Fact CheckHealth

True! Disproportionate use of this ingredient in hair dye can make your head, face swell

CLAIM 1: P-phenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dye causes head swelling.

True! Disproportionate use of this ingredient in hair dye can make your head, face swell

P-phenylenediamine causes irritation and head swelling.

P-phenylenediamine (PPD) is toxic and illegal for skin use.

True! Disproportionate use of this ingredient in hair dye can make your head, face swell

P-phenylenediamine is illegal for skin use but not overall use. Its use is strictly regulated in the European Union and the United States of America.


Popular doctor and social media influencer, Dr Chinonso Fidelis Egemba, popularly known as Aproko Doctor, on January 17, 2020 tweeted that p-Phenylenediamine, an ingredient of the widely-used hair dye, is powerful, toxic, and illegal to use on the skin.

The tweet which has so far garnered over 10,000 retweets and over 7,000 likes as of Wednesday, January 20, accompanies an image of a white woman with a swollen face and head.

The tweet reads: “Before you apply hair dye on your head, please check if PPD (p-Phenylenediamine) is part of the ingredients.

“PPD is so powerful and toxic that it is illegal to use it on the skin. This lady had a reaction to PPD and it caused her head to swell. RT for awareness.”

True! Disproportionate use of this ingredient in hair dye can make your head, face swell
A screenshot of a report by Instablog9ja

In another tweet made public the same day, Dr Egemba added: “Luckily for her, she was treated and her head came back to its normal size. If you’re unsure about a hair dye, apply a small portion on a part of your skin first to see if any reaction can be elicited before proceeding to apply on your scalp. Share this with someone.”


Checks by Dubawa shows that hair coloring or hair dyeing – largely used by youths in Nigeria – is the practice of changing the hair color to cover gray or white hair, to change to a color regarded as more fashionable or desirable, or to restore the original hair color after it has been discolored by hairdressing processes or sun bleaching.

Checks also revealed that ingredients of hair dyes include ammonia (or ethanolamines in the case of some ammonia-free products), hydrogen peroxide, p-phenylenediamine and henna (an orange dye commonly used as a deposit-only hair color whose active component, lawsone, binds to keratin). 

Further checks also revealed that p-phenylenediamine in hair dyes has been reported to have caused allergic reactions, irritation and swelling in some people.

A consultant dermatologist with Limi Group of Hospitals, Abuja, Dr Michael Akolawol said skin sensitivity could cause such reactions. “It occurs a lot in people with sensitive skin types. And for those with allergies, you pick your own battle. One or two people are likely to have that effect,” he said.

Dr Akolawole with over ten years experience added: “This happened to me. I had white hair when I was young and I used the black dye and my face got swollen. This was before I got to know about the effects. It is called contact dermatitis.

“It caused a lot of serious damages. The effect shows mostly outside the skin and not inside. And it shows on the face and the head. When the swelling comes down, the face becomes dark.”


Checks by Dubawa reveal that the use of p-phenylenediamine in cosmetic products is not illegal but its direct use on skin is illegal. PPD’s use has been restricted in certain countries largely due to its effects on skin when used disproportionately.

Logically, a fact-checking organisation with bases in India, United Kingdom, and the United States reports that PPD can be used lawfully in hair dyes but it is not permitted in cosmetics meant to be applied on the skin.

Citing information provided by the US Food and Drug Administration and the UK National Health Service, Logically says PPD is safe and legal to use in permanent hair dyes but temporary tattoos may contain high levels of this chemical dye which is illegal to use on the skin.


Even though PPD is not illegal generally, its use on the skin is illegal. Users should be aware that these common dye chemicals are associated with numerous negative health effects.

While ammonia is a respiratory and asthma irritant, a potential endocrine disruptor, and is persistent in the environment, meaning it sticks around, PPD is associated with birth defects, skin irritation, liver and blood toxicity, and allergic reaction. It is restricted for use in the European Union.

Instead of PPD, Dr Akolawole advised people to use the natural dye made from natural henna dye (laali). 

The researcher produced this fact-check per the Dubawa 2020 Fellowship partnership with The Nigerian Tribune to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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