The risk of an allergic reaction to ingredients contained in hair dye 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, have been covered extensively 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 hair dye 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.
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: Ongoing Hair Dye Reaction Risks
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.
The most serious risk is the reaction spreading to other areas of the body. If a person begins to experience breathing difficulties, for example, it is a sign that their airways have swelled, and they will require immediate hospitalisation and emergency treatment to ward off the possibility of toxic shock and cardiac arrest.
Hairdressers are expected to carry out hair dye 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 so, 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 (usually behind the ear) 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.
Hair salons must make sure that stylists are properly trained and experienced in how to carry out treatments safely. The law expects that salons and stylists will display a reasonable level of competence, and where they fall below this accepted standard and a client is injured as a result, the latter will have strong grounds for making a compensation claim.
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.
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.
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 sulphur, 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 sulphur 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.
Our firm regularly represents clients who have had the misfortune to suffer allergic reactions and the associated symptoms following hair dye treatments at salons. In a recent case, Ms B made an appointment to visit a hair salon to have her hair dyed, but was not offered a hair dye patch test prior to the procedure. She was not particularly worried about this, as she had dyed her hair previously with no signs of an adverse reaction.
On this occasion, however, Ms B began to experience symptoms the morning after the treatment. These included swelling to her head, neck and face, as well as her eyes which were almost swollen shut. Her skin was red and itchy, and she later developed a bad headache. Her partner took her to hospital where she was prescribed antihistamines and steroids. Ms B’s symptoms persisted for a number of days, during which time she was unable to work and in constant discomfort.
Bartletts went on to represent Ms B in a no win no fee claim against the hair salon in question. An examination by an expert trichologist (hair and scalp specialist) indicated that Ms B had recently become sensitised to PPD, a common ingredient in most hair dyes, possibly through contact with black henna. The hair salon where her treatment was carried out should have offered Ms B a patch test 48 hours before the procedure regardless for whether she had dyed her hair previously with no adverse effects, as it is common knowledge in the industry that people can become sensitised to allergens such as PPD at any point in time.
The salon’s failure to take reasonable care for Ms B's safety amounted to negligence, and we therefore argued that she was entitled to compensation for the pain, discomfort, distress and inconvenience she had experienced. We were able to gain an admission of liability from the salon’s insurers within a few months of starting the claim, and Ms B later received a cheque for £4,250 in compensation.
A client contacted our specialist team after visiting a local salon to have her hair done for Christmas. She decided that she would like highlights adding to her blonde hair. Unfortunately, not only was a patch test not carried out. but the hairdresser failed to mix the correct ratio of colourant. and when the colour was applied she immediately felt a burning sensation on her scalp. She was assured by the hairdresser that this was completely normal, and because she had not had her hair highlighted previously she accepted this. It was only after the colour had been on for some time and she was in a lot of pain that she insisted it was washed off.
When she woke the next morning she was still in a lot of pain. She looked in the mirror and noticed that she had a large bald patch on the right side of her head. The area had blistered during the night and was very red and swollen. She consulted her doctor and was advised that she had suffered a chemical burn. After having consulted with us, we arranged for her to be seen by a local specialist. Not only was she extremely upset due to the pain and discomfort she was in, but she was also embarrassed by the large area of baldness. The specialist recommended that she undergo scar revision surgery to reduce the area of the baldness and we arranged for this treatment to be carried out on her behalf.
The hairdresser’s insurers quickly admitted responsibility and we obtained compensation amounting to £7,000, together with recovering other items of loss, such as her loss of earnings.
Ms B normally had foils applied to colour her hair, but on the advice of a hairdresser went ahead with a treatment where the colour was applied directly to her roots. After about 20 minutes, Ms B’s scalp began to itch and burn. After the hair dye was removed and her hair was dried, Ms B noticed that the skin on her scalp was red and inflamed. That night she had a persistent headache, and the following morning felt a tight feeling all over her scalp. When she looked in the mirror, she saw that her face was swollen and her eyes were puffy. She saw her GP the same day who told her that she had had an allergic reaction to the hair dye used during her treatment and prescribed steroids and antihistamines to help combat the symptoms. Ms B was forced to take two weeks off work to recover, and still had marks on the skin on her scalp eight weeks later.
Having discussed the matter with the hair salon’s manager, Ms B was told that mild allergic reactions were normal and was offered vouchers for follow-up treatments of negligible value. Unhappy with this response, Ms B decided to seek a legal opinion, and later engaged Bartletts on a no win no fee basis to begin a personal injury claim against the hair salon’s owners. We wrote to them arguing that the salon’s failure to carry out a standard skin patch test was the prime reason why Ms B experienced an allergic reaction to the hair colouring product in question. Following an admission of liability, Ms B received £3,250 in compensation from the hair salon’s insurers, as well as an additional sum reflecting her loss of earnings due to time off work.
Ms P had a permanent colouring treatment carried out at a local hair salon in advance of her sister’s wedding. No skin patch test was performed prior to her appointment, and neither was she asked about pre-existing allergies. During the treatment, bleach and dye leaked out of the foils onto Ms P’s scalp triggering an allergic reaction. An hour later, Ms P’s scalp was itchy, red and painful. She also began to experience flu-type symptoms including a runny nose, watering eyes, a headache and nausea. Ms P was driven to hospital by a family member where the doctor diagnosed an allergic reaction to ingredients in the dye product used on her hair at the salon. She was prescribed a steroid cream and a week’s course of antihistamine tablets, and spent two days in bed recovering from her ordeal.
Ms P later contacted Bartletts Solicitors having read about our expertise in claiming compensation for adverse hair dye reactions on behalf of clients. We agreed to take on her claim, and wrote a letter to the beauty salon’s owners arguing that their failure to carry out a skin patch test had exposed Ms P to the foreseeable risk of an allergic reaction. Hair salons are required under UK law to perform the services they offer in a reasonably competent manner, and in this instance, apart from the lack of a patch test, the hair stylist had also allowed bleach and dye to leak onto exposed areas of Ms P’s skin. The salon had acted negligently and breached the duty of care it owed Ms P as a customer. We were able to win an admission of liability from the hair salon’s insurers, and Ms P later received a cheque for £3,350 in compensation.