Case Studies: Meet 3 PPD-sensitive women and hear their stories.


I had been colouring my hair for about 30 years, on and off, and never had any problems with any brand or product. Then, around the time I began my menopause, I noticed my scalp would itch after colour appointments - nothing serious, but enough to keep me scratching for most of the evening. I mentioned it to my colourist and he said he’d like to do another skin test, since we hadn’t done one for six months or so. Three days later, we both agreed that the test patch behind my ear was a bit red, and it was certainly itchy. He made it clear that he would be uncomfortable about colouring my hair going forward, and I decided to go along with his professional opinion. Since then, we’ve experimented with semi permanent colours without PPD, and although they’ve taken some getting used to - stained towels at home, more regular appointments at the salon, visible greys - I’ve also quite enjoyed the flexibility of them too. I’ve become naturally greyer since I stopped dyeing a couple of years ago, and I know I would still cover them if I could. But having to accept them hasn’t been a great hardship. My health is more important.


I have very dark, straight, glossy hair - any greys stick out like a sore thumb, so I began colouring my hair in my early thirties. About five years ago, I began experiencing itching and soreness after my regular appointments. The symptoms seemed to be slightly worse each time, and so my colourist said we needed to stop. She didn’t give up on me though, and after a few experiments with foils (fine, but fiddly and slow when you have as much hair as me), she found a permanent dye that uses the ME+ molecule to effectively trick my immune system in to thinking PPD isn’t present in my colourant, and not fighting it. The new dye has been brilliant for me. I’ve had not one reaction in the past two and a half years of regular use, and the colour looks the same as it did with the old dyes. I am evangelical about it and constantly telling my friends to give it a go.


I had been colouring my hair for over 20 years, mostly in-salon with the same brand of hair colourant, but getting a skin test whenever I switched to a new one. Then, after I had children, I noticed my scalp would feel a little hot after I’d left my colour appointments. Within about an hour, the symptoms would have passed and I’d think no more about it. I mentioned it to my colourist, and he decided to stop using toner on my highlights, using only base colour instead. The reddening persisted, but it didn’t cause me any real problems and over the next year - I simply came to accept it as part and parcel of covering my greys every six weeks. One day, after getting my roots touched up and while having my finishing blowdry, I started to feel strange - dizzy, slightly nauseous, a little confused. I left the salon and soon felt very extremely unwell with stomach cramps. My arms began to swell and as I pulled up my sweater, I saw large welts over my torso. Someone called an ambulance and I was given a shot of adrenaline and a large dose of antihistamine. In the aftermath, I was told by a specialist that I’d experienced an anaphylactic reaction to PPD. I spent the next six months searching for a PPD-free alternative, and found one, but after my colour appointment with the new dye, I began to feel very unwell again. Luckily, I sensed what was happening and now carried an epi-pen, which I administered to myself in the street, and called an ambulance. It turned out the new PPD-free dye had contained PTD, a very similar alternative to PPD, to which I was also allergic. No one can tell me how I developed such a serious allergy after decades of safely colouring my hair. I can no longer cover my greys with any dye, as there is nothing that works on them without either PPD or PTD, and although the ME+ colourants seem great for some, my reactions were so severe that it’s simply not worth the risk of ending up back in hospital or worse. I have thought about bleaching my hair platinum blonde, as I’m not allergic to ammonia or peroxide, but knowing I don’t have the option to dye it back if it doesn’t suit me makes me too nervous to try. I suppose I should just accept it, but I just keep hoping something new will come along.


(All names have been changed.)