7 Side Effects Of Hair Dyeing

Don't let the harmful chemicals of hair tints take away the natural shine of your mane.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD
Written by Anjali Sayee
Edited by Eshna Das, Certified Skin Care Coach
Fact-checked by Monomita Chakraborty, Certified Skin Care Coach  • 

Hair dyeing is one of the most enjoyable activities as it may stop premature graying. But did you know that there are multiple side effects of hair dyeing? There is no doubt that dyes can have adverse consequences. In this article, we have covered the adverse effects of hair dying, which everyone should be aware of before coloring their hair. You will thank us later if you read this before going to the salon for another hair-color appointment. So, does dying your hair damage it? Find out the truth and learn how to minimize the potential harm!

Types Of Hair Dyes

  • Permanent Hair Dyes: They penetrate through the hair shaft, reaching the cortex. They need to be touched up at least once every twelve weeks. Most permanent dyes use ammonia to penetrate the hair shaft and increase the pH level.
  • Semi-Permanent Hair Dyes: They coat the hair shaft cuticle while partially penetrating the cortex.
  • Temporary Hair Dyes: They don’t penetrate the hair cortex and need to be touched up every few weeks.
  • Bleach: It is used to lighten hair and color dark hair like black and brown to lighter hair colors like blonde or red.
  • Ammonia-Free Hair Dyes: They are also called demi-permanent hair dyes. They don’t contain ammonia but include hydrogen peroxide, para-dyes, and resorcinoli  XAn organic crystalline product used in the production of dyes and for treating acne, eczema, and other skin disorders. . These are softer on the hair.
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The chemicals used in hair dyes are categorized into a few different types. Individually, over 5000 different chemicals are used in the formulation of the dye products (10).

Side Effects Of Hair Dyeing

Note: All of the information given below is in reference to permanent hair dye allergies unless otherwise specified.

Hair coloring is just basic chemistry. It is all about the reactions that take place in between the pigments in your hair, the pigments in dye, peroxide, and ammonia. With all the experience we have had with chemicals, the one thing we have come to accept is that they are usually not good. Here’s why:

1. Over Processing

Permanent hair colors often contain ammonia (or chemicals similar to it) and peroxide (1). The ammonia breaks through your hair shaft, and the peroxide neutralizes (or bleaches out) the natural pigment in your hair, stripping away color. This process of relaxing the hair cuticles to reach the cortex of your hair and bleach out its natural pigment is, essentially, hair damage.

Over treating your hair with these chemicals will cause it to lose luster, break easily, and in some extreme cases, wash away with water. While processed hair can be revived to a certain extent with hair care treatments, the only way to get rid of the damage from over-processing is to chop your hair off.

2. Allergic Reactions

Scalp irritation due to hair dyeing
Image: Shutterstock

Hair dyes causing allergic reactions is not uncommon, especially because permanent hair dyes contain paraphenylenediamine, which is a common allergen (2).

People who have contact dermatitisi  XA condition characterized by skin that turns red and inflamed when in contact with an allergen. are particularly prone to reactions because of the PPD and other chemicals present in dyes. People with skin conditions, like eczema and psoriasis, should also refrain from using hair dyes to color their hair. In milder cases, permanent dyes can cause itching, skin irritation, redness, scalp irritation, or swelling on your scalp, chemical burns or other sensitive areas like your face and neck.

Another thing to keep in mind when using these dyes is that not having had an allergic reaction in the past does not mean you won’t have one in the future. The more you color your hair, the more likely you become to having an adverse reaction.

3. Effects On Fertility

Research is inconsistent in this regard. Though a few studies state that there is minimal systemic absorption of hair products, hair dyes may not actually affect fertility or pregnancy. However, since they show a possible risk of being exposed to hair dyes for prolonged periods, it is better to avoid hair dyes if you are looking to conceive or are pregnant (3), (4).

4. Upkeep

While this is not technically a side effect, it can be cause for some. A lot of people don’t realize just how much goes into the upkeep of colored hair. It is a long-term commitment that will have you rushing back to the salon every month or so, which can be hard on your hair.

You will need to buy products that are specially formulated for colored hair. A few styles need regular touch-ups, and your hair, in general, needs so much extra care.

Post processed hair is really vulnerable to damage and demands a lot of time, patience, and care. Failing to give your hair what it needs will result in locks that lack shine, luster, and health.

5. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is one of the side effects of hair dyeing
Image: Shutterstock

Failing to exercise extreme caution when dyeing your hair can result in the chemicals making contact with the sensitive parts of your face. In some cases, when chemicals from hair dyes make contact with your eyes, it can lead to conjunctivitisi  XInflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the outer membrane of the eyeball or the inner eyelid. or pink eye (5). In other cases, it causes inflammation and severe discomfort.

6. Asthma

Hair dyeing may cause asthma attacks
Image: Shutterstock

Asthma is one of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction to hair dyes (6). Continued inhalation of the chemicals in hair dyes can lead to coughing, wheezing, lung inflammation, throat discomfort, and asthma attacks.

7. Cancer

When permanent hair dyes were first introduced, they had compounds that were carcinogenic (cancer-causing.) While the formulas were altered to replace these chemicals, the debate as to whether hair dyes can cause cancer has not been put to rest (7). On the contrary, more scientific research and studies are needed to establish a definite link between the use of permanent hair dye and cancer.

