believe that there is a link there.

4 months of re-growth, greys starting to show
So no dye. OK. But what about the grey hair? It's starting to really show, and I'm starting to feel bad about it. My top line only has a few but my temples and fringe are really, really white.
See, I'm not paranoid about aging, I think aging is a privilege that not everybody gets and even if it's natural to try and delay the signs of aging, I am fine with the fact that you cannot hide it all.
But on the other hand, I find the grey hair really aging, and I am not comfortable with the idea of looking much older than I am. This is especially true because as most women cover their grays until they're fully white (which is a gorgeous look in my opinion) we now really associate grey hair with age. I envy the women who find it empowering to embrace the grey at a young age, but I don't, and I feel bad about my hair.

So I am currently exploring the possibilities. I know there is henna but I do want to keep that as my last option because: it doesn't cover all the grays, it's only ok for reddish shades, you have to keep it on your head for HOURS, and henna treated hair cannot have anything else done to it - not even a few bleached highlights or ombré (no PPD in bleach so that is still ok to do, even though it damages the hair for other reasons).
Some brands like Goldwell have developed alternative products, but they're not available where I live, they're complicated to apply if you haven't had a proper training, they can require a pre-bleach... not very DIY friendly.
I went to organic stores and most of the products that claim to be organic or natural still have PPD or its derivate in them because otherwise, they won't last long or cover grey hair properly. Still a no-no.
And so, so far, I haven't found a solution. I need some help here.

So I would love it if we could talk about this together in the comments. Are you dying your hair? Have you experienced any issue? Were you aware of the risks? If you've gone for a chemical free solution, what is it and how is it working for you?


  1. Aww I remember talking about this with you on Twitter, and I'm so sorry to hear that :( I have never dyed my hair, but I suppose I will have to start when it goes grey. I don't think my mom reacts badly to hair dye, and I'm hoping I won't have that problem either, but you never know. I really hope you'll figure something out soon Mariella!

  2. I start to deal with grey hairs when I was 25 years.
    Many people in my family got the allergy symptom so I decide to look for alternative way immediately and truly, the best inexpensive color was henna.
    I'll suggest you to visit this French website :
    Henna is popular for reddish shades, but you do have other color !
    I kept my mixture the whole night (I've black hairs and I'm single lol) but in your case, I think two hours will be enough.

    You have organic color with the brand "Terre de couleur" (Aube indienne) but I find it expensive (since you have to color your hair maybe every month).
    My hairdresser use this brand and really love it.

    My aunt recently bought a hair color who's suited for people with allergy, but she bought it in England. I forgot the brand name. I'll check it and come back to you.

    1. Thank you for the advice! Will check that out! I know about Terre de Couleur but that's the kind of thing that is expensive and you need to have a salon that does it well, which we don't have at all here (I researched that).

  3. I am 30 and have been using henna since i was in school..grey hairs is hereditary from a very young age in my so glad i never resorted to using hair dyes as my hair is healthy and thick and have had many top hairdressers tell me that the best thing i have done for my hair is use henna and not chemical dyes..u shud try it..i am able to cover all the greys in my roots..

    1. Good to know that it covers your greys, thanks!

  4. I would suggest trying henna and judge after that first try, I can of course help you, even for applying it ! :-)
    Saw someone with black hair that did henna and her greys were not red, if that can help.

    1. Haha you're sweet, thanks. The thing that bothers me the most with henna is the fact that you cannot go back to something else, can't do highlight or ombre etc... Once you go henna, you're stuck with it. Which is why I'm trying to look at other alternatives first :)

  5. I occasionally have reactions to hair dyes; I've found that I cannot use the drugstore 'box dyes' at all anymore and must go to a salon.

    However, what never gave me a reaction, and I used to do it at home (with my mother's help!), was bleaching and using a punk colour semi-perm. Manic Panic works for a lot of people - I'm allergic to the plant extracts in it, so I was using a type called Adore in a pillarbox red shade. This would make the bleached sections a vivid red, and the non-bleached medium brown hair a bit darker, reddish brown. Obviously, that's a very bright route to go down, but not all of the colours out there are as in-your-face unnatural,.

