woman scratches her itchy scalp

Irritated, Itchy Scalp? It Could Be Your Hair Dye

Is Hair Color Harming Your Scalp? Here’s What You Need to Know

Ever had an itchy scalp after coloring your hair? Or felt stinging or burning when hair dye is applied to your scalp? It could be a sign that your scalp is becoming sensitized to hair color. Allergic reactions to hair dye can happen immediately or develop over hours or even days.1

If you are having issues with scalp itching or irritation after coloring your hair, you are not alone. A recent study in the International Journal of Trichology, found that 42% of people had adverse reactions to hair dye. The most common symptoms are headaches (63%) and an itchy scalp (38%).2

As a stylist and Trichologist (hair health expert), I know that a sensitive scalp can be frustrating. And, if your scalp is constantly tingling or irritated, it can also be worrying. For many of my clients the cause of their itchy scalp is their hair color habit.

Don’t worry. Unless you’ve had a serious type 1 allergic reaction to color (anaphylactic shock) you don’t have to go cold turkey on hair dye. Here’s what you need to know about scalp irritation from hair color and what you can do about it.


How to Tell if Hair Dye Is Irritating Your Scalp

Whether it’s box dye or salon color, hair dye contains ingredients that can be harsh on your hair and your scalp. If your scalp is already dry or irritated then it’s even more vulnerable to chemical damage from hair color. 

Five signs that your scalp is reacting to hair dye:

  1. You develop blisters 
  2. You have an itchy scalp or face
  3. Your scalp skin is flaky
  4. Your scalp and hairline turn red 
  5. You notice swelling or hives on your scalp or face 

If you’re experiencing itching, scaling, flaking or blisters, you probably have a form of contact dermatitis – a reaction to being touched by something you are allergic to. Dermatologists recommend that you contact your doctor if your symptoms become severe or last more than two days.3


Why Hair Color Can Give You an Itchy Scalp

Hair color contains many ingredients that can cause scalp sensitivity. And they all have direct, and prolonged, contact with your scalp during the coloring process. 

Some of the most common scalp irritants in hair dye are: 

    • Ammonia
    • Phthalates
    • Sodium lauryl sulfate & sodium laureth sulfate 
    • Sodium chloride
    • Paraphenylenediamine (PPD)

Any of these can cause stinging, burning or itching on your scalp or face skin, but the most serious reactions usually come from exposure to PPD.4 PPD is found in the highest concentrations in single-process, permanent dark shades, but it’s also used in almost all synthetic hair colors. So many people report skin reactions to PPD that it was named Contact Allergen of the Year in 2006 by the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS). 

Before you panic, remember that many people color their hair with little to moderate side effects. But, if you are one of the few people who develop an allergy to PPD, dermatologists recommend stopping all use of hair dye containing the chemical.

If you are in the majority of hair dye users who experience only mild to moderate scalp irritation from hair color, there are a lot less drastic steps you can take. Here’s what haircare experts recommend to reduce scalp sensitivity when coloring your hair:

How to Reduce Scalp Irritation When Coloring

Here are some easy changes you can make to reduce scalp sensitivity when coloring your hair:

✅ Stop Scalp Sensitivity Before It Starts

These steps can reduce any potential reactions to hair color:

  1. Always do a patch test: apply a tiny amount of the color to your inner elbow or behind your hear at least skin 48 hours before you color. If you see no reaction after 1 hour then it’s a good sign that it’s safe to color.

  2. Take an antihistamine: a preventive dose of something like Zyrtec or Claritin, may help reduce a scalp reaction.

  3. Look for ammonia and PPD-free color formulations: this will be a challenge if you are looking for a permanent way to cover your grey hair.

  4. Consider highlights or lowlights instead of all-over color: these techniques don’t have direct contact with your scalp so they are less likely to cause scalp irritation.