In a cohort study of 117,200 female nurses to analyze the impact of hair dyes and cancer risk, it was found that there was no increased risk of solid cancers or hematopoietic cancers compared to non-users. Yet, there was an increased risk of basal cell carcinoma at a hazard ratio of 1.05.

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Studies show that babies born to women who were exposed to hair dyes during pregnancy are at an increased risk of leukemiai  XA cancer of blood-forming cells, bone marrow, and the lymphatic system that compromises the body’s ability to fight infections. (11).

Here are some precautions you could take to minimize the risk of possible side effects.

Precautions To Take While Dyeing Your Hair

  • Try to avoid using permanent hair color as much as possible. Instead, you could opt for semi- and demi-permanent hair colors. While these are temporary, they do not contain as many harmful chemicals as permanent hair colors do.
  • Always conduct a patch and strand test before you dye your hair. The patch test will help you avoid a possible allergic reaction, while the strand test will help you determine if your hair is healthy enough to be processed.
  • Get your hair done professionally. There is so much that can go wrong when you try to color your hair on your own. Go to a professional you trust to avoid a hair disaster.
  • Always color your hair in a well-lit and well-ventilated area. Poor ventilation can cause eye and nasal irritation.
  • Do your research and use products from trusted brands that do not use many harmful chemicals, even if this means that you will have to spend a little extra money.

The safest way to color your hair would be to give up permanent hair dyes and switch to natural hair dyeing alternatives.

Natural Alternatives

While these methods might only give you subtle results, they are a great alternative to permanent hair dyes and will give your hair a much-needed break.

1. Coffee/Tea

Coffee or tea rinse as a natural alternative for hair dyes
Image: Shutterstock

Freshly brewed coffee or tea can significantly darken light hair (8). All you need to do is pour the brew through your hair as a final rinse and let it air-dry. The color will wash out the next time you shampoo your hair, but you can just repeat the process as it has no side effects. In fact, some teas can actually improve the health and texture of your hair.

2. Food Color

Food color and pigmented flavored drinks like Kool-aid can be used to attain a whole range of crazy colors. Mix the food color or Kool-aid with conditioner and apply it to your hair. Let it sit for a couple of hours and then rinse it out with water. It is safer to use natural dyes, like beets, than synthetic coloring.

3. Beet And Carrot Juice

A beet and carrot juice treatment is often used to add red undertones to blonde and light brunette hair. You need to mix 3 parts of beet juice with 1 part of carrot juice and saturate your hair with the mixture. Let it sit for about an hour and then rinse it out with shampoo.

4. Henna

Henna as a natural alternative for hair dyes
Image: Shutterstock

Henna is one of the most popular natural hair coloring treatments (9). Make a paste out of henna powder and water and apply this to your hair. Let it sit for a couple of hours and then proceed to shampoo and condition your hair.

5. Lemon And Honey

Lemon and honey work well together to lighten your hair and give you natural highlights. Mix equal parts of the two ingredients and apply it to your hair. Sit out in the sun for an hour or apply heat using a blow dryer. Wash the mixture out with shampoo and then proceed to condition. You might have to repeat this process a couple of times to get visible results.

Infographic: The Ugly Side Of Hair Dyeing

It is no secret that hair dyeing causes hair damage. But just how much damage? There are 7 side effects you should be aware of before you color your hair.

Check out the infographic below to glimpse into the ugly side of hair dyeing.

the ugly side of hair dyeing (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Save the high-quality PDF version on your device now.

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Download Infographic in PDF version

While it can be fun and exciting to play with hair dyes, it can damage the hair if done too often. The side effects of hair dye range include the risks of overprocessing hair and the possibility of conjunctivitis. It may also trigger allergic reactions due to certain chemicals like paraphenylenediamine, which may cause skin irritation, skin discoloration, and redness and, in severe cases, trigger an asthma attack. You should take proper precautions before and after getting your hair colored to avoid these problems. Additionally, hair dyeing may cause hair breakage, split ends, itchy scalp, hair thinning and hair loss. It may also cause headaches and nausea. Limiting or avoiding the use of hair color can help avoid these complications. Safe, natural hair dye alternatives are another option you may consider.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can dyeing hair cause gray hair?

No, dyeing your hair cannot cause gray hair. However, overuse of chemical products on the hair may lead to dull hair or brittle hair.

How does hair dye affect the kidneys?

Resorcinol, lead acetate, and bismuth sulfate present in hair dyes may contribute to chronic kidney problems (9).

Can hair dye come out in your urine?

No, hair dye does not come out in the urine.

Key Takeaways

  • The harmful chemicals used in permanent hair dyes can cause several adverse effects, such as allergies and itching. Over-processing may lead to hair damage.
  • Long-term exposure to harmful chemicals, such as ammonia and peroxide in hair dyes increase the risk of cancers.
  • By avoiding frequent hair coloring, using natural hair dyes and products that are specifically designed for colored hair, you can minimize the adverse effects of hair dyeing.

You can prevent the side effects of hair dye by simply following this video. Check it out to get some easy tips on how to protect your hair and scalp from damage.


Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Check out our editorial policy for further details.
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