By Vanessa Papas: Sometimes cheap hair dyes can mean the difference between lovely locks, and a week-long stint in hospital, as Amanda Ortega found out. Ortega looks like she entered the ring with boxer Mike Tyson (and lost). Her eyes are swollen shut, she has a burning scalp, oozing scabs on her head and neck, and chest pain after dyeing her hair without first performing an allergy test.
“Figured if I chose a cheaper brand it would be easier to cover more hair,” said Ortega. “Saturday morning I woke up and my face kind of just pulled back… I just told my mom, ‘I look kind of weird, like I feel my face looks different.’ My scalp was burned, like bright red. I had big scabs and it was just oozing stuff out of them. My eyes swelled shut after I took a nap, and then we went straight to the ER because it was just getting worse. It’s overwhelming and painful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Ortega believes the product may have been expired but still left on store shelves but would an expired product cause such an extreme reaction? Most cases of allergic reactions stemming from exposure to hair dye are caused by an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine (PPD)usually used in dark shades. PPD is a chemical that’s also found in temporary tattoo ink, printer ink, and gasoline. In boxed hair dye, PPD usually comes in its own bottle, accompanied by an oxidizer. When both are mixed together, PPD becomes partially oxidized. This is when it’s likely to cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to it. Occasionally, a hair dye allergy will cause anaphylaxis to occur. This rare reaction is a medical emergency and can be fatal.
This was the case of a mother of two, Julie McCabe, who slipped into a coma after suffering a severe reaction to the hair dye in 2011, never regaining consciousness. She died a year later in 2012 from acute cardio respiratory arrest due to severe anoxic brain damage. Hair dye manufacturers warn consumers to always perform a batch test to rule out any potential allergic reaction. The test involves applying a 20 cent sized spot of dye and developer mixed together to either the neck or the inner bend of the elbow. Allow to dry and leave uncovered for 48–72 hours. If no irritation or rash occurs during this time the test is negative and one can assume that the risk of developing a rash is less than if the test is positive.