NCIS’s Pauley Perrette Wants You to Know About the Dangers of Hair Dye

The dark hair and tattoos are her signature Goth look for her role as forensic scientist Abby Sciuto on NCIS. But did you know Pauley Perrette is actually a blonde, and the black hair comes from a bottle?

And now, those years of dying her hair black lead to Perrette being hospitalized!

Taking to Twitter, the 45-year-old  wrote:

hair dye paulie

PauleyPerretteHWOFOct2012Fortunately, Pauley is now home and back to work.

Do you think Abby Sciuto will go blond? Or is there a black wig in Perrette’s future?

What is hair dye allergy?

Over the past twenty years there has been an increase in the number of people who routinely color their hair. According to Statistic Brain, 75% of American women dye their hair in some form.  Market research company Multi-sponsor Surverys, reports that overall,  7% American men color their hair and 11% of men ages 50 to 64.

With this increase in use comes an increase in the number of people having an allergic reaction to chemicals in the hair dye. The most common chemical causing the problem is one called Paraphenylenediamine (PPD). PPD is found in more than two-thirds of permanent hair dyes as well as textile or fur dyes, dark colored cosmetics, and temporary tattoos. It is popular as a component of hair dye because the color produced appears natural and lasts well after shampooing.

The color-fastness of these hair dyes comes from PPD being very effective at penetrating the into the hair shaft and hair follicle. It also binds well to proteins in the skin. It is these same properties that make it more likely to cause an allergic reaction.

The most common reaction to hair dye is called contact dermatitis. This is an itchy, flaky red rash that most often occurs on the face, eyelids, ears and neck. The scalp is less likely to be involved because of the thickness of the skin there. It can also occur  in men the area around the mouth and beard.

Hair dye allergy can also call areas of swelling, known as urticaria or hives. This is especially common on the face and around the eyes. Hives on the body are also possible. In more severe cases, wheezing, sneezing, difficulty swallowing and vomiting may be seen. And rarely, hair dye allergy can cause anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that involves more than one organ system (for example, skin and respiratory tract and/or gastrointestinal tract). It can begin very rapidly and can cause death.

Like all allergies, a reaction to hair dye doesn’t occur with the first episode of exposure. It is typically a series of subsequent exposures that sensitize the body to lead to the allergic reaction:

allergic-reaction Step 1:

The first time you are exposed to a chemical or medication, your immune system makes specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to that allergen. IgE antibodies circulate through your blood and attach to types of immune cells called mast cells and basophils. Mast cells are found in all body tissues, especially in your nose, throat, lungs, skin, and GI (gastrointestinal) tract. Basophils are found in your blood and also in tissues that have become inflamed because of an allergic reaction.

Step 2:

The next time, or sometimes after several times after you are exposed to the same substance, the allergen binds to the IgE antibodies that are attached to the mast cells and basophils. The binding signals the cells to release massive amounts of chemicals such as histamine. This leads to the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Symptoms of a hair dye reaction most often occur within 2 to 3 days after a person colors their hair. For some, symptoms may last for days to weeks after the exposure.

How is hair dye allergy diagnosed?

A positive patch test

A positive patch test

Hair dye allergy can be diagnosed with a procedure called a patch test,which tests for a reaction to PPD. A patch test is done by either “painting” or scratching a small amount of the antigen (in this case PPD) onto the skin and may be covered with paper tape. The area is then examined 48-72 hours later. If no irritation or rash is seen, the test is considered negative. If there is redness and swelling at the site at that time, a hair dye allergy is likely. An immediate reaction of irritation or rash is more likely to be an irritant contact dermatitis (nonallergic reaction).

How is hair dye allergy treated?

The main treatment is the avoidance of the type of hair dye that is causing the problem.  Avoid the use of all oxidation type hair dyes (those which usually come in a 2-bottle preparation).  Make sure you read the label or have your hair colorist know about the problem to make sure that the offending chemical is avoided in the future.

If a reaction occurs, wash the hair and scalp thoroughly to remove any residual dye using a mild shampoo. Dermnet New Zealand recommends applying “a 2% hydrogen peroxide solution or compresses of potassium permanganate in a 1:5000 dilution to completely oxidize the PPD. To soothe, soften the crust and alleviate the tight feeling of the scalp, a wet dressing of cold olive oil and lime may be used.”

Topical hydrocortisone cream or oral corticosteroids may also be useful for some patients.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.


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