What is PPD?

Para-phenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical substance derived from coal tar (and you’re putting it on your scalp!). In addition to being used in many permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes,  it may also be found in temporary tattoos (some “henna” tattoos are not henna at all but pure PPD).

PPD hair dyes usually come packaged as two bottles — one contains the PPD dye preparation and the other contains the developer. These are mixed together to create the color that is then applied to the hair.

PPD is a cumulative allergy, which means it builds up in your system until your body cannot tolerate it any longer and reacts. So if you are allergic, you may not react the first or fifth or tenth time you color your hair, but eventually, you will have a reaction.

What are the symptoms of a PPD allergic reaction?

Symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and may include:

  • Itchy or burning scalp
  • Rash on the scalp, forehead, neck
  • Rash, itching and/or hives anywhere on the body
  • Swelling around the eyes, face, mouth or neck
  • Weeping or oozing sores on the scalp, face, neck or shoulders
  • Swollen glands
  • Hair loss
  • Difficulty breathing (call 911)

Symptoms and reaction times vary greatly! Symptoms may occur anywhere from within minutes of applying the dye to several weeks after coloring your hair, depending on your individual sensitivity and reaction. Reactions may last for days, weeks or months and frequently require medical attention.

PPD has many aliases.  Here are a few to watch out for on labels:

PPDA, Phenylenediamine base, p-Phenylenediamine,4-Phenylenediamine, 1,4-Phenylenediamine , 4-Benzenediamine, 1,4-Benzenediamine, para-Diaminobenzene (p-Diaminobenzene)
para-Aminoaniline (p-Aminoaniline), Diaminobenzene, Benzenediamine,  Aminoaniline,  Fenylenodwuamina, Fouramine 1, m-Aminoaniline, m-Benzenediamine, m-Diaminobenzene, m-Fenylendiamin, m-Phenylene diamine, M-Phenylenediamine, meta-Aminoaniline, meta-Benzenediamine, meta-Diaminobenzene, Metaphenylenediamine, p-Aminoaniline, p-Benzenediamine, p-Fenylendiamin, p-Phenyldiamine, p-Phenylenediamine, PLP-ASP,  Para touline diamine (PTD), Touline Diamine Sulfate (TDS), Renal PF, 6PPD, APCO 2330, Aspartyl-Pyridoxal-5′-Phosphate, C02454, CI Developer 11, Developer 11, Developer C, Developer H, Developer M, Direct Brown BR, Direct Brown GG.

If you are allergic to PPD, you may also cross-react to any of these: 

  • Azo dyes and aniline dyes (often used in semi-permanent and temporary hair dyes)
  • Benzocaine and procaine (anesthetics used by doctors and dentists) Sulfonamides and sulfa drugs
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Para-aminosalicylic acid
  • Carbutamide
  • Hydrochlorothiazide

It’s a lot to watch out for. Read labels carefully!