New: The BBC and other media have recently reported anecdotal evidence of a link between allergic reactions to hair dye and Covid-19. A number of women have experienced allergic reactions to skin patch tests of hair dye products which they have used regularly for a long time, having apparently developed an allergy after contracting coronavirus. Imperial College London scientists are researching the effect that the virus has on the immune system, which may be the cause of these unexpected allergic reactions. In the meantime, the National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF) is calling on all hair salons to step up patch testing on both new and existing clients, with compulsory patch tests now becoming common.
The risk of an allergic reaction to ingredients contained in hair products continues to represent a very real danger for hair salon clients. Allergic reactions to hair dye, and specifically the ingredient paraphenylenediamine (PPD), contained in two thirds of dyes, has been highlighted repeatedly in press reports. As hair colouring has become increasingly popular and socially acceptable among all age groups, more and more women (and men) are injured every year due to their hairdresser's failure to carry out a basic skin patch test to identify pre-existing allergies. Many are then able to claim compensation for the injuries caused by their hair salon or stylist's negligence.
Hair dye products contain various chemicals, but the vast majority of allergic reactions are caused by para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is illegal in many European countries, but not currently in the UK, despite academic research showing that up to 14% of people may experience an adverse reaction to hair dye products containing the chemical. PPD is present in most permanent dyes, particularly darker shades, and its concentration is limited to a maximum of 2% in any hair treatment product. All hairdressers should be well aware of the dangers of PPD, and must tailor the hair dyeing services they offer to protect clients from the risk of an allergic reaction.
When a person suffers an allergic reaction to PPD in hair dye (or another ingredient), their scalp may begin to itch and burn almost immediately after the colouring product is applied. Rashes, blistering, weeping skin, open sores and red, swollen skin are all classic symptoms of an adverse reaction. Swelling in facial areas can force the eyes closed, a condition that may last for days on end. Damage will affect both skin on the scalp and the hair follicles, resulting in partial hair loss or complete baldness, from which it may take many months to recover fully.
While hair dyes can contain a combination of hundreds of ingredients, most of which are entirely safe, there are certain core chemicals contained in most hair dyes that have the potential to cause harm. This may be due to an individual’s lack of tolerance to certain ingredients or the way in which a hair dye product is prepared or applied to a person’s hair. Whatever the case, these chemicals can cause allergic reactions, skin damage, chemical burns, blistering and possible scarring, as well as dryness, breakage, hair loss and baldness. Among the most common toxic ingredients in hair dyes are hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and p-phenylenediamine (PPD):
Hydrogen peroxide: This toxic chemical compound is used to penetrate the outer layer of the hair shaft (cuticle) and strip the natural colour (pigment) from the hair, allowing the new colouring agents, including p-phenylenediamine, to be absorbed. Hydrogen peroxide is an oxidising agent that also removes sulfur, a key component of keratin, from the hair, which has a negative effect on its strength, elasticity and lustre. In high concentrations or due to repeated use, the loss of sulfur caused by hydrogen peroxide can leave the hair excessively dry and brittle, potentially changing and effectively damaging its structure permanently.
Ammonia: This chemical is often used in combination with hydrogen peroxide to open up the hair shaft and prepare the follicles to absorb the colour pigment. Ammonia raises the pH level of the hair to help it shift from an acidic pH to alkaline and hence facilitate a permanent change in colour. However, as with hydrogen peroxide, this can result in the hair losing an excessive amount of moisture and protein, and in many cases the hair will subsequently be left dry and brittle, and effectively unable to regain its former structure following the colouring process. Ammonia can also cause skin irritation and burns if applied directly to the scalp, as well as breathing difficulties, and therefore needs to be handled with extreme care at all times.
P-phenylenediamine (PPD): The cause of most allergic reactions to hair dye, PPD is derived from coal tar and is mainly used to achieve dark hair colour shades. PPD is one of the main colouring agents contained in permanent and semi-permanent dye products, and helps the pigment bond with individual hair shafts. The presence of PPD in hair dyes and the possibility of it causing an allergic reaction with potentially severe consequences is the main reason why hair salons and stylists must carry out a skin patch test on clients 24-48 hours before a hair dyeing treatment. To complicate matters, exposure to PPD over time can lead to a person developing an allergy to it, and regular patch testing is therefore advisable for those who dye their hair frequently.
