AN OFFICE worker has revealed an allergic reaction to hair dye caused her face to balloon and almost killed her when her airways closed.
Robyn Cherry, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was left unable to see and was rushed to hospital twice after going brunette – despite having a patch test at the salon.
The 29-year-old administrator's patch test missed signs of allergy because her hairdresser, who we're not naming, failed to wait the recommended 48 hours before dying her locks.
Poor Robyn has been left allergic to sunlight – meaning she can't go on holiday and has been forced to give up her dream job and horse riding company.
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, she said: “Going to the hairdressers that day was the worst mistake of my life.
“I’ve been in and out of A&E since then and it has been absolute hell. Not only did I nearly die, I’m now unable to enjoy a sunny day or I’ll end up in hospital.”
In October 2010 Robyn, then 20, saved up £120 to get her hair dyed professionally at a local salon.
She said: “Usually I bleached my hair blonde twice a month myself at home.
“I always did a patch test and waited 48 hours. But after many years, I decided to go back to my natural brown hair.
“The salon gave me a patch test the day before my appointment which didn’t reveal any reaction.
“The next day, the hairdresser asked me to come in and they dyed my hair a gorgeous brown.”
My head looked like a tomato, I was so scared. The pain was agonising
Within minutes of leaving the salon, Robyn’s scalp started burning.
She ignored the pain but woke the next morning to discover her face had ballooned to twice its normal size.
She said: “My head looked like a tomato, I was so scared. The pain was agonising. My head was burning so much, I felt like it was going to pop off.
“My mum took me to the GP but the receptionist told us to go to hospital immediately.Mum was worried – my face was swelling up even as we were driving to hospital.”
Robyn mum Judy, 65, who owns a recruitment company, drove Robyn to A&E at Cheltenham General Hospital.
By the time they arrived, Robyn’s airways had swollen shut so she couldn’t breathe and she was immediately rushed to the resuscitation unit.
Robyn said: “I could feel my face getting even bigger and my eyes had swollen shut. I was completely blind, it was horrible.
“I heard doctors saying my hair was coming out in clumps and my scalp was covered in blisters that kept bursting.
“I kept passing out every few minutes because of the pain and was absolutely hysterical.
“Doctors gave me adrenaline shots and steroids. They said it was the worst reaction they’d ever seen and if I’d left it another hour, I would have died.
“I was terrified and kept begging them to help me.”
Doctors said it was the worst reaction they’d ever seen and if I’d left it another hour, I would have died
Doctors discovered Robyn had suffered a severe reaction to paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a common ingredient in hair dye.
They also explained patch tests need to be left for 48 hours for safety reasons.
It took 16 hours for Robyn's breathing to return to normal, and she was discharged after 20 hours in hospital.
But within six hours of being home, Robyn stopped breathing again and was rushed back to A&E.
She said: “Again, I was given medication which stabilised the reaction. After that, I was in and out of A&E every four days suffering from allergic reactions.
“I realised the reason I’d never had reactions to hair dye before was because there was no PPD in bleach.
“I became allergic to most foods, spices, nuts, alcohol and clothing.
“I couldn’t eat at restaurants, wear nice clothes or go out for drinks with my friends any more. My life became a living hell.”
I became allergic to so many things. My life became a living hell
The PPD had caused Robyn's body to go into a state of shock, which led to severe allergic reactions to everyday items she'd been fine with before.
Robyn said: “After that, it only got worse. Every time I went into the sun, my skin was covered in blisters filled with pus.
“I also had hives all over my body and I felt faint. It was horrible.”
Hair dye reactions and patch tests: what you need to know
Many permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes contain a chemical called paraphenylenediamine (PPD) -which is the culprit in most allergic reactions.
Your risk is increased if you've ever had a black henna tattoo or if you've reacted before, even if it was mild first-time round.
You should always have a patch test before dying your hair – by dabbing some of the dye behind your ear or on your inner elbow and leaving for 24 hours.
If you have any irritation, do not use the product.
Early signs of an allergic reaction include:
- Your face and scalp feeling itchy and starting to swell
- Itching and a rash throughout your body
- Generally feeling unwell
You can buy PPD-free hair dyes, but even these can trigger reactions, so you should still take a patch test.
In May 2011, Robyn was diagnosed with polymorphic light eruption and solar urticaria as a result of the reaction, a rare condition meaning she was left sensitive to sunlight.
Robyn said: “I was forced to stay indoors whenever it was sunny outside and had to give up my horse riding company.
“For the next three years, I became a recluse and never left the house. I fell into a deep depression and suffered from anxiety attacks.”
Even now, Robyn is unable to go outside on sunny days. She said: “I’ll be on extremely strong antihistamines and steroids for the rest of my life.
“During summer I can’t enjoy beach holidays or even spend the day in a pub garden.
“Going to the hairdresser that day was the worst decision I’ve ever made but sadly I cannot take it back.
“Now I want to warn others about the dangers of dying their hair. Please always do a patch test and make sure you wait 48 hours.”
This Australian woman says it felt like a million ants were burrowing in her head after an allergic reaction to hair dye.
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