PPD – Time for a Ban?

Earlier this year, 33-year-old Marina Williamson was left a mere hours from death after a delayed reaction to the PPD in her high street hair dye. Now, the Wembley lawyer has started a petition to have the chemical banned. Here, she tells us her story.

Marina Williamson I’d bought a L’Oréal Garnier Nutrisse’s black hair dye. I had performed the 48-hour allergy test on a Wednesday, applying a small amount of mixed solution to my neck in close proximity to the lobe of my left ear. There was no reaction so on Friday I applied the dye to my hair.

I have never used permanent hair dye before and could smell the chemicals in the product – strong and unpleasant. Due to the smell I washed the dye out early, after only five minutes. I rinsed until the water ran clear as I did not want to cause any damage to my hair.

On Saturday afternoon a rash on my neck appeared which was itchy. By late evening my ears too became itchy. The itching became so intense that that night I went to my local 24 hour pharmacy for medication to treat the rash.

The practitioner examined my neck, told me that it was heat rash and supplied me with aqueous cream to treat it. It had been a very hot day and I had no reason to doubt that it was heat rash. My hair had not touched my neck or my ears, and neither did I get the dye solution directly on my skin so I did not link the symptoms to the dying of my hair, especially as I had not had any reaction to the patch test.

On Sunday I had a fever and no appetite. I remained in bed all day, I had not figured out what was wrong with me.

On Monday I woke to find that my ears were weeping profusely, my pillow was wet, my hair was stuck to my ears and my hair was encrusted. The rash on my neck had turned into small lumps on my neck and upper half of my back and was still very itchy.

I went to work and showed my colleges; I then decided to type my symptoms into Google and found that my symptoms were identical to that of a reaction to hair dye.

Tuesday morning I bought antihistamine allergy pills and a topical cream to treat the allergy and hives.

I felt extremely ill on Tuesday and remember asking whether the air was humid, which in hindsight was probably the start of my breathing difficulties. I also felt hot all day.

By Wednesday night I was struggling to breathe. My chest was very tight, my throat was tight, I was wheezing, my heart was racing, I was weak and found that I was barely able to walk or talk, I could feel my pulse in my head, neck, arms, fingers, and my entire body.  

I was driven to the hospital. When I arrived I struggled to tell staff at the front desk what was wrong with me because I simply could not breathe, my body felt drained of energy and I had very little strength to stand any length of time.

I was almost immediately seen by a nurse who performed a medical assessment of me aided by various pieces of equipment; at this point I was feeling incredibly weak and thought I was going to pass out. The nurse observed right away that I was struggling to breathe and I was aware that she was processing me as swiftly as possible. She seemed troubled. My blood pressure reading was extremely high.

I was rushed through to the A&E ward and given oxygen and a high dose of steroids as well as a prescription strength antihistamine. The doctor took a look at the hives on my neck and expressed concern about my weeping sore ears. He told me that I should have called an ambulance explaining that I had got to the hospital just on time. “If you had waited one hour, two hours, or a day longer it would have been fatal,” he said, swearing that he would never use hair dye after having witnessed what happened to me.

The four-day course of high dosage steroids and prescription strength antihistamine made me feel lethargic and weak. I suffered what I would describe as heart palpitations and far less severe bouts of shortness of breath for no apparent or obvious reason for several days.

A month on, my left ear is still weeping, my right ear is still very itchy, my neck and upper back is still itching and the hives/rash have progressively spread. I expect that my neck and upper back will be left with blemishes and/or some scarring. I’ve had a few bouts of palpitations and breathlessness, which come and go. One minute I feel I’m fine and on the road to recovery, and the next I’m petrified the PPD is still in my system …

The Petition

Following her experience, Marina has started a petition to ban the sale of products containing the chemical para-phenylenediamine – or PPD. These are principally restricted to high street hair dyes. To read and sign the petition – click here.

Further Information

To learn more about PPD, see our article here, and Michelle’s blog here.

For some alternatives to PPD-containing hair dyes, including all natural colourants, see Alex’s article here.


October 2015

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