Hair Dye Continued: The Truth About Manic Panic

September 21st, 2009 - filed under: The Fashion » Beauty and Cosmetics

Last week I wrote an article that explained my love affair with hair dye. We covered natural dyes, box dyes, salon jobs, and vegan hair dye. Finally, I wrote a bit about my current colorant of choice: Manic Panic.

I use Manic Panic because its a ‘non-toxic, non-noxious, vegan vegetable-based semi-permanent product’ . . . but what does that actually mean? I wrote to the company for more information, but alas, they were silent.

So I took matters into my own hands (as I tend to do) and began an investigation. An inquiry into each and every ingredient in my hair dye: what is it?, what does it do?, and is it going to hurt me? Here I present my result, in black and white:

Manic Panic ‘Classic Cream Formula’ hair dye
Ingredients: Synthetic beeswax, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth20, Humulus lupulus extract, Anthemis nobilis extract, Acetic Acid, Methylparaben, Propylene glycol

May Also Contain: Orange 4 (CI 15510), Red 33 (CI 17200), Blue 1 (CI 42090), Yellow 10 (CI 47005), Green 5 (CI 61570)

Synthetic Beeswax

  • blend of fatty esters, fatty acids, fatty alcohols, and hydrocarbons, with properties similar to natural beeswax.
  • Acts as a thickener and emulsifier.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 1 (out of 10)

Cetearyl Alcohol

  • Another wax, not really an ‘alcohol’ in the traditional sense.
  • Vegetable derived fatty alcohols, like coconut alcohol.
  • Acts as an emulsifier, emollient, thickening agent, and moisturizer. Also a ‘carrying agent’ for various ingredients.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 0 (out of 10)


  • Helps ingredients to dissolve within a solvent that they wouldn’t otherwise dissolve in.
  • Not advised for use on ‘damaged skin’.
  • May contain traces of 1, 4-dioxane, a nasty no-no, but this is removable with proper purification.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 5 (out of 10)

Humulus lupulus extract

  • This is hops extract (yeah, the beer stuff)
  • Acts as a strengthener and conditioner in hair products.
  • A very understudied additive, with virtually no data.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 0 (out of 10)

Anthemis nobilis extract

  • This is chamomile extract (yes, the tea stuff!)
  • Used for conditioning properties as well as fragrance.
  • May increase skin absorption of other ingredients.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 1 (out of 10)

Acetic Acid

  • Essentially this is vinegar, in a concentrated form.
  • Classed as ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) by the FDA.
  • Acts to stabilize the pH.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 2 (out of 10)


  • Eek! This one is no good.
  • Implicated in a slew of health concerns, including allergies, immunotoxicity, organ toxicity, and skin/lung/eye irritation.
  • May have an estrogenic affect.
  • Added as a preservative.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Propylene Glycol

  • Considered safe in concentrations up to 50%.
  • However, it’s implicated in a slew of health concerns, including carcinogenic properties, allergies, immunotoxicity, organ toxicity, skin/lung/eye irritation, and bioaccumulation.
  • Added to absorb water and maintain moisture.
  • Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database Page
  • Skin Deep Rating: 7 (out of 10)

May Also Contain . . .

Orange 4 (CI 15510)

Red 33 (CI 17200)

Blue 1 (CI 42090)

Yellow 10 (CI 47005)

Green 5 (CI 61570)

And that’s that, the ingredients profile. If you want see how they all work together, here is the Skin Deep Database page for a sample color. I chose my most recent inspiration, Infrared. As a whole the product receives a Safety Rating of 5.

Whew! That was a lot of work. I sorta wish the company had just written back to me, but oh well. Now you have the information, plain and simple. And you can make your own, informed, choice.

[ sources: (1) (2) (3) ]

  • misha bodnar

    When Xanthe was 2 ,she drank a whole bunch of
    Manic Panic Toxic Blue.
    I thought she was gonna die.
    I was very happy to find out that stuff was NOT
    I’m glad it does’nt really dye that well.

  • Sayward

    @ misha bodnar – That’s crazy man!

  • Amanda

    Do you find the no ‘poo method makes you hairdye come out faster? Do you take any special care (outside of bs/acv) in treating/cleaning your hair?

    Thanks :)

  • Sayward

    @ Amanda – Well I’ve only been doing no-poo for a little over a month, so it’s really hard to say. I’ve heard that BS is a lightener, but then I only ‘wash’ my hair once a week, which would seem to prevent fading. So, I just don’t know. I haven’t noticed a huge difference yet, but I think I need more time to really evaluate. Sorry!

  • Cayce

    I used to live by this stuff! I haven’t heard of it in years. Ahh. Not so sure I’d use it now though…by this list of ingredients. When I go no-poo (I sometimes use a non-toxic shampoo, but otherwise don’t) I don’t use anything except water and a scalp massage to wash my hair. After the initial break in period you really don’t need the baking soda unless you use hair products.

