PPD, or paraphenylenediamine, is a chemical used in most permanent hair dyes, especially the darker types. When mixed with an oxidiser (typically hydrogen peroxide) and applied, it penetrates shafts of hair and transforms into an oxidised form whose molecules are too large to ‘escape’, thereby creating long-lasting color very effectively. There is no better chemical for the job.
On the flip side, it’s highly allergenic, and potentially dangerous to those who have developed a sensitivity to it. There are ‘milder’ chemicals similar to PPD (other phenylenediamines or toluenediamines), which are a little less allergenic, but these aren’t quite as effective.
For anyone with allergies, dyeing one’s hair always carries a risk. Often the process involves mixing sachets of chemicals together, applying them to the hair, then later laundering the hair with an unfamiliar shampoo and conditioning it with an unfamiliar conditioner … All in all, there could be many new ingredients being applied in sequence, any number of which could be triggering. The likelihood of a reaction, be it to PPD or to another component, such as one of the preservatives or fragrances used, is relatively high.
Henna is a 100% natural coloring agent, although results can be a little unpredictable and of course temporary. The severely allergic often have no other option, and some become very fond of using it, even if it doesn’t work successfully for all. Either way, it is often recommended as the safest conceivable alternative, as reactions to it are almost unheard of.
But is every henna hair product necessarily safe?
There are plenty of trusted suppliers of pure henna powder and other 100% botanical products which should be. Tricia Cartmell who runs Suvarna in the UK, for instance, is perhaps the best niche stockist of brands such as It’s Pure and others; and there are popular products such as those by Light Mountain in the US.
Although henna ingredients are sometimes used in formulated cosmetics — such as those in Surya Brasil’s Henna Cream — I’d always assumed that any henna-based hair dye would be PPD free, as I was certain the permanent oxidative hair dye manufacturers restricted themselves to only artificial coloring agents within their formulations.
How wrong I was. The recall of this Indian henna-based product by Henna Vital (pictured left) this week in Europe both caught my eye and killed my assumption stone dead.
Shockingly, it not only contains PPD — counter-intuitively to many, no doubt, given it’s henna-themed branding — but it also contains it in quantities too high to be sold on the EU market, whose cosmetic laws place a restriction of 2% PPD in the final solution as mixed according to instructions.
It’s a salutary reminder to never become blasé about that golden allergy rule — “Every label, every time” — and to always buy your cosmetics from trusted suppliers and familiar brands, at least until you have done your homework on any new products which appear on the market, and you take every sensible precaution on use.
The expression ‘Black Henna’ on any product should perhaps ring alarm bells. Bear in mind that you have to be even more careful outside Europe, where restrictions on PPD may not apply. This is particularly relevant with regards to so-called black henna tattoos, which are offered at many tourist hotspots around the world, and contain PPD in potentially very high levels, but perhaps little or no henna. Remember: henna is not black. Never allow yourself or your child to be painted with black henna when abroad. See my previous article on the potential consequences …
And if you’re looking for safe PPD-free hair colours and dyes, then click here for a long list of permanent, semi-permanent, temporary, and alternative options.