Skin conditions can be extremely challenging to navigate. People experiencing conditions like scalp psoriasis often find that they're hyperaware of ingredient lists and chemicals, all in an effort to keep their skin under control. So when you start to consider things like hair dye, it can be tricky to know whether or not it will trigger a dreaded flare-up or cause irritation. The good news is, you don't have to say goodbye to dyeing your hair for good; you might just need to take a few extra steps to be sure that the colouring process doesn't exacerbate your scalp psoriasis. To find out how to approach dyeing your hair if you have scalp psoriasis, we asked London-based consultant dermatologist and hair specialist Dr Sharon Wong and Florida-based certified trichologist and inventive colourist Bridgette Hill for their expertise.
What Is Psoriasis, and Scalp Psoriasis Specifically?
Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disease that speeds up skin's cell turnover. Normal skin turnover takes around three to four weeks, but when you have psoriasis, this process only takes a few days. Psoriasis in general is actually very common, affecting approximately one in 50 people in the UK.
Like many skin conditions, the causes of psoriasis aren't clear cut. "Psoriasis is caused by a complex interaction between genetics, the immune system, and environmental factors," said Dr Wong, adding that generally, with psoriasis, "skin develops thickened, raised red plaques with a characteristic coarse, silvery scale." In darker skin tones, "colouring [of psoriasis] can come across as more of a dark rose healing scab with slight exposure of pink underneath," Hill told POPSUGAR. Psoriasis can also occur on many parts of your body, including your scalp.
Scalp psoriasis specifically presents the same as explained above (thickened skin and flaking) but obviously is most prominent on the scalp and around the hairline. "The flaking in psoriasis can be very extreme and often causes a lot of embarrassment to people," Dr Wong said. It's important to note that the symptoms seen in psoriasis on the scalp are different from dandruff, despite them appearing similar to the untrained eye, which is why it's important to seek medical advice and not self-diagnose.
Can You Dye Your Hair If You Have Scalp Psoriasis?
The strong smell of hair dye alone is enough to make anyone worry whether it's causing any harm to your scalp (don't worry; for the majority of people, it isn't). But if you have scalp psoriasis, that worry is likely even greater. The answer to whether hair dye affects your scalp psoriasis is dependent on the severity of your condition. "Allergies to hair dye do not cause psoriasis, but if scalp psoriasis is active, then the dyes can cause further irritation, inflammation, and discomfort," Dr Wong said. "Dyeing your hair during a flare-up runs the real risk of making the skin even more irritated and uncomfortable, or worse still, developing an allergy on top of the psoriasis." Hill echoed this: "As a colourist and trichologist, I see psoriasis as an open wound. Hair colour can exacerbate a flare-up and create wounds, scarring, and irritation on the scalp."
The good news is that if your psoriasis is under control and not currently flaring up, you should be fine to continue dyeing your hair. But with every skin condition, if you're ever unsure, be sure to speak with your GP or dermatologist.
Should You Go to a Professional Hair Colourist If You Have Scalp Psoriasis?
The short answer is yes, simply because it reduces the risk of causing further irritation to your skin. On a practical level, if your scalp psoriasis presents on the back of your head or somewhere that's difficult to see, you might not be aware of a flare or irritation if dyeing your hair at home.
"If someone is managing psoriasis, they should absolutely be working hand in hand with a colourist for the best approach, technique, product, and application that will inflict less harm and not trigger a psoriasis flare-up," Hill said. During your appointment, you should always make the colourist aware of any hair or scalp issues that you have or have previously experienced, even if they aren't active or flaring at the time, plus any allergies or sensitivity to products or ingredients, Dr Wong noted.
Everyone should have a patch test done before getting their hair coloured, but this is even more important for people who have psoriasis or are sensitive to dyes. Dr Wong recommends doing a small patch test by placing the dye on the scalp or neck or behind your ears to rule out allergy or irritation. She noted that even though dyes may be PPD-free (paraphenylenediamine), you may still have a sensitivity towards them.
If going to the salon isn't something you want to do or cannot afford, Dr Wong said that as long as you "treat the flare first and restore the scalp back to health before dyeing your hair", you should be fine dyeing your hair at home.
Are There Any Ingredients in Hair Dye to Avoid If You Have Scalp Psoriasis?
When it comes to avoiding certain ingredients in hair dye, the answer unfortunately isn't very simple. Hill recommended minimising ammonia (there are many ammonia-free dyes on the market; one of our favourites is from Christophe Robin), as well as avoiding natural organic oils, as these can exacerbate psoriasis for some people. Dr Wong said people with more-sensitive scalps might want to avoid PPD, which is the most common cause of hair-dye allergies and skin irritation. However, she noted that if your psoriasis is under control, you shouldn't need to worry about avoiding certain ingredients.
If you are really worried about the dye but want to experiment with colour and aren't touching up your roots, Hill suggests trying a hair-colour technique, like balayage, that keeps dyes off your scalp altogether. In addition to this, since the hairline is commonly affected by psoriasis, Dr Wong recommends using a thick, petroleum-based emollient like Vaseline to protect surrounding skin and behind your ears to minimise potential irritation from contact with dyes.
In short, if your psoriasis is particularly severe or flaring, you shouldn't dye your hair, as it could cause further irritation, but if your psoriasis is under control, there isn't any reason you need to avoid colouring your hair. If you're still uncertain, speak with your GP or dermatologist and visit a hair colourist who has experience with scalp conditions.