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Hair dye poisoning

Hair dye poisoning occurs when someone swallows dye or tint used to color hair.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Different types of hair dye contain different harmful ingredients.

The harmful ingredients in permanent dyes are:

  • Naphthylamine
  • Other aromatic amino compounds
  • Phenylenediamines
  • Toluene diamines

The harmful ingredients in temporary dyes are:

Hair dyes may contain other harmful ingredients.

Where Found

Various hair dyes contain these ingredients.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hair dye poisoning include:

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the person swallowed the hair dye, give them water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include:

  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions
  • A decreased level of alertness

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Blood and urine tests.
  • Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator).
  • Chest x-ray.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing).
  • Endoscopy. Camera placed down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach.
  • Laxatives.
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV).
  • Medicines to treat the effects of the poison.
  • Surgery to remove burned skin (if needed).
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation). Perhaps every few hours for several days.

If the poisoning is severe, the person may be admitted to the hospital.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well someone does depends on how much hair dye they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.

Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach is possible. The outcome depends on how much of this damage there is. Damage to the esophagus and stomach can continue to occur for several weeks after the product is swallowed. A hole can develop in these organs, and that can lead to severe bleeding and infection.

Continued exposure to lead or mercury can lead to permanent brain and nervous system damage.

Alternative Names

Hair tint poisoning

References

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 158.

Zosel AE. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 143.

Review Date 10/16/2015

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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