I have always had a complicated relationship with my hair.

For as long as I can remember my scalp always required a gentle touch because it’s so sensitive. 

My mother trying to detangle my hair before putting it in curlers was an exercise in long suffering patience (my mom) and crocodile tears (me). Detangling the gnarls and knots in my hair? Made we want to willingly eat broccoli instead.

Chemical treatments like relaxers? Only the type that was both soothing on my scalp and anti-breakage. Oh and even then, the hair dresser would need to ensure that my scalp was based with a protective serum that would not result in any burning sensation, irritability or severe itchiness. 

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Over the years I had only previously experienced one bad reaction to hair dye before (one that I wrote off to it being the brand of dye I used).It turns out that I shouldn’t have been so quick to dismiss that bad reaction.When I scheduled a hair appointment two weeks ago, I went in with the expectation that all would be well and I’d come out looking all glam and ready for the festive season. 

My go-to hair colour I usually opt for is black as it’s the shade that has always left my hair with a healthy and sleek shine. And glam and gorgeous is what I got, at least until the next day when suffering for beauty manifested in the form of the following:

1. A burning scalp (figuratively speaking, although it certainly felt as if someone actually poured gasoline on my head)

2. Rashes along my neckline and at the beginning of my scalp line

3. A painfully swollen neck (my glands specifically) and upper back

4. Burning earlobes (trust me, you don’t realise just how sensitive your lobes are until it gets into contact with a substance that reacts harshly to your skin)

To put it bluntly, this allergic reaction was so severe, we nearly had to go to the hospital. My scalp was so hot I’d get up at three in the morning to rinse it with cold water (one of the first things to alleviate the allergy, according to healthline.com is to wash your hair and rinse the dye out as thoroughly as possible ).

With the help of prescribed medication which included medicinal scalp lotion, antihistamine tablets and steroid cream, by the following week most of the symptoms have subsided. 

A side note: I had to stop using other facial and body lotions during this time as well as my body was so sensitised after this allergic reaction, that when I tried some body cream, my skin broke out into hives.

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When I spoke to Jessica, one of the hair dressers at the salon, she revealed that it can be “common for clients to be allergic or have a bad reaction to the ammonia in the dye.” 

She revealed that in cases like this, they usually order ammonia-free products for clients who have a sensitivity towards hair dyes and adds that it’s important to have skin patch tests done.

She adds that there are products that are available for those with sensitivity reactions, but that it also depends on the severity of your reaction.  

I have just gone for the first of my patches  - this one we’re testing is a pigment free dye being tested. The results so far show a definite allergic reaction. An itchy rash has formed just under 24 hours of testing.I’m doing one more round of testing next week. If it turns out that I have a negative reaction to that patch as well, then dyeing my hair will be out of the question.Because it’s not just the ammonia in the dye. 

In fact, according to Medical News Today, one of the most common allergic reactions people have to hair dye is due to para-phenylenediamine (PPD), an ingredient that’s commonly found in most dyes – but particularly in abundance in darker brown and black hues.

This ingredient is key in being mixed with peroxide to not only help alter the colour of your hair, but also helps to maintain and fight the fading of the colour, according to dry scalp gone.com. The problem often arises when the chemical is mixed in with an oxidizer – and it’s this mix that many people’s scalp can’t seem to handle. 

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In severe cases, reactions to this ingredient can result in someone going into anaphylactic shock. In cases like this someone will experience a severe breakout of hives, shortness of breath, swelling of the face (I was experiencing swelling which is why we at first thought I’d need to be rushed to the hospital), dizziness, nausea and loss of consciousness.

I was really fortunate. And given that my second reaction was even worse than the first one, I will definitely not be ignoring the list of ingredients in the dye box again or simply allowing the hair salon to just apply the dye without discussing alternative options. 

But, if you, like me have a sensitive scalp and worry that you may not be able to dye your hair, don’t fret just yet. The key here is to find out what ingredient in the dye you’re having a reaction to – I’m hoping my second test will mean that I’m eligible for a natural based dye product, but if not, there are always extensions.

I mean, I’ve always wanted unicorn hair one day anyway, and what better (and damage free) way is there to get them by more non-invasive means?

Have you ever had a harrowing hair dye experience (which had a happy ending)? Share your story with us!

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