Ways to Color or Dye Your Hair Safely When You Have Scalp Psoriasis

Covering your grays or changing your hair color on a whim can be a big deal when you have scalp psoriasis. In fact, far from being a pick-me-up, the experience could be a painful downer.

Around half of those living with psoriasis have scalp psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. Not surprisingly, any patches on the scalp or in the surrounding skin can be further inflamed by the harsh chemicals in many hair dyes or coloring products.

“The barrier function of the skin is disrupted [by psoriasis],” explains David Pariser, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Norfolk, Virginia, and a past president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “This makes it easier for the chemicals to cause an irritation or an allergic reaction.”

That doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to coloring your hair for good. Many people with psoriasis can dye or color their hair with little trouble. A few extra steps beforehand can help minimize the risk that a hair treatment will trigger a dreaded scalp psoriasis flare-up or cause irritation.

If you have scalp psoriasis, consider these protective strategies before your next salon appointment or DIY hair session.

1. Let Your Colorist Know About Your Scalp Psoriasis

If you are going to have your hair colored by a professional, it’s a good idea to let them know about your scalp psoriasis, even if it isn’t active or flaring at the time.

If you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, keep in mind that experienced hair colorists have likely seen it all, including scalp psoriasis. You may also want to mention any issues you’ve experienced in the past, such as allergies, rashes, or sensitivity to hair coloring products.

2. Minimize Skin Contact

You may be able to lessen the risk that the coloring process will exacerbate your scalp psoriasis by keeping the dye away from your scalp as much as possible. Before coloring, it can be a good idea to apply a protective layer of petroleum jelly to the skin surrounding the hair — around the hairline, ears, and neck — to serve as a shield from chemicals. “If you want to really be super- careful, you could also work petroleum jelly into the whole scalp,” says Dr. Pariser.

Hair coloring techniques like balayage, highlighting, and low-lighting can also be good options for people with scalp psoriasis. These methods typically keep dye off your scalp entirely.

3. Pay Attention to Dye Ingredients

The chemical paraphenylenediamine, or PPD, which is commonly found in permanent darker-toned hair dyes, is often the culprit behind allergic reactions that can occur from coloring your hair. PPD can also be irritating to some people with psoriasis. Hair lighteners contain peroxide and bleaches, which can also cause trouble, but the risk of a reaction is smaller with those ingredients.

4. Don’t Skip the Patch Test

A skin patch test done a couple of days before you plan to color is a good idea for anyone using hair dye, but it can be especially helpful if you have scalp psoriasis. Even if a product is PPD-free, you may still have a sensitivity to it.

So even if it’s inconvenient, if you’re coloring in a salon, ask your stylist if you can stop by and take home a small sample of the mix.

You may be able to gauge your skin’s reaction by applying a small amount of hair dye on your inner forearm. “Cover it with a bandage and wait two days to see what happens,” suggests Pariser. “If you develop a rash, you should stay away from it.”

To play it extra safe, consider applying the coloring product to a small area of your scalp, advises the American Academy of Dermatology. If your scalp feels irritated in a few hours, you may want to swap that product for something gentler.

Even if your skin looks fine after patch testing, it makes sense to take some simple measures to lower your odds of a skin irritation. If you are dyeing your hair yourself, don’t leave the dye on longer than the recommended time, wear protective gloves (even if you don’t have psoriasis on your hands), and rinse all the dye completely out of your hair.

6. Consider Henna, but Not Black Henna

A PPD-free alternative to traditional hair dye is henna, a colorant that’s plant-based and turns hair red or reddish-brown. This may cause less irritation than regular dye.

Not all hennas are a safer bet, however. Black henna or hennas that promise to give you a dark brown result are often high in PPD, which produces that effect, meaning you may get an adverse reaction. Caveat emptor: Even if a coloring product has “natural” written on the box, it could contain chemicals, so it’s always a good idea to read the label carefully.

One other important thing to keep in mind: If you are counting on having your hair colored for a specific event (say, before a wedding), make doubly sure to follow the above steps to prevent a flare that could spoil your good time.

Finally, if you’re not currently under a physician’s care for your psoriasis, now may be a good time to make an appointment. A number of new, more effective medications are available to treat psoriasis, even if your doctor has been unsuccessful at managing symptoms in the past.

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