    So I'm wondering if you could do some sort of highlighting, bleaching over the grey bits and then enough extra bits to look balanced, and then use some kind of all-over tonal rinse?

    Or, even just balance out where the grey streaks are with some mid-tone highlights that 'mask' them without actually changing them. My mother, who has very very dark brown hair, used to do that until she had enough silvery streaks that she didn't feel she needed any extra, and it looked nice. If you went that route, and maybe used some brightening/non-brassiness products, that might perk up the grey and blend it better with the highlights. On Mom, the highlights made the grey much less noticeable, because at least the overall pattern of colour looked planned, so there weren't random areas of lightness.

    Rambly, but hope that helps. :-)

    1. Thanks for the insight! I know about Manic Panic, I'm just not too keen on bleaching my whole head :-s But it could be a solution for highlights as you said.

  6. I'd been dying my hair for more than 15 years when I had an allergic episode: itchy and slightly painful scalp, rush all over my body and half the lips of Angelina Jolie (get the picture? lol). I should have expected something like that, the formula seemed really odd during the dying process. I guess it was expired or something. It happened two years ago and I've never tried again.

    Grey hair is not an issue for me yet, but I miss having my hair jet black. Fun fact: my hair loss worsened since that moment, it has to be a coincidence, right?

    Well, as you can see, I don't have a solution but I feel your pain (or itchiness)!

    1. aww Cé, poor you! But good thing you don't have greys anymore because I don't want to scare you, but greys show up much more on dark hair! At least my hair is already a greyish ashy mousy dark blonde so its not pretty but it's not super contrasted lol.

  7. I developed an allergy to hair dying products two years ago. First I kept on using them, but the reaction got stronger each time. At last I felt really bad for several days and even weeks, so I had to stop using them. From then on, I use the product Dédicace from l'Oreal, which you can find where you live (I'm living there too). You can't find it everywhere, but in some Delhaizes they still sell it. I have very dark brown hair and use "brun foncé". The effects only last for 3 or 4 shampoos, so you have to do your colour quite often...

    1. Hi Féflor! Thanks for the advice, it's good to know that there is a temporary solution. Can be good for a special occasion for example, too bad it doesn't last more than 4 shampoos as I have the bad habit (and necessity) of washing my hair daily! I think Dédicace is indeed the only PPD free supermarket color.

  8. The first company that came to mind was Apivita, they make hair dyes without PPD. I haven't tried them but from what the site describes ( , it's the usual as any home dye. I know you can order from their site if you can't find it in a shop.
    I really hope this helps!

    1. Thank you Mella.. I just checked them out but unfortunately, they're one of those companies that are a bit misleading: they claim to be PPD free, which is true, but they use PTD (Toluene-2,5-Diamine Sulfate), PPD's cousin which causes allergies as well and there's an allergy disclaimer in their instruction document.
      That's too bad : ( but thanks for taking the time to try and help!

  9. Henna Hut is wonderful easiest henna I have every used with excellent results! I have been coloring my hair with henna for 10 years I am a 60 year old male with lots of gray, and it all you do is mix it with water.. Look them up at, the are very knowledgeable and have excellent customer service skills

  10. Bonjour, ma petite créme brûlée.. I have been trying to find your blog for ages after I stopped beauty blogging but somehow couldn't find it! I had already given up and now I found you again - by accident! But a very happy accident :)
    A year ago I decided to dye my hair after years of not doing it, just for fun. My hairdresser was convinced that Sim's Sensi.Do would be the perfect, sensitive dye I needed. WRONG. My scalp was swollen for days, it felt like someone had injected liquid inside my scalp. I had to change hairdresser's because this one would not believe that the dye caused an allergic reaction. Because the colour was way more red than my natural colour, I needed to find a way to hide the roots until all the colour had faded or grown away. My new hairdresser suggested highlights and lowlights as they can be applied without touching the scalp. She uses dyes with ammonia, which, although a bit stinky, usually doesn't cause allergic reactions. So I would suggest highlights or/and lowlights to create a diversion from the greying hair. The great thing about that is that you don't have to commit fully to a certain colour and the result is more natural.
    I hope you have been well and I am so happy to have rediscovered your blog again :)


I love getting comments, thanks for sharing your thoughts!