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Hair Dye Allergies on the Rise

As More Teens Use Hair Color, Incidence of Allergies Increases

WebMD Health News

Feb. 1, 2007 -- Tattoos and body piercings are so yesterday. These days the hottest fashion trend among teens is hair that screams in shocking colors like Napalm Orange, Atomic Pink, and Electric Blue.

Some parents may breathe a sigh of relief; even the most "permanent" dye job isn’t as permanent as a tattoo, or a pierced lip or tongue.

But as more and more young people color their hair, the incidence of hair dye allergies is also increasing, warns a group of European dermatologists.

The culprit is a common chemical ingredient in permanent hair dyes, called para-phenylenediamine, or PPD. PPD is found in more than two-thirds of commercial dyes, the researchers say, including many of the top-selling brands.

Patients with severe PPD reactions commonly develop painful rashes around the hair line or on the face, which often require treatment and can occasionally lead to hospitalization. Facial swelling is also common.

Many Don’t Seek Treatment

In his own London clinic, dermatologist John P. McFadden saw a doubling of PPD reactions over the past six years.

“Dermatologists report anecdotally that the frequency of positive reactions to PPD on patch testing is increasing,” McFadden and colleagues write in an editorial published in the Feb. 3 issue of BMJ.

Last October, editorial co-author Heidi Sosted of the University of Copenhagen reported on eight cases of severe hair dye reactions among teens between the ages of 12 and 15.

Reactions were so serious that five of the teens had to be hospitalized, and one reportedly ended up in intensive care.

In an earlier study, Sosted and colleagues examined the frequency of hair dye reactions in a sample population of 4,000 adults living in Denmark.

A total of 18% of the men and 75% of the women said they had used hair dyes, and slightly over 5% said they had experienced allergic reactions to them. But only 15% of those who had allergic reactions reported seeking medical treatment.

“Wider debate on the safety and composition of hair dyes is overdue -- among medical and scientific communities, the public and legislators,” McFadden, Sosted, and colleagues write in the BMJ editorial.

 “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.”

Brush Up on Beauty

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