Hairdressers are expected to carry out skin patch tests to check for allergies and test individual skin sensitivity, and where a client suffers a moderate to severe allergic reaction because of a salon's failure to do, the latter will be found to have acted negligently. A patch test is performed by testing a small amount of a hair dye product on the skin, 24-48 hours in advance of a hair dyeing appointment, and waiting to see if it causes any irritation. This simple procedure is too often disregarded by hairdressers however, and hundreds of salon customers are injured every year as a result.
Allergic reactions can lead to acute emotional distress and feelings of profound embarrassment and humiliation. A person may be unable to return to work for an extended period if they feel effectively disfigured, while others will find it difficult even to leave the house. Special occasions or holidays may need to be missed or cancelled, and relationships may suffer due to the abnormal appearance of the injured party. Factors such as these will all influence the amount of compensation it will be possible to claim.
Ms S visited the on board hair salon while on a cruise liner trip to have her hair tinted. She informed the stylist that she had never had her hair dyed before, but was assured that it was a simple and 100% safe procedure, as tinting did not utilise permanent dyes. Ms S complained that her skin was burning and itchy following the procedure, and was given a gel to soothe her skin. Later the same day, Ms S noticed that the skin on her scalp was red and inflamed, and as she brushed her hair she saw that strands were coming out at the root. She also felt weak and nauseous.
Ms S went to see the cruise ship’s doctor (treatment for which she had to pay), who advised her that she had suffered an allergic reaction to one of the chemical ingredients in the hair tint solution, and prescribed antihistamines to limit the symptoms. Ms S continued to feel ill and embarrassed about the state of her hair, and spent the few remaining days of the trip in her cabin.
Needless to say, Ms S’s holiday was completely ruined by her hair tinting ordeal, and when she returned to the UK she decided to contact our firm to ask; can I claim compensation for an allergic reaction at a cruise ship hair salon? We advised her that, because the holiday had been booked with a UK tour operator, she could claim compensation under the Package Travel Regulations 1992, legislation making the tour operator responsible for the behaviour (and negligence) of its overseas suppliers.
Ms S’s no win no fee claim for hair damage was successful, as it was accepted that the hair stylist should have carried out a skin patch test 24-48 hours before the hair dyeing procedure. This would have identified Ms S’s pre-existing allergy to chemicals contained the hair tint solution and that the treatment was therefore unsuitable for her. We noted that the way that hair stylists are incentivised by commissions on procedures they carry out on board cruise ships, make it possible that proper pre-treatment care will be overlooked. Ms S received a cheque for £3,250 in compensation.
The Covid-19 pandemic has raised fears that more people face the risk of experiencing an allergic reaction to hair dye due in part to the illness itself, but also because many may have naturally developed a sensitivity after not having their hair dyed for many months.
The National Hair and Beauty Federation (NHBF), the leading trade association dedicated to hair and beauty in the UK, has stated that there may be a ‘heightened reaction’ to chemicals (especially PPD) contained in hair dyes following serious illness. While a direct scientific link with Covid-19 remains unproven, anecdotal evidence suggests that patients with so-called Long Covid face a greater risk of developing allergies post-virus.
Inflammation of the skin caused by Covid-19 could in theory make a person hypersensitive to chemicals and other hair dye ingredients which they previously tolerated. Scientific research has also shown that the immune system remains overstimulated in around 15% of people after a serious viral infection, which may increase the risk of them developing allergies.
The federation went on to make the point about people developing a natural sensitivity after not visiting a salon for more than six months during the recent series of lockdowns. They may also have used a different hair dye product or treatment at home during this time, which could have created a sensitivity to a product or treatment with different ingredients used in a salon.
While the scientific evidence remains unclear, hairdressers should be erring on the side of caution by patch testing all new and returning clients after reopening. It is standard practice to carry out patch tests every six months to check for possible allergies, and most hair salons are keen to provide regular patch tests, despite the organizational difficulties this sometimes causes. Clients should seek a post-lockdown consultation with their salon, and always get a patch test if there is any room for doubt about their sensitivity status.
Our solicitors represent hundreds of clients every year who have been injured following a visit to the hairdressers. Allergic reactions to hair dyes and other hair products are one of the most common injury types that we deal with. Contact our female solicitors today for free, confidential legal advice.