Hair dye allergy tests will be available in shops for the first time

Hair dye allergy tests will be available in shops for the first time after Government gives company the green light to start selling the patches

  • The Government’s medical device regulator has reclassified the patches
  • They work by exposing the skin to a small amount of a common dye chemical
  • If people don’t test dyes first they can have dramatic and dangerous reactions
  • Colourstart tests will now be available in shops and not only on prescription 

Allergy tests for hair dye will be available on the high street for the first time after a company got Government approval to start selling them.

The Colourstart test contains a small amount of a common hair-dying chemical and is placed on the skin to see whether someone will react to it.

If the skin reacts and becomes red or swollen it’s a sign the person may be allergic to the dye.

Until now the tests were available on prescription only and used by hairdressers – but now over-16s will be able to buy them to use at home.

But selling them in shops will mean people can test themselves and avoid potentially harmful reactions which can cause pain, facial swelling and even more serious side effects or anaphylactic shock.

Riley O’Brien, 18, had a dramatic allergic reaction when she used a shop-bought hair dye and didn’t test it first. She had to go to A&E because her face swelled up so much she couldn’t see 

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) today reclassified the patch tests as a general sale medicine, instead of prescription-only.

‘The move to make the Colourstart Test more widely accessible will make it easier for people to screen for allergy to hair colourant and to avoid suffering skin reactions if they are allergic,’ said the MHRA’s Jan MacDonald. 

The manufacturer, Trichocare, will now be able to market the patches to high street shops such as Boots and Superdrug. It’s not yet clear where they will be sold.

Patches like these work by the customer placing it on their arm to test whether the chemical inside – paraphenylenediamine – is safe to use on their skin.

They have a placebo patch with no chemicals in it to place on the other arm to compare the effects.

Current testing works by the customer dabbing a small amount of the dye on their skin before using it to check whether it’s safe to use. 

Paraphenylenediamine, also known as PPD, is one of the most common hair dye ingredients and is found in more than two thirds of products.


A teenager was left temporarily blinded, with a dramatically swollen face and with pus-filled scabs on her hairline after having an allergic reaction to her hair dye.  

Riley O’Brien, 18, decided against doing a patch test before dying her hair because she had used the same box dye before.   

But the nursery worker, from Colchester, suffered an allergic reaction that left her with chemical burns, despite her regularly dying her hair for four years.

Her scalp became tight and itchy the day after her dye-disaster, and her forehead, eyes and cheeks swelled up so much that she couldn’t open her eyes.

Riley O’Brien, 18, of Colchester, didn’t do a patch test of her hair dye before using it because she’d tried the same box dye before as she’d used the box dye before (pictured before her reaction)

Red scabs which were leaking pus had also developed around her hairline, so her mother took her to A&E.

She said: ‘It was awful. My head was so itchy, it felt like it was on fire.’ 

‘It was terrifying.  My face looked like I’d been burnt with acid.’

Doctors told Miss O’Brien that the scabs were a chemical burn and that she’d had an allergic reaction to her hair dye.

Miss O’Brien’s face became so swollen she couldn’t open her eyes and needed medical help to bring the allergic reaction under control

The reaction died down with the help of steroids and her face returned to normal within a week, but she now urges others to always do a patch test.

Miss O’Brien said: ‘I learnt the hard way to always do a patch test even if you’ve used a product before.

‘I’ll never dye my hair again and, instead, will embrace my natural mousy brown colour.’  

It can cause itchy rashes, redness and blistering on the skin, and may even lead to people ending up in A&E if they have a severe reaction.

A small allergic reaction to the patch is a sign the person shouldn’t use the dye because it could trigger more serious symptoms.

The MHRA said the decision to make the patches pubicly available ’empowers individuals to take control of their own health’.

Ms MacDonald added: ‘Wider availability of medicinal products and improved patient access and choice remain high on the health agenda.

‘The MHRA is committed to improving access to medicinal products for self-care where it is safe to do so.’


Colouring products contain a variety of chemicals but phenylenediamine (PPD) is the prime cause of allergic reaction to hair dye.

It is needed for most shades of permanent colour, especially dark shades.

There is a strict limit on the concentration of PPD at a maximum of two per cent in any substance applied to the hair.

Hair dyes containing PPD are safe to use, providing safety instructions are followed.

There must be clear warnings and usage instructions on all packaging.

You’re particularly at risk if you have (or have previously had) a black henna tattoo, which often illegally contains high levels of PPD.

These temporary tattoos should be avoided because the paste often contains high levels of PPD, which can increase the risk of an allergic reaction the next time you’re exposed to it.

Always carry out a patch test before using a permanent or semi-permanent hair dye. 

Symptoms of a reaction  

If you’re mildly irritated, you may find your scalp, neck, forehead, ears or eyelids become irritated.

The skin may become red, swollen, blistered, dry, thickened or cracked and you could feel a burning sensation.

If you’re allergic to PPD, your scalp and face may feel itchy and start to swell.

PPD may also trigger feeling generally ill. The symptoms may develop hours or even days later.

A severe reaction is called anaphylactic shock.

Signs include: 

  • Itchy, raised, or red skin
  • Swollen eyes, lips, hands and feet
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint 
  • Swelling of the mouth, throat or tongue which can cause breathing and swallowing difficulties 
  • Tummy pain, vomiting 
  • Collapsing

 Source: NHS

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