PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie's face had swollen so much she couldn't open her eyes. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

By Rebecca Drew

AFTER using packet hair dye this woman’s face ballooned so much she COULDN’T OPEN HER EYES and was left with burning itching sores on her scalp for THREE WEEKS – which she says felt like a ‘MILLION BULL ANTS’ biting her.

Sales manager, Julie Yacoub (37) from Perth, Western Australia, used to always dye her hair as a teenager and in her early twenties with no problems or signs of reaction.

When she was 22, Julie had her hair dyed at a salon and experienced a mild reaction afterwards but she assumed that it was because the hair colourist massaged her head too hard and accidentally cut the skin on her scalp with her nails which would have been aggravated by the dye sinking into her skin.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie’s face became incredibly swollen whilst she was having an allergic reaction to her hair dye. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

Julie hadn’t dyed her hair since this, but after noticing a few greys she bought a chocolate brown packet dye which took just 15 minutes to develop. On October 30, 2019, she mixed the dye and applied it; she had no itching or tingling during or immediately after the application so assumed everything was ok.

Whilst at work the next day she noticed her neck was itching and asked a colleague to look and told her she had burns on her neck. Worried she was having an allergic reaction, Julie took an antihistamine tablet to counteract it but later that evening she felt pressure in her head so booked an appointment to see her GP the next day.

When she woke up, Julie had a lump on the side of her head and pressure was building up. Her doctor told her she was having a severe allergic reaction and prescribed her steroids. Unfortunately for Julie, her face grew more deformed as it continued to swell and by 5am the following day she couldn’t open her eyes and her scalp was covered in sores and burns which were unbearably itchy and felt like she was ‘being bitten by a million bull ants at once’.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie couldn’t open her eyes after her reaction grew more severe. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

Her mother drove her to the hospital where she was told that the antihistamines and steroids she was already on would bring the reaction under control, she was prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection due to the fluid building in her face. The swelling went down gradually over the next week and the sores on her scalp healed after two weeks but Julie experienced the agonising itching for a week longer. She has vowed never to dye her again and is sharing her story to stress the importance of dye safety.

“I used to always dye my hair as a teen and in my early twenties. I developed my first allergic reaction from a hair dye done in a hair salon in Perth. I thought the lady massaged my head too hard as she used her nails so she may have cut the skin on my scalp and the dye then went in and caused my first reaction,” said Julie.

“This was approximately fifteen years ago. I have not dyed my hair since then until this latest reaction a few weeks ago. I thought I would be ok and the allergy would be out of my system by now after fifteen years but the doctor informed me after that once you have a reaction then the next ones will be worse and worse.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie’s face had swollen so much she couldn’t open her eyes. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

“I had no itch, tingling sensation or anything after I dyed the hair and washed it off. The following day I went to work and had an itching sensation on my neck. I asked my colleague to check my neck and she was shocked to see the burn marks.

“That night I felt a slight pressure in my head and I got on my doctors app and made an appointment to see a doctor for the first thing on Friday morning. Friday morning came and I had a definite lump on the side of my head and lots of pressure building up so the doctor prescribed me with steroid tablets and told me I was having a severe reaction.

“As the day and night went on the deformity got worse and the pressure build up was very uncomfortable. Throughout Friday night and early hours Saturday morning the swelling around my eyes was getting really bad and by 5am Saturday morning I was unable to open one of my eyes and the other eyelid had almost closed over also.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie has vowed to never dye her hair again. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

“On Saturday morning when I woke up and couldn’t open my eyes my initial reaction was panic. I contacted my mum who took me to hospital.

“By this time on the way to the hospital at approximately 6:45am Saturday morning I could barely see anything as I had a tiny opening only to see out of. The hospital couldn’t really do much more as I was not anaphylactic so they said the steroids and antihistamines I was on would eventually bring the swelling and fluid under control.

“As well as the fluid and swelling, I had sores and burns over my whole scalp and a dermatitis like flaky scalp. The itching and burning on my scalp was unbearable and was like I was being bitten by a million bull ants at once.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie had burns and sores all over her scalp which wept and oozed. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

“The itching and burning lasted the longest of all and I would say overall it took three weeks for the sores to heal and the itching/burning to stop. Even now I still get itchy and flaky from the contact the dermatitis has caused on my scalp.”

Julie suffered an allergic reaction to a chemical found in most hair dyes called paraphenylenediamine (PPD).

Many permanent and some semi-permanent hair dyes contain chemical PPD, which is known as an irritant and allergen. Dyes containing PPD are usually perfectly safe to use.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie was left with burns on her neck after dying her hair with a packet dye. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

The ordeal has put Julie off ever dying her hair again and she would only ever consider using a plant based, chemical free dye in future – she can’t stress the importance of doing a patch test enough.

“From what the doctors have told me you can just develop an allergy as you get older and I am prone to other allergies (cats, dogs, grass) etc so as you get older your body just develops other allergies,” said Julie.

“I would never dye my hair again. I am frightened as to what the next reaction could be. In fact the doctors have advised me that the next reaction will be worse. Unless I could get some type of plant based or vegetable based dye without the chemicals then I will never dye my hair again.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Julie’s face had swollen so much she could no longer open her eyes. MDWfeatures /Julie Yacoub

“The advice I would give to someone in my situation is to please do a patch test with any types of dyes or chemicals you use. The reason I wanted to share my story is to inform people that this is real and can happen. Most people only read about this happening to someone else, never happening to themselves but this can happen to anyone even if you never had a reaction before, it can happen anytime.

“Please follow the instructions and do the patch test. It may take an extra forty-eight hours to dye your hair but that will be the best forty-eight hours you have waited. I wish I had done the patch test. Even if somehow I can get access to a healthy hair dye without the chemicals I would still be doing the patch test.

“I never want this to happen to me ever again and I would never want anyone to go through what I went through.”