What Is PPD, And When Should I Avoid It?
Written by the hair color experts at Godefroy:
Before we get into the article, let me give you a quick rundown of everything you need to know about PPD and hair color:
What is PPD: p-Phenylenediamine (PPD) is a common hair color chemical which, when combined with hydrogen peroxide, binds color into the hair and cuticle.
Why is PPD bad: Okay, perhaps this is a little unfair. In most cases, PPD is approved for, can be used to tint hair on a regular basis, however the chemical is an irritant and allergen in approximately 5% of people. Common side effects of allergic reactions caused by PPD include irritation, swelling and blisters on the application site. These should subside in a few days, however reactions can be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst.
Bottom line: always perform a patch test before using any products containing PPD, especially if this is your first time with hair color. PPD is almost universally used in hair colorants, so let your hair stylist know you would like to have a patch test if they are coloring your hair for you.
For use around the eye area, PPD is banned for use by the FDA, with the only tinting alternative being silver nitrate-based colorants, which we will go more in detail below.
Okay, now let’s get more in depth
Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) is a chemical that is used as a permanent hair dye. It works by opening up the cuticle and cells within the hair while depositing the dyes inside. This creates a long-lasting look and also stains the skin. PPD is mostly a dye intermediate, which means it is not typically a tint on its own, and acts as a depositing agent.
PPD has an alarming reputation for causing a wide array of negative reactions ranging from minor irritation to full-blown allergic contact dermatitis. PPD is found in larger quantities when used in darker hair colorants versus lighter shades. Studies show that approximately 5% of people have a sensitivity to PPD, making it the 5th most common cosmetic irritant in people. As mentioned before, allergic reactions to PPD can include swelling, irritation, blisters, redness, and in extreme cases, chemical burns, and scarring.
If it is your first time using a hair color, beard tint, or any type of dye, it is highly recommended a patch test is performed before application. Patch testing includes fully applying the colorant according to the package directions on a small patch of skin, usually on the underside of the arm or behind the ear. Wait 24 hours. If you are experiencing any redness, swelling, or irritation at the application site, do not apply the product. Please also be mindful of any hair colorants containing PPD on the ingredients list. Since allergies can develop over time, we recommend occasional patch testing to be sure you can avoid any irritative side effects.
In addition to irritation, PPD has been linked to cancer in some studies, however lab testing has been too inconsistent to create a definitive link between the two. The EPA has not classified PPD as a carcinogen. We will keep this page updated if any new results are published regarding PPD and cancer.
Can hair color be used on brows? Due to the PPD concentrations, hair color and beard tints are not permitted to be used around the eye area, according to the FDA. This is in both a professional and at home setting. While allergic reactions on the scalp are uncomfortable, reactions in and around the eyes can cause serious and possibly permanent damage and are much more painful. Not to mention the swelling and blistering is not easily concealed around the eyes.
Fortunately those looking for a permanent color solution on eyelash and eyebrow tinting have options. Silver nitrate-based colorants achieve similar results to traditional hair tints without any use of PPD or hydrogen peroxide. These tints have a negligible reactivity rate and are FDA compliant on lashes and brows. These colorants work by depositing the color on top of the hair, rather than inside the cuticle. This dramatically lowers the reactivity inside the body while lasting just as long.
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Overall, PPD is a hair coloring chemical which is safe to use but should be monitored semi-frequently for reactivity on your skin. Do not under any circumstances use PPD hair and beard tints to tint eyebrows and eyelashes.