Auckland Allergy & Eczema Clinic

Paraphenelyenediamine (PPD) Allergy in New Zealand

Paraphenelyenediamine (PPD) Allergy in New Zealand:
An Update on Allergic Reaction to hair dyes in New Zealand

Hairline RashVincent St Aubyn Crump FRACP, FRCP (UK) – September, 2010


Based on a personal observation from patch testing done in my clinic and from the increasing number of calls regarding reactions to hair dye, it is obvious that there has been an true increase in the incidence of reactions to hair dye along with an increase in awareness. This article outlines the legislation on labelling hair dyes in New Zealand, and discusses some of the possible causes why we are seeing more allergic reaction to hair dyes & how to prevent them.

Prevalence of Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) allergy in New Zealand

Unpublished data based on 211 consecutive patch tests done at the Auckland Allergy Clinic in 2009 showed that 9.47% of the patients reacted to PPD, compared to 7.1% in 2007.

What is paraphenelyenediamine?

Paraphenelyenediamine or PPD is a chemical which is the main colouring agent in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes and is the main cause for reactions to hair dyes. It can also be found in temporary "henna" tattoos, fur dyes, textiles, dark coloured cosmetics, black rubber, photocopying and printing inks.

Regulation of Cosmetics in New Zealand

The Hazardous Substances Advisor, which handles labelling of cosmetics in New Zealand informs me that the New Zealand Cosmetics Products group Standards (CPGS) is closely based on the European Union (EU) Cosmetics Directive. All the regulatory changes in the EU (including the banning of other hair dyes) will eventually happen here. There are usually some delays as the CPGS is only reviewed annually to take on board changes.

Hazardous Substances, Ministry of Environment legislation states:

Cosmetic products sold in New Zealand must be labelled in compliance with one of the following:

  • The labelling provisions in the Hazardous Substances (Identification) Regulations 2001, the Hazardous Substances (Emergency Management) Regulations 2001 and the Hazardous Substances (Disposal) Regulations 2001; or
  • The current labelling requirements for cosmetic products of Australia, USA or the European Union, as if the substance were for sale or supply in those countries.

Oxidizing colouring agents for hair dyeing both for general purpose & professional use in New Zealand

  • p-Phenylenediamine, its N-substituted derivatives and its salts; N substituted derivatives Maximum authorized concentration in the finished cosmetic product: 6%.
  • Phenylenediamine(5), with the exception of those derivatives listed elsewhere in this Schedule and under
  • Reference numbers 1309, 1311, and 1312 in Schedule 4
  • Methylphenylenediamine & its derivatives: maximum allowed conc. 10%
  • Diaminophenols : Maximum authorized conc: 10% of free base.

Conditions of use and warnings which must be printed on the label:
(Based on Schedule 5, Cosmetic Products Group Standard 2006)

For general use:
Can cause an allergic reaction.
Contains phenylenediamines/ Phenylenediamine / Methylphenylenediamine / Diaminophenols.
Do not use to dye eyelashes or eyebrows (for general use).

For professional use:
For professional use only.
Contains phenylenediamines/ Phenylenediamine / Methylphenylenediamine / Diaminophenols.
Can cause an allergic reaction. Wear suitable gloves.

Allergic reaction to hair dyes

Permanent hair dyes make up 70-80% of the entire hair dye market in Europe, and these are the main culprit in causing allergic reaction to hair dyes. Para- phenylenediamine (PPD) and its derivatives are the main colouring agents found in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes. They usually come as a 2 part system, one of which is an oxidative compound, usually hydrogen peroxide, which is added to the colourless PPD which produces the highly sensitizing chemical, which adds colour to the hair shaft.

There has been a dramatic increase in allergic reaction to hair dyes internationally, and some of the reasons cited for this increase include:

  • More people are dyeing their hair at a much younger age than previously. Previously hair dyeing was used mainly "to hide grey hair. Now teen agers are dyeing because they just want to change the colour of their hair. Many people are also doing it themselves, and as the "credit crunch" worsens more and more will probably be doing so.
  • More men are dyeing their beards at home, and not as embarrassed to do so, as previously.
  • The increasing trend of henna temporary tattoos on young children is believed to be a major contributor, since PPD is the agent which is added to the henna, sometimes in very high concentrations, much higher than the 6% that is allowed in hair dyes. Also, because the tattoo is applied directly to the skin increases the risk of sensitization. There is also probably more risk of sensitization at a younger age. There are some studies showing a link with previous temporary henna tattoos & reaction to PPD hair dyes. Ironically, the general public assumes that henna is "natural" and safe & are totally unaware that they are allowing their children to be exposed to a highly sensitizing chemical, PPD.
  • Hair dyes bought from some cheaper shops or markets, that are brought in from some non-regulated countries might not have labelling.
  • Consumers are not doing the recommended patch test before dyeing or doing it incorrectly & a study in the UK suggest that these home patch-test kits might not be helping the consumers.

Home patch test kits

Consumers are advised by most of the hair dye manufacturers, to have a skin allergy self-test (patch test) 48 hours prior to each and every use of the hair dye.

A study was done at the Department of Dermatology, Amersham Hospital, UK, in 2004, looking at the patch test kit, Colourstart. They retrospectively looked at six patients presenting to their clinic with a history of reacting to hair colours and found that three patients that were allergic to PPD alone on conventional patch tests were not detected with the kit, and one patient allergic to PTD alone was not detected with the kit. Based on this study the testing kits are far from perfect in preventing reactions.

What can we do in New Zealand to reduce the increasing prevalence of allergy to hair dyes and reduce the severity of the reactions?

  • Increase the public awareness of the potential risk of PPD sensitization from temporary henna tattoos.
  • Stress the importance of doing a patch test (allergy self-test) 48 hours prior to each and every time they dye their hair, and if during this period they notice itching or reddening not to use the product. The self test is usually done behind the ear or on the arm, as per the instructions which should accompany the packet.
  • Increase the awareness of how common allergy to PPD is and the fact that it can occur at any stage in your "hair dyeing career". It often starts off as minor irritation and if ignored can lead to severe reactions the next time, with risk of even permanent scarring.
  • Advice consumers to seek prompt medical treatment if they develop any skin reaction within 48 hours of having hair colouring.
  • Avoid direct skin contact with the dye, as this is how sensitization occurs, especially in men dyeing their beards.
  • The warning labels on hair dyes need to be more explicit about the dangers.