Allergy to PPD in permanent hair dye can be severe, and if you are sensitised to this chemical you must take extreme care to avoid it. In the most severe cases, it can cause swelling around the face and neck, and difficulty breathing. Angry red rashes around your hair line, ears and eyes caused by PPD can also be serious and unpleasant.
The permanent hair dye colorants available on the market are typically kits with several components in them:
* the dye
* the activator
* shampoo or conditioner or both
* sundries (eg gloves / applicator / cap etc.)
It is the dye which contains the PPD – usually called p–phenylenediamine on ingredients labels.
In order to work, the dye is combined with the activator, to help the pigments to penetrate hair follicles and ensure a long-lasting dye. It is this ‘activated’ or oxidising PPD that can cause allergic reactions.
So what alternatives to PPD-containing kits are there?
Essentially, you have three options to avoid PPD.
1. Natural plant-based dyes
The safest options are natural botanical dyes and rinses, which typically use henna, cassia, beetroot, coffee, indigo and other plant extracts to impart colour. These are unlikely to trigger allergies because they are so pure, although a few contain added essential oils which some people may react mildly to.
100% natural dyes such as these can’t change you from dark to blonde or vice versa, but they can help to conceal partial grey hair quite well. Unfortunately, the results may only last a few washes, but they do not cause any damage to hair.
The following are all free from PPD, as well as ammonia, peroxide and any synthetic colours, additives or preservatives. Powders are typically to be mixed with water before application.
Hannah Natural (US)
Pure henna, amla and indigo powders at low prices.
It’s Pure Organics (UK)
Straightforward and pure powders containing only henna, cassia, amla, indigo and neem.
Light Mountain Natural Hair Colors (US)
Very attractive looking kits, with only the purest of powders – indigo, henna and senna.
100% natural brand from Germany. Some are powders, but most are cream blends containing henna, jojoba, walnut, rhubarb, beetroot, with added algin, wheat protein and essential oils.
Rainbow Research Henna Powders (US)
Another pure powder brand, featuring various hennas (neutral, red, black), plus flowers of marigold and camomile.
Sante Herbal Hair Color (US) / Sante Herbal Hair Colour (UK)
Powders and creams. The powders contain henna, indigo, curcuma, beet, ratania and other extracts, with wheat protein and alginates. The creams additionally contain water, alcohol, glycerin and a few other ingredients – including essential oils.
Surya Brasil Powder (Worldwide)
Henna, indigo, amla, arnica, acai, Brazil nut and other ingredients originating from Brazil and India.
2. Semi permanent and semi natural dyes
An ‘intermediate’ option. Despite brand names or product descriptions which often suggest the opposite, these kits typically use artificial colors – perhaps with some natural ingredients in the formulations. They are usually a little more effective than 100% natural options – especially in darkening or highlighting dark hair, and covering greys – but the synthetic dyes in them can trigger allergies in a minority of women.
The following are free from PPD, peroxide and ammonia, but contain some petrochemical derivatives / artificial preservatives.
Solely synthetic colorants. Also contain a silicone and artificial fragrance.
Herbatint Vegetal (Worldwide)
Liquid formula of artificial colouring agents. NB Herbatint also produce a permanent line which contains PPD. Ensure you choose from the Vegetal range (eg pictured right).
Naturtint Reflex (Worldwide)
Liquid formula of artificial colouring agents. NB Naturtint also produce a permanent line which contains PPD. Ensure you choose from the Reflex range.
Surya Henna Cream (Worldwide)
Primarily artificial colours with very small proportions of henna and botanical extracts derived from walnut, carrot, camomile, guarana and others. Free from artificial fragrance.
Tints of Nature Semi-Permanent (Worldwide)
Blend of artificial colours and a few natural botanicals. NB Tints of Nature also produce a permanent line which contains PPD. Ensure you choose from the Semi-Permanent range.
3. Permanent hair dye
Rather than PPD, a few products use similar chemicals called PTD or PTDS (sometimes called TD or TDS) to impart permanent color, but these aren’t always as effective as PPD, and perhaps a third or so of people who react to PPD also react – sometimes severely – to these alternatives. Any product declaring itself PPD free and permanent will probably contain PTD. Proceed with particular caution if you have confirmed PPD allergy.
These two contain PTD:
Is there anything else out there?
There are two other unique options claiming to offer more permanent solutions via wholly natural means:
Entirely natural new product billing itself as ‘the only product in the world that restores grey hair to its true color’. It is not peroxide-free – using this to oxidise plant and mineral ingredients to recreate the lost natural pigment in your hair shafts, in the pattern (or ‘hair print’) that is unique to each of us. It is free of PPD, PTD, ammonia, artificial colours and synthetic preservatives.
Palette by Nature (US) / Palette by Nature (UK)
Two creams, applied one after the other to the hair, to which heat must then be applied. Very long lists of ingredients in each – but completely natural, free of any oxidising agents, and using only botanical and mineral-based colorants, that work using a patented method.
A final reminder …
- Always perform a patch test two days before dyeing your hair, even with a more natural option, even if it’s a product you have safely used before.
- Carefully follow instructions, and always double check ingredients, as these occasionally change.
- No hair dye can be guaranteed 100% safe, but remember that extreme reactions are very rare.
- If you have reacted to hair dyes before, consult a dermatologist for patch testing and a formal diagnosis.
- Strictly avoid PPD / PTD if you have ever had a black henna temporary tattoo, as this can sensitise you.
- Don’t expect miracle results with the more natural options, and understand carefully the limitations that some of them have in dyeing your hair with respect to certain shades, colors and coverage. Some will require experimentation, and you may find you need to try a few products before finding the ideal one for you.