TikToker Goes Viral After Face Swells from Allergic Reaction to Hair Dye: 'Really Scary to Experience'

19-year-old Seraya Ellison developed an allergy to PPD, a substance found in most dark shades of hair dye

Seraya Ellison
Photo: courtesy Seraya Ellison

Last month, 19-year-old Seraya Ellison went viral on TikTok (username: @ser.gaya) for documenting her allergic reaction to black hair dye. Now, board certified dermatologist Dr. Geeta Yadav is breaking down how that can happen and how it can be prevented.

Dr. Yadav says Ellison likely suffered from contact dermatitis, which is an allergy to something touching your skin (think: poison ivy or nickel in costume jewelry). In this case, a common substance in dark shades of hair dyes called Paraphenylenediamine (PPD) caused the reaction.

"People think, 'I've been using this hair dye all my life. I don't understand why I have this problem now.' But you develop a sensitivity over time," the Skin Science Dermatology founder says of contact allergies. "For some people, it's because they had eczema in their background, and they're prone to developing a contact sensitization. But for others, it just happens with repeated exposure."

The result? Symptoms can include swelling and red, scaly or itchy rashes on the skin. Ellison told BuzzFeed she also experienced scalp tenderness, chemical burns and numbness in her face.

In the viral TikTok, which has amassed 4.1 million likes since July 17, Ellison included a clip of her and a friend waiting for their hair dye to process, followed by several photos of one side of her face looking severely swollen and a video en route to the emergency room.

"Always patch test before dyeing your hair," the teenager wrote over her TikTok.

Dr. Yadav agrees — she says it's difficult to prevent a reaction because the allergy develops gradually, so it's always best to color a test strip before covering your entire head with potentially harmful dye.

"You can't predict it. You try to avoid it when you can. But the reality is, we all like products that smell nice, that feel nice, that look nice and that requires several chemicals," Dr. Yadav says. "But you eventually may not be able to tolerate some of them."

Seraya Ellison
courtesy Seraya Ellison

And that's exactly what happened to Ellison, who told BuzzFeed she's been dyeing her own hair for "13 years" but has never experienced this type of reaction.

"I am used to my hairline and ears getting a little irritated when using cheaper dyes. I did not pay too much mind to it, assuming the dye got onto my skin and would take a few hours to heal itself, like it usually has in the past," she explained. "The next morning, I woke up to my boyfriend yelling and asking me what happened to my face. I looked into the mirror and saw that the right side of my forehead was swelling."

Treatment options for contact dermatitis depend on the severity of the reaction, but Dr. Yadav says dermatologists are most well-trained to handle the problem.

"Ideally, the people that know how to handle this would be a dermatologist. But it depends on how bad it is. If it's really blistering, and you're really uncomfortable, and there's tons of swelling, like in the TikTok video, for sure you would want to go to the emergency treatment as soon as possible," she says. "If you go to the emergency room, they may not understand what happened, but they'll give you something to treat it."

Ellison and her mom drove to an urgent care two cities away to find proper care, which included steroid pills, Benadryl and ice packs. The teenager recently posted an update on her TikTok account, sharing that it took five days for her face to heal.

"What happened to me was really scary to experience, and I'm so lucky that my reaction wasn't as bad as it could have been," she told BuzzFeed. "I wanted to share this video with TikTok to help advise people to be very careful with directions when dyeing their own hair, and make sure salons do patch tests with consultations if the option is given."

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