Blinded by my hair dye: ‘I looked like an alien!’

Hotspot Media

Steph O’Dell, 24, woke up blind. Here, Steph, tells the story in her own words.

Handing my sister, Amber, her 18th birthday card, I glowed inside as she opened up my surprise.

I had bought plane tickets for us to have a weekend away together, and I couldn’t wait to see her face.

‘Thank you so much, Steph,’ she squealed.

Wanting to look my best for the trip, I was having hair extensions put in and wanted my natural brown locks to match them.

I’d been dyeing my hair for five years but I’d always been careful.

Blinded by my hair dye
I’d been dyeing my dark brown locks for years. (Credit: Hotspot Media)

When I was 15, I’d done a patch test for a box dye but I was left with a red rash behind my ear.

Then, when I was 18, I had a hair dye disaster where my tresses turned orange and I was forced to dye my hair brown again.

But my face had swelled up.

‘You’re allergic to paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a common ingredient in hair dye,’ my GP warned me.

Since then, I’d opted for organic hair dyes that didn’t include PPD.

And I also steered clear of henna tattoos or tinting my eyebrows.

So, to get my hair dyed for our weekend away, I searched carefully for a local salon with good reviews.

‘I’m allergic to PPD,’ I explained to the hairdresser, showing her pictures of my previous reaction.

‘The dye is organic,’ she reassured me. ‘I’m also allergic to hair dye and this is the product I use.’

To be safe, she applied a patch test to my wrist, before wiping off the excess product.

That’s strange, I thought. No other hairdressers have wiped it off.

But I figured she knew what she was doing.

Over the next two days, I didn’t react to the patch test.

So, a fortnight later, I was back in the salon where a hairdresser fitted my extensions and applied hair dye to my roots to darken them.

After two hours, I admired my lovely locks in the mirror.

My hair was perfectly blended with my extensions and I loved my new look.

But, later that day, my neck started itching.

‘You’ve got hair dye on the back of your neck,’ Amber told me.

She washed it off for me and I applied a cream to soothe it.

The next morning, we boarded our flight, giddy with excitement.

Hours later, though, my glasses were feeling tight on the side of my head.

And my neck felt like it was on fire.

Glancing in the mirror, I couldn’t see a huge difference to my face.

But the next day, my head felt tight and itchy – and I could only see out of one eye.

Glancing in the hotel mirror, I gasped.

My head had ballooned so much that one of my eyes had swollen shut and my forehead was sticking out from the side of my cheeks.

I looked ridiculous and the pain was unbearable.

Blinded by my hair dye
(Credit: Hotspot Media)

By the evening, I knew that I needed help, so we went to hospital where I was given antihistamines and eye drops.

‘At least we’re flying home tomorrow,’ I said to Amber.

Back at the hotel, I went to bed, hoping that the medication would work and my face would soon return to normal.

Waking up the next morning, though, the room was pitch black.

That’s when I realised I couldn’t see.

I’d gone blind!

Blinded by my hair dye
I woke up to darkness. (Credit: Hotspot Media)

Frantically, I grabbed Amber and shook her awake.

‘I can’t see!’ I cried, feeling panicked.

My face was so swollen that my eyes had closed up.

Rushing to the airport to catch an earlier flight, I was completely helpless and had to hold on to Amber everywhere we went.

Back home, our dad, Simon, picked us up and took me straight to hospital.

Doctors gave me adrenaline shots while nurses were worried about my breathing as my neck was swelling up.

‘Am I going to die?’ I sobbed as the reality hit me.

In the meantime, Amber had called our mum, Gayle, who met us on the ward.

‘I didn’t recognise you, Steph,’ Mum gasped, hugging me.

Luckily, once doctors gave me steroids, they had an almost instant effect and I was relieved I could open my eyes again.

Blinded by my hair dye
(Credit: Hotspot Media)
Blinded by my hair dye
The rash on my neck. (Credit: Hotspot Media)

‘This is the worst reaction we’ve ever seen,’ a doctor admitted.

I was horrified that I’d risked my life, simply by dyeing my hair.

‘I feel so stupid,’ I cried to my family.

‘Well, you’ll never do it again!’ Mum said.

Once I’d calmed down, Amber showed me the snaps she’d taken of my face when I was blind.

‘I looked like an alien,’ I said, shocked.

‘We were really worried,’ she told me.

Thankfully, I was discharged from hospital after five days and my swelling soon went down, too.

The swelling finally went down in hospital.
The swelling finally went down in hospital. (Credit: Hotspot Media)

I didn’t go back to the salon, and I’m never dyeing my hair again.

It’s not worth the risk and I’m too scared of anything else happening.

In 2018, I took Amber away for her 21st birthday so she finally got the fun trip she deserved!

Blinded by my hair dye
I want to remind people to always do a patch test. (Credit: Hotspot Media)

Manufacturers can change the ingredients in products at any time, so I would urge people to always do a patch test.

Even if you use organic products, you never know if you’ll react to something in it.

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