• Rajani Katta

Hair Dye Allergy From PPDA (para-phenylenediamine): How to Avoid It and What to Use Instead


What is PPDA?​


PPDA is a chemical, and it's the main coloring agent in hair dyes.

  • The chemical name is para-phenylenediamine. 

  • The chemical is also known as p-phenylenediamine

  • PPDA is the commonly used abbreviation.

  • Other names and abbreviations include 4-para-phenylenediamine, PPD, and 4-PPDA

PPDA is found in almost all currently available permanent hair dyes, and in many demipermanent and semipermanent hair dyes. It's found in both salon dyes and in drugstore dyes. It's found in expensive products as well as less expensive products. 

Although it's used widely, PPDA is actually the most common cause of allergic reactions to hair-coloring products.


What do I look for on labels? 

On labels, this chemical dye will be listed as p-phenylenediamine.

  • HOWEVER, it can be hard to locate in the ingredient list.

  • It’s often listed in small print.

  • Most hair dyes do not highlight its presence in any way

  • It may just be one chemical name in the middle of a long list of chemicals (see this photo of a hair dye box below and notice just how hard it is to spot the chemical name).



Even hair dyes that promote natural ingredients can contain para-phenylenediamine


Although there are many ingredients, if you look closely, the label still contains p-phenylenediamine.



What if I just use natural or ammonia-free products instead?


If you have experienced allergic reactions to hair dyes, or if you have sensitive skin, be careful!


It might be easy to assume that looking for labels such as "natural" or "ammonia-free" might help you identify products that are less likely to trigger allergic reactions. Unfortunately, this is NOT the case. Products with these types of labels may still contain PPDA and may still trigger allergic skin reactions.

  • Labels stating “all-natural” DO NOT MEAN THESE PRODUCTS ARE NECESSARILY SAFE TO USE.

  • Labels stating “ammonia-free” DO NOT MEAN THESE PRODUCTS ARE NECESSARILY SAFE TO USE.

  • Labels stating “hydrogen peroxide free” DO NOT MEAN THESE PRODUCTS ARE NECESSARILY SAFE TO USE.

  • Labels stating “henna” DO NOT MEAN THESE PRODUCTS ARE NECESSARILY SAFE TO USE.

  • All of these products may still contain PPDA

You will still need to read the ingredient list. 




Are there any other hair dyes I can use?

For those who still wish to color their hair, there are some options. These products usually do not cover gray as well, and do not last as long. I've listed some of these products below. HOWEVER, as always, purchase products with caution, as we cannot certify any of these manufacturers/salons and cannot confirm their business practices.

Other potential options for hair color in those who are allergic to hair dyes

1. Highlights: these are bleaching agents and usually do not contain PPDA. [Note that “lowlights” should be avoided because they often contain PPDA]

2. Temporary hair color rinses, which wash out after shampooing. Some of the newer temporary hair color washes make use of FD&C and D&C dyes, which are different than PPDA.

3. Some salon dyes may be okay. One example is Elumen hair dye made by Goldwell.

4. Pure henna, which comes from a plant, gives a reddish tint to hair. Make sure that you are buying pure henna, as some newer forms, sometimes known as “black henna”, add PPDA to the henna. Pure henna, however, will be fine.


Some companies sell hair dyes that contain henna in combination with indigo [also from a plant], and this combination can produce more of a black color. One example of a company that sells henna with indigo would be Light Mountain Naturals.


Can I use hair dyes such as Madison Reed that contain TDS instead of PPDA? What is TDS?

Para-toulene-diamine sulfate (TDS) is a different hair dye ingredient. On labels, it will usually be listed as toluene-2,5-diamine sulfate. Keep reading for more information about this particular hair dye chemical.


Can I can use hair dyes that are labeled "PPDA-free" and use toluene-diamine-sulfate instead?

  • The answer to this question is a big MAYBE. Unfortunately, some people who are allergic to PPDA will also be allergic to TDS.

  • Patch testing is recommended before using any product that contains TDS

  • Why is patch testing recommended first? Although we have little data, it is currently estimated that about half of persons allergic to PPDA will also have allergic reactions to TDS.

  • If you were patch tested to TDS, and were negative on testing, then you may be able to use several products that are sold at drugstores or are applied in salons.

What are some products that are PPDA-free and use TDS instead?

Examples include: 

  • Ion Color Brilliance PPD-free crème permanent hair color, available through Sally Beauty Supply

  • Wella Color Charm demipermanent dye, available through Sally Beauty Supply

  • John Frieda Precision Foam Colour hair dye, available at Target.

  • Madison Reed PPD-free hair color, available online 

What other substances should I avoid? 

When you’re allergic to PPD, you may react to other substances also. While not everyone will be allergic to these other, related chemicals, you should be aware that occasionally they may cause problems.

  • You should always avoid "black henna" tattoos, as these types of temporary tattoos may use PPDA

  • Azo dyes: these dyes may be used as clothing dyes, fur or leather dyes, and in some inks

  • PABA: this is an ingredient found in some sunscreens and some makeup that contains sunscreen

  • Benzocaine: this is a type of topical anesthetic [numbing cream]. It may be found in some OTC skin care products such as Solarcaine and Lanacaine

  • Medicated creams containing sulfonamides may sometimes cause problems in those allergic to PPDA




Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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