This Woman's Hair Dye Reaction Will Make You Reconsider Salon Treatments

by Julie Matthews
Jacqui Miller

Let me start by saying that I debated on whether or not to publicly share this story for nearly three years.

After a lot of coaxing from friends and family, I am finally ready to share it on a platform that I am proud of. The pictures are extremely embarrassing. I have been asked if I photoshopped my own face because I look like an alien. And the entire experience was traumatic. However, if it can be used as a cautionary tale or as a wake-up call to understand what kind of chemicals are actually used in our hair dye, then it's worth it.

Rewind to the fall of 2013 when I was enrolled in my sophomore year of university. After years of highlighting my hair blond, I decide to go brunette. I had never permanently or semi-permanently dyed my hair, but I had been getting highlights for years.

No, I did not box-dye my hair. No, I did not let my friend dye my hair. I had seen enough disastrous hair mishaps to know that was not the route I wanted to take.

I went to a reputable salon and to my favorite hairdresser that I had seen for almost eight years. It was also a salon that used a lot of plant-based, quality hair products. My hairdresser decided on a color and applied the semi-permanent dye to the top half of my hair. We did not do a patch test. I didn't know what it was, and my hairdresser likely assumed that I would be OK since I did not react at all to peroxide.

However, once the dye was on for a few minutes, I got this strange and painful burning sensation all over my scalp. My hairdresser came over to check on me and I asked her if this was normal. I thought to myself, “How do girls do this all the time? Beauty really is pain, I guess.” She replied that a little bit of burning was normal, but if I was uncomfortable she could wash it out now, but it would not be complete and I'd still have to pay for the color treatment.

Since I didn't want to waste $150 and believed a little burning was normal, I sucked it up and waited for the 40-minute timer to go off. Let me be clear: This was the longest 40 minutes of my life. I should have paid attention to my gut feeling and to the fact that it felt as if acid was slathered on my scalp.

Much to my surprise, the hair color washed out smoothly, and once my hair was blow dried, it came out perfectly. I thanked my hairdresser, paid and went on my way. That night, I went out with my friends and showcased my brand new hair color.

The morning after, however, is when I began my transition into becoming a doppelgänger of the moon emoji.

Julie Matthews

I woke up on a soaking wet pillow. I thought to myself, “Um, did you shower before you went to bed last night, Julie?” I remembered that I definitely had not. When I touched the top of my hair, I realized that my scalp was oozing a clear, fragrant liquid. This was weird. So, I texted my hairdresser and hopped into the shower, thinking I must have to just wash the liquid out.

Much to my disappointment, even after washing and blow drying my hair, my scalp would not stop oozing this clear liquid, and I also started to get a headache. When I looked in the mirror, I realized the entire top of my head was extremely swollen (think Megamind). I ran into my mom's room and told her that I had a bad gut feeling about this. She quickly took me to the emergency room.

It took a while to be admitted, and by the time I finally was seen, my head was massive. I had reached full alien status. However, the on-call resident assured me I was probably having a mild reaction to the hair dye and that I would be fine in a few hours. He gave me a prescription for an antihistamine and an EpiPen and sent me on my way.

By the time I got home, I was having trouble breathing. My entire head was so swollen, I had almost made the full transformation into the moon emoji. My mom and I both decided I needed to go back to the emergency room. At this point, I was so creepy-looking that I tried to wear a baseball cap in order to disguise my face. If I was going to have to wait in that waiting room again, I was not going to let people see me like this. However, since I was so swollen, a baseball cap didn't even fit over my head.

When I got to the emergency room this time, the triage nurse almost shrieked when she looked at me. She quickly said, “This young lady needs to be taken into a room IMMEDIATELY.” I was rushed into a hospital room and met by an attending doctor and two nurses. They quickly administered an EpiPen, and put me on an IV.

At this point, I was in so much pain and my head was so swollen that I could barely see, so things at this point get a bit blurry for me — literally. I do remember, however, the attending doctor being quite angry with the resident for sending me home when I first got to the hospital.

I ended up having to stay in the hospital for two nights, had an EpiPen administered twice and endured a lot of testing. I also found out that I had second-degree burns on my scalp from the hair dye.

After a series of tests and seeing an allergy specialist, I found out that I am extremely allergic to PPD, a chemical in all permanent hair dyes (and tattoo ink).

So, the moral of the story is this: Please urge your hairdresser to do a patch test if it is the first time you are dying your hair, and always listen to your gut. If it tells you something is wrong, it usually is.

Fun fact: I was asked by a police officer if he could use my photo in his first-aid class about serious allergic reactions. So while some people can say they did some modeling in their younger years, I can say I am the face of a first aid course. Score?

Disclaimer: I do not blame my hairdresser, and she tried to be of assistance to me after the incident.