Nineteen-year-old TikToker Seraya Ellison went viral this summer when she documented the serious allergic reaction she had to black hair dye.
How does this happen and how can it be prevented? This is what we’ve learned.
What Happened To Seraya?
Seraya told Buzzfeed that she had been dyeing her own hair for 13 years. Whenever she’d use cheap hair dye and it would get on her skin, her hairline and ears would get “a little irritated.” Therefore, she was used to it.
At first, that’s exactly what happened when Seraya dyed half of her hair black this summer. However, her skin didn’t heal in a few hours “like it usually [had] in the past.”
“The next morning, I woke up to my boyfriend yelling and asking me what happened to my face,” Seraya said. “I looked into the mirror and saw that the right side of my forehead was swelling.”
She explained that it was “only minor swelling at the time.” So, she took Benadryl and then started to get ready for work. But when her mom got home, Seraya realized she needed medical attention and started to panic.
“She rushed me to the emergency room almost immediately, where my face and eyes were getting even bigger by the minute,” she said.
In addition to the swelling, Seraya had symptoms that included scalp tenderness, a red, itchy rash, chemical burns and numbness in her face. The doctor in the ER told her that they had “never seen anything like [that] before” and brought in a dermatologist.
However, that doctor only prescribed a serum for the scalp burns and did nothing for the swelling. Seraya said she didn’t get proper care for the allergic reaction until she went to an urgent care facility two cities away.
Proper Treatment Depends On The Severity
According to board-certified Dermatologist Dr. Geeta Yadav—founder of Skin Science Dermatology, going to the ER was the right thing to do. However, she also says the right treatment option depends on the severity of the allergic reaction.
“Ideally, the people that know how to handle this would be a dermatologist. But it depends on how bad it is. If it’s really blistering, and you’re really uncomfortable, and there’s tons of swelling, like in the TikTok video, for sure you would want to go to the emergency treatment as soon as possible,” she said.
“If you go to the emergency room, they may not understand what happened, but they’ll give you something to treat it.”
Dark Shades Of Hair Dye Contain The Culprit
What caused Seraya to have such a terrible allergic reaction? Her official diagnosis was that she developed an allergy to paraphenylenediamine–otherwise known as PPD. This is an ingredient often found in darker shades of hair dye.
Dr. Yadav said Seraya suffered from what’s known as contact dermatitis, which is an allergy to something touching your skin.
“People think, ‘I’ve been using this hair dye all my life. I don’t understand why I have this problem now.’ But you develop a sensitivity over time,” Dr. Yadav explained to People.
“For some people, it’s because they have eczema in their background, and they’re prone to developing a contact sensitization,” said Dr. Yadav. “But for others, it just happens with repeated exposure.”
Don’t Skip The Patch Test
Seraya was able to take care of the allergic reaction by taking prescribed steroid pills for four days. The urgent care doctor also recommended taking Benadryl and using ice packs.
Later in her viral TikTok video, Seraya says, “Always patch test before dyeing your hair.”
Dr. Yadav says that Seraya’s advice is 100 percent correct. The dermatologist says that it’s extremely difficult to prevent an allergic reaction because the allergy develops slowly. So, instead of skipping that patch test (you know you do) when dyeing your hair at home, you should take the time to color a test strip before covering your entire head.
“You can’t predict it. You try to avoid it when you can. But the reality is, we all like products that smell nice, that feel nice, that look nice and that require several chemicals,” Dr. Yadav says. “But you eventually may not be able to tolerate some of them.”
Be Careful And Pay Attention
Even if you’ve used boxed hair dyes in the past—just like Seraya—Dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch says that you can still develop an allergy with time. The more exposure you get to products with PPD, the worse the reactions can get.
Dr. Hirsch also warned that if you notice even a mild allergic reaction to hair dye that contains PPD, you should stop using it.
“With the exposure, the next reaction can be worse,” she said.
So when in doubt, patch test, be careful and pay attention.