Alternative Hair-dye Products for Persons Allergic to Para-phenylenediamine

Andrew Scheman; Christina Cha; Manpreet Bhinder


Dermatitis. 2011;22(4) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: Finding alternative hair dyes for individuals allergic to para-phenylenediamine (PPD) has been difficult. Newer permanent and demipermanent hair dyes that have replaced PPD with para-toluenediamine sulfate (PTDS) are now available.
Objective: We examined whether individuals allergic to PPD will tolerate PPD-free hair dyes containing PTDS.
Methods: A retrospective analysis of patch-test results since October 2006 was done and yielded 28 patients allergic to PPD who were also tested with a hair dye series. From January 2004 through October 2006, seven additional patients allergic to PPD were tested with PTDS but not the full dye series. Patch-test results were analyzed. The newer PTDS dyes were recommended for all PPDpositive PTDS-negative subjects starting in 2008, and these subjects were contacted to determine whether they tolerated the recommended hair-dye products.
Results: Of 28 PPD-allergic patients seen since October 2006, 16 (57.1%) tested negative to all other substances on the dye series. Eleven tested positive to PTDS; of these, several were also allergic to other substances in the hair dye series. There was only one patient who was allergic to ortho-nitro-PPD and not to PTDS. Of 7 additional PPD-allergic patients seen from 2004 through 2006, 4 (57.1%) tested negative to PTDS. In total, 20 of 35 individuals (57.1%) tested positive to PPD but negative to PTDS. Ten of 13 PPD-positive patients for whom PTDS hair dyes were recommended subsequently used a PTDS hair dye, and all tolerated these products.
Conclusion: Fifty-seven percent of patients allergic to PPD in this study will likely tolerate newer permanent and demipermanent hair dyes based on PTDS. Most individuals not allergic to PTDS will also test negative to other substances in the dye series. All 10 patients who tested positive to PPD and negative to PTDS who subsequently used a PTDS dye free of PPD tolerated these products. Many individuals allergic to PPD will benefit from the newer PTDS-based products.


In the past, finding alternative hair-dye products for individuals allergic to para-phenylenediamine (PPD) was a nearly impossible task.[1] Hair coloring products containing PPD have traditionally yielded far superior cosmetic results than have alternative dyes. Individuals allergic to PPD have had limited alternative products from which to choose. These products typically had less realistic color or did not cover gray hair adequately.[1,2]

Hair-dye products are divided into permanent, demipermanent, and semipermanent types. Most available products in each of these categories contain PPD. However, hair coloring products are now defined by "lift." Permanent dyes first lighten, or "lift," the ambient hair color with ammonia and peroxide to allow the dye to cover gray hair more effectively. "Lifting" or lightening the ambient hair color turns the darker hairs closer in hue to the gray hairs. The result is that gray is more effectively covered when the hair is colored. This is not ideal for men because most men want some gray to show through so that they do not appear to be wearing a hairpiece. Some women also prefer this type of "natural" look. Therefore, demipermanent dyes were designed to cover most but not all gray hair. Demipermanent dyes usually incorporate ethanolamine to give some "lift" and do a moderately effective job of covering gray. Semipermanent dyes have no "lift" and cover gray hair minimally.[1,2]

Recently, many manufacturers have started to produce permanent and demipermanent hair coloring products in which PPD has been replaced with para-toluenediamine sulfate (PTDS). These products are as cosmetically elegant as the corresponding products containing PPD.[1] Unfortunately, PPD and PTDS are closely related ingredients (Fig 1), and it is possible that individuals who are allergic to one of these ingredients may also be allergic to the other.

Figure 1.

Structures of para-phenylenediamine and para-toluenediamine sulfate.


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