‘I didn’t recognize myself’: Wendy is ‘disfigured’ after being allergic to hair dye

A first hair color that turns into drama. Red spots, edema, difficulty breathing… Wendy was allergic to one of the ingredients in the dye. How is it possible ? Are there alternatives?

Wendy, 22, will remember her visit to the hairdresser for a long time. Tired of her medium length brown haircut, she decides to go to a professional to “change her look”. For convenience, she makes an appointment with the hairdresser, who is located next to her work. This is her first time at the institute. “I explain to him what I want and tell him that I have a sensitive scalp”, She remembers.

Reassured by the hairstylist stating that she should do what she asks “with no problem,” she calms down. First step: bleaching. You can already feel the first tingling. “I tell him that it burns me, but he replies that it’s normal”, she reports. Then we put the color on it. “And then I was in tears. It burned me,” she calls.

After several flushes and a few cuts, Wendy comes out of the living room. The burning in the skull does not subside. And on top of that he didn’t like the haircut at all. “I asked him for a bob on the shoulders but he cut way too short. And then I asked for a straight cut, he made me a gradient one” she regrets.

After 4 days the pain does not go away. So she goes to the emergency room and that’s where the diagnosis is made. “I was told I had a scalp burn. Also, they suspect an allergic reaction, so they give me antihistamines,” points to the young woman. When she leaves the hospital it is late and the pharmacies are closed. Therefore, she prefers to wait until the next morning to go there. But when she wakes up the next day, she gets scared when she sees her face. “I didn’t recognize myself anymore. I was disfigured. My face was swollen.”She remembers.

Wendy is feeling better thanks to a prescription for antibiotics. Her face was finally able to deflate and the burning sensation subsided. One of the components used provoked a significant allergic reaction in Wendy. She still doesn’t know which component it is.

Experts estimate that 1% of the population is potentially allergic to dye components. For many, hair coloring has become routine. Such is the case of Sarah, a client who dyes her hair four times a year. “I’ve never had any problems. Everything always goes very well,” she trusts.

All salon professionals are urged to comply with preventive measures to avoid any inconvenience. A skin test must be carried out before applying the product and exposure times must be strictly observed. “It’s not the hairdresser who makes the colour. He gets the product from cosmetic companies. All of these products are authorized and comply with very specific laws.”recalls Patrick Dumont, vice-president of the national association of Belgian hairdressers.

Before adding: “Many people tend to stigmatize allergies by saying they are due to unnatural products. You have people who don’t develop an allergy to ammonia and who may be allergic to honey.”

The main molecule that causes allergies: paraphenylenediamine


Dyes can be dangerous for people with allergic reactions, says Dr. Anne Herman, dermato-allergist at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc. “Over time, the body can no longer tolerate a molecule. We are not born allergic, we become one. The main molecule is para-phenylenediamine. It is the black dye found in hair dye. It may also contain other molecules.” such as preservatives”, enlightens the expert.

dr Anne Herman talks about allergic reactions that can show up as red spots and irritation on the body. “The more allergy sufferers use hair dye, the more severe the reactions can be,” she warns.

To avoid these inconveniences, professionals are turning to alternatives that are considered more natural. This is the case of Roberto, manager of a hair salon specializing in vegetable coloring. After a past as a salesman in the organic sector, Roberto decided to train as a hairdresser. So it made sense for him to offer alternatives to chemical dyes. “It’s 100% natural”, he says.

Specifically, he uses plant mixtures ground into powder form. “These are coloring plants. They arrive raw and it’s me who makes the mixtures to the next grammage. I put them in a bowl, with hot water and essential oils. And on,” explains the hairdresser.

Among his customers are many who want to find healthy alternatives to chemical dyes. “The classic bleaching product stung my scalp. It’s much more comfortable here. I will never go back to chemical products because my hair is healthier. The aesthetic result is the same or even better because it’s much more natural, says a loyal customer.

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