If you've ever applied a hair dye (or a patch test for a hair dye) and experienced any itching, blistering or swelling as a result, then chances are that you're allergic to PPD, like me. PPD (or p-Phenylenediamine) is the active ingredient in hair dye. Basically, it's the chemical that actually lays the colour down in your hair. It's also present in toners, which hairdressers use after bleaching to achieve the desired shade of blond, and, as I learned to my cost very recently, it's present in eyebrow tints as well.
The other day, I was foolish enough to allow a beautician to apply a tint to my brows after waxing them, without having a patch test first. I should have known better, as I'm all too well aware of what happens to me on contact with hair dye, but because the tint would be on my brows for no longer than two minutes, I thought I would be OK. I wasn't. I woke up the next morning with my brows itching like mad and my entire eye area swollen and sore. I took antihistamines and applied ice packs, but I was still in considerable discomfort for a good three days, not to mention that I had to walk around town looking like the creature from the black lagoon. You can see in the photo that I look quite red and swollen around the eyes. In fact, I looked worse in real life than I've managed to capture on camera.
This experience reminded me just how unpleasant an allergic reaction can be, but also, more importantly, that it really isn't worth taking a chance on. I thought that any reaction I might have would be lessened by the fact that this was an eyebrow tint, to be applied to a much smaller surface area for a shorter amount of time than a hair dye. In fact, it was the strongest reaction I have ever experienced. So if you're thinking of colouring your hair (or indeed your eyebrows), please, please, please do the 48 hour patch test first. Even if you've coloured your hair many times before, allergies can develop at any time and repeated exposure, as I now know only too well, can make the reaction worse.
It's also worth noting that what I have just been through is still relatively mild. More extreme reactions can involve becoming cross-sensitised to related chemicals found in other products - I've read about people who can no longer use lipstick or deodorant, for example - right up to being rushed to hospital because the swelling has affected your ability to breathe. And, as I have mentioned before, there have been fatalities (see an article about one here). Basically, if this stuff causes you any sort of irritation, however mild, then I would urge you to avoid it from now on, because nothing is worth the risk of it escalating to this point. I have already resigned myself to never dyeing my hair again. Needless to say, I won't be having any more eyebrow tints either.
On a more positive note, there are still ways to change your hair colour without having to go near PPD. Choices are more limited, but it's possible. Holland and Barratt do a range of semi-permanent colourants that are PPD free. They won't cover greys, but they will give a subtle colour change that washes out in a few weeks. I have tried one of these in the past and it left my hair shiny and smooth. Check them out here. I believe that Clairol also do a range like this, though I haven't tried it. If you have grey hairs that you want to disguise, like me, your best bet is highlights. Bleaching hair is a completely different chemical process from dyeing it, so you don't have to worry about PPD, and the resulting mix of shades masks greys very effectively. You won't be able to use a toner, but different shades of blond can be achieved by varying the length of time the bleach is left on the hair. For a long time I used to do my own highlights, and I wrote a whole post on that here if you're interested. Recently, however, I went to a salon to have it done. This photo was taken later that day. You can see a nice caramel/honey shade has been achieved without the use of toners.
I hope this post has been useful. If there is anything I have missed that you would like to know, please ask, and I will do my best to answer. Alternatively, if you know more than I do on this subject, please feel free to add anything you think is relevant or correct me if I've got anything wrong. As I said at the beginning, most people will never have a problem with this, but those of us who do really need to be aware of what we're dealing with.
Finally, if you're concerned that you might have had an allergic reaction or you're really not sure, I would strongly advise you to seek medical advice. A doctor should be able to identify the symptoms and confirm the cause, as well as offer the best advice on how to treat it.