Carmen Rowe during her allergic reaction.Rowe during her allergic reaction.

Spring is right around the corner, and with the warmer weather comes lighter hair colors, and this year even, pastel hair colors. And while there’s nothing wrong with dying your hair nor with being thrift about doing so, there’s nothing better than a horror story to make sure you follow the instructions in the at-home dying kit, all the way down to the skin allergy test.

Meet Carmen Rowe, 25, who was hospitalized for three days after using the Clairol “Nice n’ Easy” natural black coloring kit when her head swelled up, leaving her temporarily blind and causing an avalanche of doctor’s appointments over the following months.

“I looked in the mirror and half of my face was swollen,” said Rowe, according to The Mirror. “It looked like half of my head had been pumped up like a football. I went straight to the hospital, and by the time I got there, my head was swollen everywhere, even my ears were huge. The doctors admitted me immediately.”

Rowe was initially released from the hospital after dosages of steroids and antibiotics, but was required to return four times throughout the next month due to further swelling and open sores.

“The most disgusting thing is my head started to leak pus,” said Rowe. “I had to wrap my head in a towel. It was horrible and it smelled like a wet dog.”

Rowe, who has been coloring her hair since she was 13-years-old, claims that she did in fact follow the skin test instructions, which require that you test the product out on a patch of skin for 48 hours. In addition, she made sure to buy the non-ammonia dye.

“I know children that have their hair dyed at 13 or 14, and it could be ever worse for them,” said Rowe. “I just want to warn parents about what could happen. It is an allergy that could develop at any time.”

For Rowe, the situation worsened when she lost her job due to the amount of time she had to take off to address the allergy.

“The whole situation was very stressful and made me a bit depressed. Christmas was ruined and I lost my job, all for the sake of a glamorous hair style.”

Clairol’s Response

Carmen Rowe before her allergic reaction.Rowe before the allergic reaction.

Clairol did reach out to Rowe and issued a public apology.

“We are sorry to hear about Carmen’s situation. Our customers’ safety and wellbeing is our absolute priority and we are keen to help Carmen however we can. Reactions to hair colorants can occur for a very small number of people, in the same way that some individual can react to a variety of foods and natural substances.

They are, in fact, far rarer than food allergies. Millions of people all over the world use hair colorants without experiencing any adverse effects.

Hair colorants are one of the most thoroughly studied consumer products on the market and their safety is supported by a wealth of scientific research.

Our Consumer Relations Department is able to give expert advice and support on the use of hair colorants and also provide access to dermatologists who can help customers to understand their own skin types and how they can best use hair coloring products.”

The Diagnoses

Doctors eventually diagnosed Rowe with an allergic reaction to the paraphenylenediamine in the dye. Paraphenylenediamine is a chemical substance that is used in a wide array of permanent hair dyes. The use of the chemical in permanent hair dye aids in the ability to shampoo hair without losing color. In addition, the chemical is used when perming hair to wave or curl.

Permanent hair dyes containing paraphenylenediamine come packaged as two bottles, one containing the chemical preparation and another containing the developer or oxidizer. According to DermNet, it is the intermediate state in which the chemical is partially oxidized that may cause an allergic reaction. Patch tests such as the one that hair dyes recommend usually reveal the hypersensitivity to the chemical.

If there is any takeaway from Rowe’s terrible experience, however, it is that safety should come first. If you choose to color your hair, be sure that you follow through with a skin test before you apply the product. In addition, using all-natural hair colorants is preferable as you are less likely to have an allergic reaction. The price may be higher, but the pay off in the long run is worth it.



NaturallyCurly has been on a mission to educate, empower, entertain and inspire women to have healthy discussions about hair and beauty since 1998. We explore everything from self-acceptance to finding the best hair care products for all textures.

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