How DIY Hair Dye Can Make Your Head Swell

I remember the first time I dyed my hair. I bought a block of Lush’s henna, which looked like something that came out of a horse’s butt. (Funnily enough, it was called “Caca Rouge.” Yep.) 


As per the instructions, I crushed it up and dissolved it in some hot water. I then painstakingly brushed it onto my locks, wrapped my hair up in a towel, and basically left the stuff on overnight. I woke up to a mass of what looked, smelled, and felt like dried mud, and spent the better part of an hour rinsing the dye out. 


Thankfully, that was the worst part. My hair emerged with a deliciously red tinge afterwards, and my scalp didn’t itch or sting at all. It  was much too bothersome to do more than once, but my experience still came out better than the French student whose head swelled up. 


The following, thus, is Estelle’s cautionary tale on do-it-yourself hair dye.


An Extreme Allergic Reaction

An Extreme Allergic Reaction

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The 19 year-old French student made it to the news last November 2018 after a severe allergic reaction to hair dye. Estelle noticed some irritation on her scalp, and then her head began to swell. And despite taking some antihistamines, her head swelled up to 24.8 inches by the next morning. (The average size is 22 inches.)


“I could not breathe. I had a lightbulb head,” Estelle told a French outlet.


She rushed over to the emergency room when her tongue started swelling. Physicians then injected her with adrenaline and kept her for observation overnight. 


Estelle has since made a full recovery, but now warns others about the risks of DIY hair color.


The Culprit? A Chemical Called PPD

The Culprit_ A Chemical Called PPD  

Paraphenylenediamine, or PPD, is a common ingredient in hair dyes. It’s generally safe for usage, but an allergic reaction to it could result in serious complications, such as:

  • Renal failure;

  • Angioneurotic edema (rapid swelling);

  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown);

  • Respiratory failure.


PPD also figures in lipstick, henna tattoos, and other dark-colored cosmetics. To determine if you’re allergic to it, you need to carry out a patch test. You do this by putting a bit of the substance behind your ear or on your inner elbow. If there are no signs of irritation after 48 hours, you’re good to go. 


Safer Alternatives

Safer Alternatives  

Now, what if you’re allergic to PPD and you still want to rock some vibrantly-colored locks? No worries, you can go au natural.


Coffee, for instance, is great for building up an earthy brown color. Tea leaves are also great for retouching your roots if you’re more of a tea person. You can even check out other alternatives here.


As a parting note, it’s best to do a patch test with any product. Each human comes with a unique set of allergies and/or chemical sensitivities, and testing a substance on a small patch of skin still beats risking a full-blown reaction. 


So, whether you want to dye your hair bubblegum pink or simply cover up some greys, always put your safety first. As a certain hair care brand would always say, “because you’re worth it.”

Serena Estrella

Serena joined Remit back in 2016, and has tormented its Marketing Head constantly ever since. To get through the rigors of writing about grave concerns like exchange rates, citizenship requirements, and PH-AU news, she likes to blast Mozart, Vivaldi, ONE OK ROCK, and Shigeru Umebayashi in the background. She does a mean Merida voice in her spare time too.


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