I’ve been dyeing my hair for quite some time now. From the Clairol Jazzing rinses I started using in high school, to the permanent Bigen dyes my stylist puts in my hair now, I love to switch things up. And in the midst of choosing new hair colors now and then, I’ve heard people talk about henna color, how it’s natural, and why it’s best for your hair. But not every henna hair dye is as good for you as you would think. Just ask YouTube health and fitness vlogger, Chemese.
After having a bad allergic reaction to a commercial hair dye in the past thanks to the ingredient PPD (phenylenediamine), Chemese wanted to stay away from such commercial, and chemical dyes, and just assumed that she couldn’t color her hair. But after visiting with a dermatologist, she was encouraged to look up henna dyes, which are supposed to be natural and plant-based. A vegetarian with an affinity for natural and plant-based products, Chemese decided to look into having her hair dyed with henna after all. She found a salon in Austin, Texas that touted its black henna as “all-natural, chemical-free and harmless,” so after seeing one too many gray hairs, she took the plunge, made an appointment, asked all the questions she could think of, and then decided to dye her hair.
Despite a strand test on one of her Sisterlocks, which brought about no allergic reaction, when the full color was applied, Chemese’s scalp immediately began to itch and burn when she went home to rinse the rest of the color out. “My scalp was on fire,” Chemese said in a YouTube video about the incident. That “all-natural, chemical-free and harmless” henna? Not so natural and healthy after all.
She had an allergic reaction, and by the morning after her hair appointment, her face started to swell. A few more days passed and Chemese could no longer see out of her right eye.
“The whole top part of my face was completely swollen,” Chemese said. “I knew I needed to get to the doctor immediately.”
She was given a shot to help with the swelling, pain, and itching. But it all continued. Her left eye shut after going to the doctor and she was basically left to fend for herself, swollen and uncomfortable. That was until a friend named Amanda stepped up and helped to take care of her, even taking her back to the emergency room after both of her eyes shut completely for two days. Despite doctors worrying about her breathing being affected by the PPD, things finally started to change for the better for Chemese after receiving treatment.
When she decided to tell her story, she made it clear that the henna used on her head had PPD in it. Phenylenediamine is a chemical used in many dark hair dyes. It’s supposed to make the colors look more natural and vivid, but some are allergic to it. Reactions can be as mild as some uncomfortable dermatitis on the ears and eyelids, and as severe as Chemese’s reaction, where swelling and reddening becomes extensive. And, as proven by Chemese’s situation, the more you color your hair with dyes that have PPD in them, the more dramatic your reactions will become. So while you might initially have a little swelling, the second or third time around dyeing your hair (or applying henna to your skin), you could end up with a lot swelling. Or worse, like permanent damage or a fatal anaphylactic attack.
Some alternatives work for people allergic to PPD, including dyes with para-toluenediamine sulfate, Toluene-2,5-diamine (TD) and Toluene-2,5-diamine sulphate (TDS). But they probably won’t have the desired effect that dyes with PPD bring about. While it might be best to just forgo dyeing your hair if that doesn’t please you, you can always try a rinse instead.
After going through such a stressful and unhealthy situation, Chemese said that she tried to reach out to the stylist who told her that the henna was plant-based and natural, and sent her pictures to show her that it definitely wasn’t. She doesn’t plan to sue or anything like that, because, in a way, Chemese blames herself for even messing with the stuff. Still, she wanted the stylist to be aware of the damage she was doing to people by either lying to them, or being uneducated about the salon’s products. Unfortunately, she hasn’t received a response.
In the end, she’s moving on, finally starting to look and feel like her old self again, and realizing that everything, isn’t for everybody.
“This whole situation…it just made me realize that I need to pay more attention about what I put in my body and what I put on my body.”