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Allergy fears over ‘pressure to dye hair’

People at risk of skin reactions

An obsession with staying young could be putting people at risk of allergic reactions to hair dye, experts warned today.

Facial swelling and the skin condition dermatitis are among the risks for people who colour their hair, they said.

The practice is becoming increasingly popular, especially among young people, they added.

More than two thirds of hair dyes currently contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD) and other related substances, which can cause a reaction.

Hair dye

Writing in today’s British Medical Journal (BMJ), John McFadden, of the St John’s Institute of Dermatology at King’s College London, and Ian White, a consultant dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital, London, warned of the dangers.

They said: ‘Cultural and commercial pressures to dye hair and, perhaps, the widespread obsession with the “culture of youth” are putting people at risk and increasing the burden on health services.

‘It may not be easy to reverse these trends, however, as some patients have continued to use such dyes even when advised that they are allergic to them and risk severe reactions.’

Allergic reactions

Dermatologists have reported anecdotally that positive reactions to PPD in patch testing is increasing in frequency, they said.

‘This was confirmed in a recent retrospective survey in London, with a doubling in frequency over six years to 7.1% in a clinic for adults with contact dermatitis.

‘This rise could not be attributed to an increase in occupational exposure (in hairdressers), medicolegal claims, the use of temporary ‘henna’ tattoos containing high concentrations of PPD (often when on holiday), or a greater proportion of South Asian patients – who tend to have high rates of allergy to hair dye.

‘In the same London clinic, from 1965 to 1975, between five and 11 patients with non-occupational PPD allergy were seen each year.

‘More recently this figure has consistently exceeded 40 such patients annually.’

Other studies have also shown that the number of people dyeing they hair is growing, they said.

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