When a hair dye brand recently started advertising its ‘allergy gentle molecule’-containing product, I wondered whether the problem of PPD allergy had finally been solved.
PPD (para-phenylenediamine) is a chemical found in a lot of permanent hair dye blends, and it can cause extreme, life-threatening allergies — which is why it’s essential to perform a patch test before you dye your hair. PPD is highly effective in fixing hair color, when used with an oxidising agent or activator, and any two-bottle hair dye kits are likely to contain PPD in the blend.
If not, they may instead contain related chemicals PTD (para-toluenediamine) or TDS (toluene-2,5-diamine sulphate). But around half of those with PPD allergy may still react to these alternatives, which are often touted as ‘PPD-free’.
Natural or gentler hair colouring options are of course available — think henna, and the like — but these are only temporary / semi-permanent, and don’t last as long or color as well …
The alternative …
Research in recent years has focused on developing an effective alternative unlikely to sensitise users in the first place. A relatively new patented molecule called ME+ (or ME-PPD — 2-methoxymethyl-p-phenylenediamine), was developed some years ago by Proctor & Gamble, and is now being rolled out into home hair dye kits.
While still highly effective at colouring, this molecule has been shown to be far less allergenic than PPD / TDS.
However, those already allergic to PPD / TDS should not assume ME+ is safe for them, as it wasn’t designed for this purpose — according to one study, 2 in 3 such women could tolerate it, but 1 in 3 could not. That said, patch testing may be an avenue to explore with a dermatologist, in order to determine safety and suitability, if you find yourself in this position, and would like to return to using permanent hair dye.
One range of permanent hair colours that has been using ME+ for some years is Wella Professionals Koleston Perfect Innosense, available via salons, but now it has been launched in the new Clairol Nice ‘N Easy Color Care reformulations for home hair colouring — with the manufacturers calling ME+ an “allergy gentle molecule” in their marketing.
You can see an advert for the product here.
Can it really be ‘allergy gentle’?
Not surprisingly, some have reservations about an allergen being called ‘allergy gentle’.
I share an additional concern that this term is being referenced in relation to products which contain plenty of other allergens …
For if you look at the full Clairol Nice ‘n Easy ingredients, you’ll find propylene glycol (named the American Contact Dermatitis Society’s ‘Allergen of the Year’ for 2018), a major fragrance allergen (linalool), and the highly allergenic preservatives methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone (found in the supplied color-seal conditioners).
Although most readers with allergy are unlikely to need reminding that the ingredients of anything they use or consume should always be checked for allergy-safety, it’s still worth repeating that whenever reassuring language such as ‘allergy gentle’ is used about a product — or ‘allergy friendly’, or hypoallergenic, or ‘for sensitive skin’ — it does not necessarily mean it will be safe for you, or anyone else.
‘Always read the label’ continues to be a mantra the allergy community must stick to — no matter what welcome scientific developments are made nor which welcome products may be launched.
To learn more about the Nice ‘n Easy products, see the Clairol US or Clairol UK sites. Products are widely available on online retailers such as Amazon but check that you’re buying the reformulations if you want to use ME+ versions.
For the importance of conducting hair dye patch tests, see our article here.
For our article on PPD-free hair dyes, click here.