  5. Use Calm It Down™ soothing scalp serum: Calm It Down™ is Arey's water-based serum designed to soothe and calm your scalp before and after coloring or chemical treatments. We recommend applying Calm It Down™ to your scalp 4-6 hours before using hair dye. This will protect your scalp from irritation during coloring. 

You can also use Calm It Down™ to soothe any post-coloring scalp irritation. Apply a few pipettes once daily until your scalp is back to normal.


      You may never have had a reaction to hair color but that doesn't mean you never will. Some people color their hair for years before having allergic symptoms but dermatologists believe8 that repeated exposure to the chemicals in hair dye activates your immune response over time. The result – an allergic reaction that seems to come out of nowhere. 


      ✅ Is Your Shampoo Scalp-Friendly?

      As a haircare expert I know that your first defense against scalp irritation is a healthy scalp – and that starts with your everyday haircare routine. Look for clean, balanced haircare like Arey Wash and Smooth that cares for your hair and your scalp. 



      Make sure that your shampoo doesn't contain harsh cleansers like sulfates. These will over cleanse your hair and scalp and lead to irritation and color fading. All Arey products are free from scalp-irritating ingredients like phthalates, sulfates, sodium chloride, gluten, parabens, artificial fragrances or formaldehyde.  



      ✅ Don’t Shampoo Before Coloring

      Your scalp produces natural moisturizers (sebum) to keep it balanced and protected. If you leave your locks unwashed for at least two days before coloring, the build up of natural oils will help protect your scalp from chemical damage.

      ✅ Treat Any Scalp Issues

      Dry scalp skin or dandruff can make your scalp vulnerable to chemical damage from color. A moisturizing, exfoliating scalp treatment like Arey Scrub can help keep your scalp skin hydrated and free from buildup. Make sure to skip your scalp scrub the week before coloring – a little sebum helps protect your scalp from hair dye irritation.



      If you’ve ever scratched your scalp and noticed white, waxy stuff under your nails – that’s scalp buildup. It might be gross but it’s a natural result of sebum combining with sweat, product buildup and skin shedding. Left untreated though, buildup can lead to scalp and hair issues like dandruff, an itchy scalp, hair loss, and even hair thinning.6

      Scrub is a once-a-week scalp detox that exfoliates and moisturizes your scalp. That deep cleanse provides a healthy environment for new hair to grow by cleaning out anything that might be clogging or blocking the follicles.7 


      ✅ Find Alternative Ways to Cover Your Greys

      Like many of my clients, you may be using hair color to cover grey hair. When Arey co-founder Allison Conrad and I started seeing our first greys, we wanted to find a more natural solution for grey hair. That’s why our very first product was our nutritional supplement Not Today, Grey that helps slow, delay and even repigment grey hair. 



      Discover Arey’s Science-Backed Haircare 

      At Arey, we care about your hair and scalp health. That’s why we create clean science-backed products that are safe for your scalp and hair.

      We want to make it easy for you to do the right thing for your hair – that’s why we offer 25% off on all subscriptions to help keep you on track with your hair health goals. Because we believe that science + consistency = results.

      We are Arey.

      Have questions? Check out our FAQ page or say hey@areygrey.com.


      Jay Small with customer

      AuthorJay SmallJay Small is a sought-after hair stylist and Trichologist in Los Angeles with over 22 years of experience. His clients consist of high-profile business and creative leaders. He trained as an apprentice to the owner of Paul Mitchell and worked in education and product development for Paul Mitchell Systems. Jay is incredibly passionate about the creative process both in terms of styling hair and developing effective products.


      1. medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320505
      2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3927172/
      3. clevelandclinic.org/hair-dye-safety-what-you-need-to-know-about-salon-and-box-color
      4. allergy-to-paraphenylenediamine
      5. Your Guide To Proper Scalp Exfolation - Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates
      6. Why You Should Exfoliate Your Scalp, According to Experts 
      7. instyle.com/hair-color-causing-itchy-scalp-
      8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320505