  • Sayward

    @ Cayce – Yeah, I’ve also been going for longer periods without BS. Alas, I do use products so I need to wash t once in a while =)

  • Miranda

    Thank you for this. I’ve noticed every time I used the blue Manic Panic on my naturally blonde hair–and I use just a little on one lock, underneath by left ear–peeking out and intriguing people, I get a sore throat. It’s very weird.

  • Sayward

    @ Miranda – Very strange! Could definitely be an allergy. Does it happen with other colors or just the blue? Does it happen when you eat blue ‘food’/candy?

  • Krysta Davis

    Thank you! and I love, their amazing and I love manic panic. The best part is that the stuff is safe! How can it get any better than that? :)

  • Palm Oil Free

    Safe for humans – maybe. Safe for the environment or the endangered Orangutan? Not so much.

  • Heidi

    Thank you for taking the time to research this! It shows there are toxic or semi-toxic ingredients as well as a lot of “unknowns” (meaning the toxicity will be clarified in the future after more studies). I don’t know how anyone could think this is a “safe” product after looking over the links you provide–??? Remember the FDA passes things daily that end up killing a lot of people because they skipped the in-depth research part (Vioxx etc.)I just go with my reaction if I feel different (sick, down, coughing, hurting)after using a hair dye probably my body is working on processing toxins that got absorbed and probably that is not a good thing to continue using :( And on amazon it says not to let it touch the scalp in BOLD – probably because they know it’s potentially harmful to absorb into the body

  • Emily

    I never reccomend hair dyes for animals, always kool aid mix if someone wanted to dye their pets or food coloring. But would manic panic be suggestive for pet dying? I go against the idea and now i kinda go against it even more. (A friends gf wants to dye a rat with mp.) What do you think?

  • Sayward

    @ Emily – I do not think it would be appropriate to dye a rat.

  • Emily

    me iether, im agaist it really. but my friends gf isnt all too bright and used manic panic to mke her baby yellow….she insists on it, so is there an alternative to dyes?

  • Catnip

    Emily, I dyed a bright streak in my four year-old’s hair with shampoo, vinegar and wilton icing paste.

  • Emily

    Really, how do they work together? And whats icing paste?

  • Trish

    Great Job Girl,
    Its nice to find out the truth before I used it
    so many people are using it on their pets because its says non toxic

  • Christine

    I hadn’t dyed my hair since I was about 25, I’m 35 now. I went Flamingo Pink yesterday! Thanks for your inspiration.
    I check out EWG’s website a lot and keep most of my products under a toxic score of 3 or 4, so I figure because I’m so good most of the time and I eat well that I can throw on a few chemicals every now and then. It’s a fun change, it’s less permanent than a tattoo and more permanent than glitter eyeliner. :)

  • Sayward

    @ Christine – Woo-hoo, congrats on the pink! Love to hear that from a lady in her 30s (like me!) And I totally agree, we live super clean green lives and a little something less-than-stellar here and there is not an issue.


  • Pikachubite

    umm so is it safe or not safe?? cause i used it 3 times already and to keep useing it my dad said he wanted to kno the ingredients ….

  • Sayward Rebhal

    “Safe” is a relative term! Depends on the individual’s definition. For me, I think it’s safe. =)

  • Avi

    Don’t use it on your cats. I did research into this and at least one of the ingredients is very dangerous for cats. Propylene glycol is bad for cats and dogs but studies show it’s hard to kill a dog with it but easy to kill a cat with it. Cats are much more sensitive than dogs and humans to things on their skin. Also they lick anything you put on their fur. Certain things that are fine for us are bad for them. For example essential oils are dangerous for cats and things like garlic and onions are toxic for cats and dogs. Propylene glycol actual has a similar reaction in a cats system as garlic and onion do. I don’t know exactly how much will kill a cat or a dog but just to be safe I wouldn’t dye them. You might be able to fine something that would be safe for dyeing a dog but cats have such sensitive skin I doubt you’d find anything that’s safe for them.

  • Avi

    It’s fairly safe in my opinion. But most lotions, shampoos, conditioners, sunscreen products, make-up, etc… contain fairly dangerous ingredients. Recently I went through most of the more natural products I buy. They were better than the less natural products but most of then still weren’t very safe. I think I may stop using sunscreen and just wear hats. Or maybe I’ll make more of my own products in the future. I found only a few things that I regulary buy that are extremely safe. One being a very local organic salve, lotion and lip balm company. If you own any mainstream company make-up that isn’t more natural they are probably more toxic for you than Manic Panic. You can look up products you own here

  • fm

    Very nice!

    Just a note about methylparaben, and really about most bioactive substances: it is the dose that makes the poison.

    Methylparaben occurs naturally in many fruits including blueberries, where it acts as an antimicrobial agent. It may be reasonable to assume that the dose to achieve this would be similar in hygienic products. In any case, at concentrations vastly exceeding individual intake of methylparaben, a number of studies have found no evidence of short or long-term effects.

