Hair care products are a pretty common item found in the modern woman’s (and man’s) life. There are products that cleanse, condition, smooth, style, protect and thicken the hair. These products go through rigorous
testing to ensure their safety for use by people of the recommended ages and generally-speaking, they are helpful and rarely harmful. However, some people find that they have intolerance for some products that
others have no difficulties using. This intolerance typically takes the form of an allergic reaction, the severity of which may vary.
In order to discuss these types of reactions, we should discuss briefly the nature of allergic reactions in general to help us create a baseline of understanding of the terms and concepts involved.
An allergy is simply defined as “a harmful immune response to an antigen that is not in and of itself harmful”. This means that the substance that triggers an allergy may not be specifically harmful, but that the
body with which it comes in contact has an immune response to the substance which is harmful. There are four mechanisms found in allergic reactions. These are:
Of these mechanisms, the first and forth (Immediate and Cell-Mediated Hypersensitivities) are the ones most likely to occur in connection with using hair care products (or any other food or product). The
second (antibody-mediated cytotoxicity) and third (immune complex disorders) usually relate to longer term and innate health conditions, such as Rh disease in newborn babies, Myasthenia Gravis, Lupus, and
varied Serum sicknesses and disorders.
The hypersensitivities are those that are generally reactions to the antigens that are either ingested (inhaled, swallowed) or contacted via the skin and absorbed in that way. These can produce histamine reactions
(such as hayfever and asthma) or dermatitis such as the rashes of hives and poison ivy.
What this Means:
Now, we could get bogged down in the details and biology of allergic mechanisms and responses, but to keep things simple, this means that with any hair care product (since that is what we are mainly concerned
with here) some individuals may have a sensitivity to an ingredient within the product that creates a harmful result.
These responses are specific to an individual, and depend on that individual’s specific sensitivities and the specific biochemistry of the individual. In other words, one woman may try a product and have no issue
with it whatsoever, while her friend may try the same product and develop a rash. Or even if two people are sensitive to a product, one person may have a histamine reaction to the fragrance of a product causing them
to undergo an asthma attack, while the other develops a painful rash after applying the same product.
The level of sensitivity (in fact the presence of sensitivity) can depend on factors like other substances and interactions, hormone levels, diminished immunities, or underlying illness. Women especially can be
subject to changes in their sensitivity to products because of their bodies’ constantly-changing hormonal balance. Girls in puberty, women undergoing menopause, women experiencing menses, and women who are pregnant
all may experience reactions to products that they have used before, or may find that - during certain times in their lives – products which they previously couldn’t tolerate no longer affect them.