In a modern salon, beauty and health go hand-in-hand. As clients become more aware of their well-being they also become ingredient conscious and it follows through that they would expect their stylist to be an expert on these matters.

Allergies and their causes have become a talking point around health and well-being; clients want to know about the safety of hair products and whether they are likely to cause an allergic reaction. It is important for stylists to have the correct answers for their clients, but knowing the correct answer does not necessarily mean understanding the cause.

The cause of allergies

An allergy is the body’s reaction against a foreign substance that the immune system has identified as harmful. In most instances, the substance is not harmful and the reaction is not fully understood.

There are two types of allergies: systemic allergy and allergic contact dermatitis.

Systemic allergy

Systemic allergy is the most common type of allergy and occurs immediately or soon after exposure to an allergen – a substance that causes an allergic reaction. The symptoms usually occur locally but can also occur throughout the body. Most commonly, the symptoms affect the eyes and lungs.

Examples of systemic allergy:

  • hay fever triggered by pollen
  • allergic asthma triggered by animal hair
  • reaction to food, medicine or insect bites

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by physical contact between the skin and an allergen. The usual pattern is a delayed, local reaction at or near the area where contact has occurred. These reactions may be caused by contact with objects or ingredients such as:

  • metals, e.g. nickel in jewellery
  • ingredients in soaps, cosmetics, and household products
  • plant fluids

Allergies caused by hair colour

Allergy to hair colour most commonly presents with acute dermatitis, an uncomfortable and itchy rash on the skin in front of and behind the ears. It can also occur on the face. If the allergy is severe, the skin becomes swollen and red, with a severe itching or burning sensation. In some cases, the eyelids become swollen and skin on the neck shows signs of an allergic reaction.

Testing for allergies

The potential allergens in hair colourant are pPD (p- phenylenediamine) and pTD (p-toluene diamine). To ensure your client does not have an allergic reaction you should perform an in-salon allergy test using the same shades you plan to use in the colouring process. Directions can be found in every carton of Wella Professionals hair colour.

Allow for a 48-hour waiting period to assess whether your client has had an allergic reaction or not. If there is any type of reaction, no matter how slight, please refer your client to a doctor.

The bodys way of fighting allergic reactions

T-Cells in the immune system check everything that enters our systems for potential danger (bacteria, viruses, etc.). If the incoming substance fits our systems like a puzzle, the T-Cells automatically activate an immune response – the body’s natural protection.

Inexplicably, T-Cells occasionally activate an immune response against a harmless substance such as nuts and strawberries. Allergies to hair colour happen similarly.

The occurrence of hair colour allergy

The good news is that only 0.5% to 1.5% of our population will ever develop an allergic reaction to hair colour. As a stylist, it is your responsibility to duly check that your client does not fall within this range.