Alison’s narrow escape with hair dye


When she left the salon her hair was perfect and coloured dark brown – not a trace of grey showed. She felt 10 years younger.

But that weekend she landed in hospital with a painful, swollen face – she’d had an allergic reaction to the hair dye.

For 43-year-old Alison of the Southern Cape – the woman who 16 years ago was brutally raped but miraculously survived to inspire others – it was an ordeal that could have claimed her life.

“It gave me such a fright I want to warn everyone who colours their hair not to ignore signs of an allergy,” says Alison.

Only seven per cent of users show allergic reactions to hair dye but it has caused deaths in cases recorded overseas. You can suddenly develop an allergy, even to a product you’ve used for years.

Only now, several months later, is Alison starting to feel better.

She became a motivational speaker after a horrific ordeal in 1994 when two satanists abducted her in Port Elizabeth, raped her and slit her throat and stomach.

The allergic reaction to the dye she’d used every six week wasn’t entirely out of the blue, Alison says. After each session at the hairdresser her scalp felt itchy.

“But I didn’t think for a moment the products at a professional hairdresser could be as dangerous as other dyes.”

The culprit is paraphenylenediamine (PPD), the main ingredient in most permanent hair dyes, from the cheapest to the most expensive. It’s banned in France, Germany and Sweden.

Alison woke up at two in the morning after her visit to the salon.

“My head was burning as if there were acid on it.” She tried to soothe the pain with water and went back to sleep. “When I woke up again my scalp felt stiff and I saw it was swollen.”

Early the next day she began to feel so unwell she drove directly to hospital. The danger with an allergy is it can cause respiratory problems and you can stop breathing.

Only two hours after medical treatment was her condition stabilised.

Weeks later Alison risked colouring her hair with a new “natural” colour. Again her head started itching. “I’d accepted it was ‘natural’ and hadn’t read on the pack that it also contained a little PPD.”

Now she’s learnt her lesson: read the fine print if you want your hair to look its best – and survive to enjoy it.

*Avoid any colorant with PPD, also known as phenylene-diamine, 4-benzenediamine, para-diaminobenzene, ara-aminoaniline, Orsin, Rodol and Ursol.

Read more about the symptoms of an allergic reaction and what to do in YOU, 5 May 2011.

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