woman coloring her own hair

How to Color Your Hair Without Triggering Your Psoriasis

By Jené Luciani Sena
Reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
August 29, 2022

When you have scalp psoriasis, hair maintenance can be tricky. The flakes and scales aren’t just itchy, they can also wreak havoc on your favorite look. But your psoriasis doesn’t have to limit what you can do with your hair, and that includes coloring it.

Many people with psoriasis wonder whether it’s safe to dye their hair. It certainly can be, but there are important considerations you should make to ensure that the process is as gentle as possible on your scalp to avoid irritating your psoriasis.

Time It Right

The most important step to not aggravating your psoriasis is to avoid applying hair color or chemicals on or near the scalp during an active flare-up.

“Psoriasis has a peculiar characteristic in that it flares and worsens when skin becomes irritated or injured, which means that the drying and irritating ingredients in hair coloring may worsen the condition for many people,” says Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.

Another reason to skip the dye during a flare? You won’t get your money’s worth. “Often, a heavy flare with heavy flaking can make it difficult for the pigment to actually attach to the hair color,” explains Nazarian. Not only may you be left with an irritated scalp, but you’re also more likely to have a subpar result.

Care for Your Scalp Before You Go

It may help to treat your scalp with extra TLC prior to your salon visit. “About a week before my appointment, I use my Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo to prevent a flare-up or to soothe an existing one,” says Jessica Chiera, 50, who lives in upstate New York and has psoriasis. “If my scalp is still experiencing an active flare-up, I’ll move the appointment until after [it clears up].”

Other shampoos that may be helpful are prescription clobetasol shampoo or over-the-counter salicylic acid shampoo (such as Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo). Some dermatologists may also prescribe topicals in addition to the shampoos above, such as clobetasol solution, fluocinonide solution, or fluocinolone oil, each of which may calm down the scalp quickly before an appointment.

Dana Galusha, a hair colorist and salon owner in Schenectady, New York, also has psoriasis and uses a similar strategy. She says that, typically, hair dye doesn’t bother her scalp much, but she does weekly preventive maintenance with a hydrating scalp treatment. She believes that this helps prevent painful and annoying reactions. She recommends this approach to her clients, as well.

Choose Your Hair Color or Dye Carefully

While most hair dyes are generally considered safe for people with psoriasis, many of them can be irritating for some people. You can ask your stylist to check the labels on the products they use for any ingredients that might exacerbate a flare-up. If you plan to use an at-home hair color, be sure to check the labels yourself. This can include ammonia and other ingredients that have a high rate of allergic reactions, such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD).

If you know you’re sensitive or want to play it extra safe, you can also explore some alternatives to traditional hair dye. Alan J. Parks, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Columbus, Ohio, says he tells his patients to look for hair color products with more natural ingredients, such as henna or other plant-based dyes.

It may also help you avoid problems with your psoriasis if you use an option that doesn’t touch your scalp. “I only color my hair by highlighting with the balayage technique, in which the stylist uses a brush to paint the color on, and doesn’t go near the roots,” says Jessica.

Nazarian suggests you or your stylist do a patch test first on another part of the body with the dye you plan to use. This can help you determine if you can safely apply it to the entire scalp without irritation.

If you notice that every time you color your hair your psoriasis gets worse or you get a rash around your hairline, it could be that you have a condition called allergic contact dermatitis. Being allergic may flare your psoriasis, and it would be hard to tell if it’s just a regular flare or if you’ve developed a new skin allergy. If you’re seeing a pattern of reactions, it’s best to check in with your dermatologist and ask for a skin patch test that may identify if you’re allergic to the chemicals or ingredients in your hair dyes.

Chat with Your Stylist Before the Appointment

Before you go to your hair color appointment, speak with your stylist in-depth about your condition to ensure they’re comfortable with applying color on your head, suggests Nazarian. If the stylist is inexperienced in working with people who have psoriasis, they might not be the right fit for you.

Remind your stylist that your “scalp really needs to be treated gently, with avoidance of deep scrubbing or scratching during the application process,” Nazarian says. Even a pre-color shampoo can aggravate psoriasis and trigger a flare if the stylist scrubs your scalp too hard, so it’s important that they’re mindful of your condition.

Run Anything You’re Unsure of Past Your Doctor

When in doubt, always speak to your doctor first—dermatologists are skin, hair, and nail experts. If you’re not under the care of a dermatologist, now is a good time to consider starting with one. Your doctor can address any questions or concerns, make recommendations, and can also prescribe a customized hair and scalp care regimen that may help prevent flare-ups and allow you to get your hair colored without worry.

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