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What is PPD & is it dangerous?

What is PPD
August 24, 2021

Rachael Grant

In the hairdressing industry, you will often hear people discuss PPD and the impact it has on the hair. Many professionals will have a mixed review, many taking bases without any scientific research. Often rumours are spread due to a lack of research or misinformation spread through social media. Similar things have been said about citric acid in haircare before too. To save you some time, we will delve into what PPD is, and if it’s dangerous to use.

What is PPD?

Paraphenylenediamine is typically used in permanent hair colour and is needed for most shades. Darker shades of hair contain higher concentrations of PPD than lighter shades.

Is PPD dangerous?

Before any cosmetic product can be placed on the market, it must undergo a strict safety assessment by a qualified safety assessor. The assessment covers the safety of the finished product, as well as each of the individual ingredients, considering how often the product is to be used. For example, the home user, salon client and hair salon professional are all protected.  PPD may only be used in hair colour up to 2% in a formula.

These safety assessments are regulated by European legislation called the Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC), designed to protect human safety.

Who gets an allergy to PPD?

An allergy may arise in anybody exposed to PPD.

  • Hairdressers — who often apply hair dye to their clients several times each day.
  • Hairdressing clients — especially those using darker shades of dye.
  • Photographers that develop film
  • People who have black temporary tattoos.

Over the years there has been an increased reaction to hair colour as it has become popular by women, but now we are also seeing an increase in numbers of males colouring their hair as well.


What are the clinical features of allergy to PPD?

PPD allergy usually presents contact dermatitis on areas in direct contact with the colour and tends to occur from a few hours to a few days after contact.

  • A client’s mild reaction to hair colour usually presents as an itchy dry rash on the upper eyelids or around the ears.
  • More severe reactions cause marked reddening, blistering, and swelling of the eyelids, scalp, face, and neck.
  • High concentrations of PPD in black temporary tattoos may result in intense blistering reactions at the site of the tattoo within 1–2 days of tattooing.
  • Dermatitis may become widespread, due to direct contact.
  • Hairdressers and photographers developing film may develop hand dermatitis. Dermatitis may spread to the arms, chest and elsewhere.
  • Dermatitis may be followed by post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, hypopigmentation, or scarring.
  • After the reaction subsides, a lifelong reaction to PPD is likely, no type of colour should be applied.

Systemic reactions to PPD have also been reported, such as asthma, anaphylaxis and acute renal failure.

How is PPD allergy diagnosed?

There are two methods of patch testing.

In-salon patch tests

Is recommended to consumers before using hair colour. Instructions for testing should be included with every package of hair colour.

  • The test involves applying about a 10-cent sized spot of colour and developer mixed to either behind the ear or the inner forearm.
  • Allow to dry and leave uncovered for 48 hours.
  • If no irritation occurs the test is negative, and you can presume that the risk of developing a rash is less than if the test is positive.
  • Immediate irritation or rash within minutes or a few hours is more likely to be irritant contact dermatitis than allergic contact dermatitis.
  • A delayed reaction with redness, swelling, blistering or dryness at the site of the test indicates that dermatitis will develop if the mixture is used to colour the hair.

Be warned that testing on hair colour could induce a primary allergic reaction to it.

Covered patch tests

Dermatologists and allergy specialists use covered patch tests to determine PPD sensitivity.

Does PPD accumulate in the body?

Hair colours are formulated to work on the hair. The colour does contact the scalp during application, a small amount of the product may be absorbed and will be eliminated from the body within 24 hours. This is acknowledged by the European Commission’s expert panel (the Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, SCCS).

Are allergic reactions to hair colour common?

Hair colours are one of the most thoroughly studied consumer products on the market and their safety is supported by a wealth of scientific research.  It has been found that nearly 90% of the hair colour in the market contain PPD.

Reactions to hair colour can occur for a small number of people, it is estimated that around 5% of the population will have some sort of a reaction to hair colour.  Food allergies affect 1 – 5% of the general population.


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What are the different types of hair colourants?

There are four basic categories of hair colour:

Temporary hair colour modifies the colour of the hair temporarily and is readily removed by washing.
Semi-permanent hair colour lasts longer than temporary hair colour because they settle within the cuticle of the hair. The colour gradually fades with washing, and normally stays in for up to 6-8 washes.
Demi-permanent hair colour consists of two components that must be mixed before use.  They usually give the hair that ‘tone on tone’ result.
Permanent hair colour also consists of two components which must be mixed before use. The effects of permanent colour are resistant to washing and provide excellent coverage of grey hair.

Is natural hair colour safer?

Natural hair colour is subject to the same cosmetics legislation including the safety assessment, irrespective of where the ingredients are sourced. The body cannot differentiate between a natural or a man-made substance. If an ingredient is not safe to use in cosmetic products it will be banned, whether it is natural or man-made.


I cannot emphasise the importance of doing a patch test before colouring.  As you have read, the are risks for those that are allergic to PPD.  Remember to always consult your client before colour, find out as much information to see if anything has changed since their last visit.  Also, if you happen to get a new client with a history of hair colour reactions, it would be advisable to find an alternative hair colour.  For hairdressers, I would highly recommend always using gloves when working with colour.  Your hands are your tools, look after them wisely.  One thing to also pay attention to is if the client has a new tattoo, or if they are sporting a black temporary tattoo, make sure to advise them that there may be a possibility of some irritation. If you’ve enjoyed this blog, learn more about hair bleach next!

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