Published Friday, 14 October 2011
Chemicals used in hair dyes that are believed could cause severe allergic reactions should be banned, say campaigners.
Greg Almond, a solicitor who has represented several clients who he says suffered severe allergic reactions after colouring their hair, is calling on the government to review the use of para-phenylenediamine, or PPD, in hair dye and other cosmetics.
Almond has stepped up his campaign after the death of Tabatha McCourt, 17, following a violent fit 20 minutes after she reportedly coloured her hair with a home dye kit.
No link between the teenager's death and PPD has yet been established. A postmortem examination will be carried out on 19 October.
PPD is used in permanent hair dye to colour light or grey hair a darker shade. The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) says sensitivity or allergy to PPD can "develop over time, which is why a skin allergy test must be carried out each time the hair is to be coloured".
But it adds: "European commission scientists' opinion is that PPD is safe for use as a hair dye, and its use is strictly regulated. At this time, PPD cannot be replaced in hair colourants: nothing else is as effective and it is safe when used as directed."
It is permissible to use PPD in hair dyes under EU law, although the chemical had previously been banned in several European countries. In Sweden, for example, PPD was banned between 1943 and 1992, when Sweden joined the EU.
Almond has asked the business minister Edward Davey to ban use of PPD in the UK. A Department of Business, Innovation and Skills spokesperson said of the McCourt case: "This is obviously a terrible tragedy, but we need to know for certain what caused Tabatha's death.
"Such severe reactions are extremely rare. However, it's important that hair dye users read and follow the safety instructions accompanying a product before use."
The spokesman said hair dyes were covered by the European cosmetics directive. "This legislation ensures that cosmetic products do not pose a risk to consumers. PPD is permitted for use in hair dyes at certain levels, with the necessary warning labels.
"PPD has been extensively and regularly assessed for safety. The latest assessment was put forward by the European Trade Association (Colipa) to the European commission's scientific committee on consumer safety in September, which has been asked to provide a scientific opinion on its safety for use in hair dyes. The UK government will be keeping a close eye on its findings."
One of Almond's clients was paid several thousand pounds in an out-of-court settlement by a major cosmetics firm after claiming she had suffered a severe reaction to a home dye kit.
She had followed the manufacturer's instructions, including doing a patch test on her skin before applying the product. Shortly afterwards, her scalp started to itch and she had a burning sensation on her head and face. Her face, eyelids and tongue swelled and she suffered breathing problems.
Almond said: "Without emergency treatment the effects of this reaction could have been devastating. This chemical can be extremely dangerous and has been banned by a number of European countries. I'm urging the British government to follow suit."
PPD was named allergen of the year by the American Contact Dermatitis Society in 2006.
Emma Meredith, head of scientific research at the CTPA, said it was not possible to conclude whether PPD was to blame for McCourt's allergic reaction until a postmortem had been carried out.
She said: "To have such an immediate and violent reaction to this or any other cosmetic product is exceedingly rare. Generally we see two different types of allergic reactions, one of which is delayed and often happens after a person has used a product more than once. It tends to be localised to the area of the body where the product is used and develops between 24 and 48 hours after it has been applied.
"Then there is the type of reaction that it appears Tabatha may have had, which comes on almost immediately and takes hold of the whole body. We don't know if Tabatha had any predisposition to allergies but any kind of reaction would be more likely in that case."
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