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Beware - hair dye could make you die

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Over the last couple of weeks there have featured in the news, tragic stories about women who have either died, or been left fighting for their lives as a result of doing what so many of us do on a regular basis and that is dying our hair.

Tabatha McCourt, a young 17 year old died in Scotland some weeks ago, following use of a home kit hair dye, when she suffered what was described as an acute and exceedingly rare reaction to it which led to her death. She is believed to have suffered a fit within about 20 minutes of using the product and then went into anaphylactic shock, and ultimately died.

The more recent story to hit the news is of a 38 year old Yorkshire Mum of two, Julie McCabe who it is believed, dyed her hair every 6 weeks or so, and on this occasion, whilst rinsing the dye off, began to struggle for her breath. She is now on a life support machine in hospital, following a cardiac arrest whilst on her way to hospital which is believed to have starved her brain of oxygen. News reports indicate she has only an 8% chance of survival.

As someone who dyes her hair, granted, only at a salon, and usually only a few times a year, I found these stories extremely worrying. I have many friends who dye their own hair, and have done for years, buying tried and tested products from reputable manufacturers, from high street shops, chemists and of course supermarkets.

As the recession hits, more people – men and women alike, are going to be going for home kits, as a way of saving expense. But are they aware of the dangers involved, and how serious it can be, for both professional hairdressers and those doing it at home themselves, if they don’t undertake a patch test each and every time they use the product? Just because you’ve used a product once doesn’t mean you won’t be allergic to it when used again.

It is stated that the products used by both of the above women, may have contained the chemical para-phenylenediamine (PPD) and it is this which is feared to be the link in both cases. PPD is banned in France, German and Sweden and a study in America has linked exposure to it to increased rates of bladder cancer. Under EU rules, in Britain it can be used in a hair dye providing it constitutes no more than 6 per cent of the product.

Allergies to PPD are thought to be rare, affecting one in 250,000 people and in most case, the allergic reaction is nothing more than a mildly irritating rash. But some reactions can be severe, causing serious skin irritations or even anaphylaxis, as it appears Julie and Tabatha suffered.

Even for someone who has used the same product many times, and who doesn’t think a patch test is necessary, could still have an allergic reaction to it, and there are some suggestions that PPD builds up with continued usage, making a reaction more likely and more severe.  A hair and scalp specialist it is believed has been in contact with the McCabe family, has allegedly advised them that an allergy to hair dye increases as a result of cumulative exposure to PPD.

It will no doubt be some time before the families of these 2 tragic young women get answers and even then, it may not be down to any negligence, but simply someone suffering an individual, allergic reaction and until then we can only hope that Julie Mc Cabe pulls through and that no more stories of this type appear in our newspapers.

If you have suffered an allergic reaction while using a home dye kit or as a result of a visit to a beauty salon, we have a team of specialists who may be able to help. Call us on call us on 01616 966 229.

By personal injury solicitor and Stephensons’ Partner, Kate Sweeney