  • fm
  • Island Girl

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this. I’ve been looking into using this dye as a vegan, cruelty-free alternative now that I’m getting my first greys. I looked at tons of sites and yours was the one that broke it all down. Super helpful. Thanks!

    Jennifer in Newfoundland

  • Devon

    how do I get the red out? (Manic Panic/Vampire Red) I have been using Naturtint Dark Blonde and then put the Vampire Red on and it won’t come out. I shampooed with ‘baby shampoo’, soaked for hours with honey, vinegar, rosemary, sage…still bright red…. then days later applied the 6N Naturtint and the red won’t go away…the ends are starting to turn more brown but my 4 inch roots are still burgundy. My hair is already porous from using the 6N Naturtint for years (I used the Vampire Red last year and it came/eventualy shampooed out fine but for some reason this year I can’t get rid of the red). I would not have done this for a second time except for the fact that the first time it turned out fine and went away. This time the red won’t go away. I don’t want to cut my hair all off and can’t afford $200 for a professional (who might screw my hair up even more….uh, been there PAID for that, trust me, just because they charge a fortune does not mean they fix it!)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Hi Devon, yeah Manic Panic is semi-permanent so it won’t really wash out. You’ll just have to wait for it to fade or else you’ll have to use a lightener (ie bleach) which unfortunately, will damage your hair. I wish I had something better to tell you!

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  • Andrea Brooks

    The best “cat safe” alternative is kolaid in my experience. It lasts a good while, is food grade and has the added benefit of making your furry friend smell fruity, too.

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  • Melissa

    After using this product my daughter broke out in a rash everywhere. We had no idea, very informative thank you.

  • Kaitlynne

    Manic panic has, on their website, a rinse that gets color out of hair as much as possible. Check their website.

  • Kathy

    I just tried manic panic for the first time like 2 days ago and it is being bothering me a lot since it gave me alergies amd i guess they wont go away until i remove this thing from my hair so i have to keep taking pills for it :(

  • Stephanie Da’Prettiest Refuse

    Do anyone think surya henna cream is safe to use

  • Loretta 52stillookingreat

    I have used it for 2yrs now and it is great with no side effects. It’s easier
    to use than messy powder henna and it definitely covers all the grey
    hairs. Henna and indigo wouldn’t make my hair black anymore .I
    have a natural afro again at 52, and black hair with resistant grey streeks.
    Before I used henna, I had a bad
    reaction to hair dye with ppds, look it up on google and see the videos
    on youtube, my face was swollen up for a month, it looked like I had the mumps. So give surya henna a try, it works
    I also have the mask and leave in conditioner both very moisturizing but
    you’ll still need your favorite oils, styling gels, sprays,or seal

  • anon

    The FDA also allows rat feces in food. Sure you want to link there? lol

  • Poison Candy

    I jus tried manic panic 3 days ago. after applying and waiting It rinsed right out leaving no color, my tub is now backed up and worst of all I’ve had the worst head ache for three days in the same spot! I can usually handle any pain but this is driving me nuts to where I’m gonna cry for real!

  • Poison Candy

    forgot to ask is that normal for manic panic? I’m usually a “splat” girl. NVR USING THIS CRAP AGAIN! plz let me know if I’m the onlt one this has happened too!! thanx :)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    No, I’ve never heard of that happening to anyone before. I’d maybe consider other possible sources of the headache? I guess it’s possible there was something you were allergic to, but that wouldn’t explain the backed up tub. Sorry, I don’t know what to tell you!

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  • Ashley Nichole Wike

    I have had manic panic vampire red in for about 2 weeks. I loved the color at first but it has faded so fast!!!! Every time I shower and wash my hair I loose so much dye. The top is still pretty red but the bottom of my hair is this ugly brown red color. Does anyone else have this problem? And does anyone know of a perm color that is the same as this?

  • Catherine Chandler

    How did she break out in a rash? It’s not supposed to touch your skin.

  • Catherine Chandler

    I’m going to guess you a) didn’t use it on freshly washed hair or b) have dark hair and tried to use a light color

  • boni

    You were so smart to use Skin Deep. Skin Deep is the best thing that ever happened to women! There are so many products out there—makeup, hair dye, personal care items, cosmetics—and the companies that make them are subject to ZERO regulation by the FDA. We are basically guinea pigs for them! Use Skin Deep!

  • boni

    oops. In my excitement to post, I mistyped the website! Skin Deep is at

  • Alicia Heart

    I feel everytime I use manic panic I wanna throw up after I rinse and blow dry. It feels like I’m intoxicated. Has this happen to you guys? Thanks

  • Rachel De Jong

    People are using this on rabbits to,who have highly sensitive skins and digestive systems,as a self grooming animal they can inject the dye which could irritate the gut

  • KikiRingette

    5 out of 10 or 5