Thinking Beyond the Box, Hazards DIY Hair Dye

Miller's Hair Studio

You’ve heard the phrase “think outside the box”

But did you know there is a better way to think? “Thinking beyond the box” is more about discovering new things than taking a traditional route.

Hair dyes contain chemicals that at high exposure levels are linked to skin and respiratory irritation, a suppressed immune system, and even cancer. Learn more about these risks before you dye your tresses at home.


If you dye your hair at home, chances are you’re using a chemical-filled product. Unless you’re using henna or literal plants, most DIY formulas contain chemicals like ammonia, alcohol, and P-phenylenediamine (PPD, which helps open up the hair cuticle to let the dye in). PPD is known to be an allergen and can cause a itchy scalp and rash. Ammonia is a chemical irritant and can cause respiratory problems, while alcohol can dry out the hair and skin and cause sensitivity.

If your box dye is semi-permanent, it may also contain a preservative called DMDM hydantoin, which slowly releases formaldehyde into the air over time. It is a possible carcinogen and has been linked to asthma, respiratory distress, itching of the scalp, and allergic reactions in general. It’s an ingredient commonly found in nail polish remover, floor waxes, and diluents for cosmetics, paints, and coatings.

While the FDA can take action against ingredients like coal tar if they’re proven to be harmful, they don’t watch over every ingredient that goes into personal care products and hair dyes are no exception. They can contain anything from coal tar, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in lab animals, to 22 chemicals banned in Europe including lead acetate, formaldehyde, parabens, ammonia, and resorcinol.


There’s nothing like a fresh, vibrant hair color to boost your confidence. But if you’re dyeing your hair at home, be sure to take all the necessary precautions. Not only does DIY hair dye have to be handled carefully, but it can also be dangerous for your health. Inhaling and absorbing the chemicals in hair dye can be harmful for people with respiratory problems or sensitivities to certain substances, such as ammonia and toluene.

Both of these are known to be irritants that can cause itching, rashes or chemical burns in some people. If you have a condition like contact dermatitis, you may be especially sensitive to these ingredients. If you’re planning on dying your hair at home, it’s best to do a patch and strand test first to avoid an allergic reaction.

It’s also important to protect your skin and eyes, and work in a well-ventilated area. If you’re worried about the chemicals in your dye, there are a number of natural products that promise to be safer and better for your hair.

Aside from being more expensive, salon dyes tend to be of higher quality than the at-home varieties. So, if you’re deciding to go the DIY route, be sure to follow all the instructions closely and use the highest-quality product you can find.


Whether you are a dye newbie or a dye veteran, there are important safety measures that need to be taken into account. For instance, if you are considering using a DIY hair dye at home, always fully follow the instructions on the box. Also, make sure that someone will be at home in case you experience a reaction to the dye. Additionally, a skin test should be done prior to the application of any dyes.

The good news is that there are safer dye options available now than ever before. There are even dyes that do not contain ammonia and other harmful chemicals. These include Madison Reed, which was founded by San Francisco resident Amy Errett and specializes in clean, salon-quality permanent hair color. They offer several different formulas that are free of ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, phthalates, and PPD.

Another great option is semi-permanent dyes, which only cover the hair shaft and last between 2-10 washes. However, even they can be a little dangerous because they may cause an allergic reaction in some people.

Regardless of what kind of dye you choose, it is important to be aware of the risks involved and to weigh them with how much you value a bright, vibrant appearance. If you must use a box dye, try to limit it to one coloring session per year. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Cancer Epidemiology found that women who used permanent hair dye more than five times a year doubled their risk of developing bladder cancer as compared to those who did not use hair dye.

Side Effects

The chemicals used in hair dye can damage both the inner and outer parts of the hair shaft. This may be more severe in permanent hair dyes because they penetrate deeper into the strand. Hair dye can also irritate and cause itching or redness of the scalp, skin and eyes. People with sensitive skin should not use permanent hair dyes or seek out non-chemical-based alternatives.

A common ingredient in most permanent hair dyes is para-phenylenediamine (PPD). PPD has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals and can cause allergic reactions in humans, including dermatitis, itching of the scalp or other sensitive areas of the body. The EWG recommends avoiding hair dyes with PPD and instead choosing products without it, especially for those who have a history of sensitivity or allergy to other types of coloring chemicals, like ammonia, resorcinol and triethanolamine.

If people are going to dye their hair at home, they should make sure they follow the directions on the box. They should also avoid using other hair products, such as shampoos and conditioners, until after the dye has been washed out. This can prevent the chemicals from sticking to other parts of the hair, which could result in uneven coloring. People should also make sure their hair is clean, as it will help the color last longer. If a person experiences any swelling of the face or eyes, it is an early sign of a possible allergic reaction and they should seek immediate medical attention.

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