Is It Safe to Dye Your Hair When Pregnant?
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Deciding what hair treatments are safe during pregnancy can be tricky. The jury is still out on the best options for you and your developing baby, however, it’s a generally safe bet to err on the side of caution. This might mean forgoing full dye for highlights for several months, seeking out less toxic options or strictly following all FDA precautions. To help you stay fleeky and safe during pregnancy, we enlisted the expert opinion of Kardashian colorist Andrew Fitzsimons.
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Be Aware of your Scalp
“You may often hear a variety of opinions when it comes to dyes and chemicals during pregnancy,” he tells us. “Some doctors recommend stopping all treatments, some may say to continue after the third trimester. Truth is that there aren’t many studies to prove the effects of chemical treatments on pregnancy. There are pores on your scalp that may have the potential of absorbing chemicals and passing it on to your child, so I would say to skip the treatments altogether,” he advises.
This echoes the sentiments of Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D. who told the Mayo Clinic, that while only a fraction of what you’re putting into your scalp will actually penetrate your skin, if you happen to have a cut, more chemical may enter the body than desired. “Theoretically, your skin only absorbs a limited amount of hair dye and other hair grooming and styling products. However, if your skin is infected or irritated, or if there is a break in your skin, you may absorb more of the chemicals in hair dye than usual,” she explains, though adding “research on the use of hair dye during pregnancy is limited.”
Cheat with Highlights and Lowlights
Though there is no concrete evidence that dyes can affect the fetus, Dr. Butler notes that if it’s something you’re concerned about, pump the breaks. “Given the lack of available evidence, you might consider postponing any chemical hair treatments until after you deliver,” she explains.
If you still want to dye your locks, keep chemicals concentrated to the hair follicle. “Avoid treatments that are placed directly on the scalp such as single process color or keratin treatments,” says Andrew. “Highlights and lowlights are the safer option, since the dye is placed on the shaft of the hair instead,” he offers.
Hair Treatments to Avoid and to Book
According to Andrew, off limits treatments are anything that touches the scalp. This includes Brazilian blowouts/keratin treatments, full bleaching and single process dye (whether perm or semi-perm), relaxers and perms. To find out why that makes sense, we did some digging on what these treatments are made of…
Brazilian blowouts / Keratin treatment
These anti-frizz treatments are made with methylene glycol. Though not formaldehyde itself, when heat (the blow dryer) reacts to methylene glycol, formaldehyde is released into the air. This realization has sparked an Environmental Working Group lawsuit campaigning for transparency.
Relaxers contain lye (made from sodium hydroxide) or can be made without lye (and instead with potassium, lithium, or guanidine hydroxide). Though the latter seems harmless, both are risky – those without lye perform the same chemically and are only slightly less toxic than those with it.
Perms should be avoided while pregnant mostly because of the super long processing time. Also, OMG who knew, pregnancy hormones can alter the way the perm takes in your hair so this is an around don’t.
Bleach is made from hydrogen peroxide, which is essentially poisonous.
Semi-permanent color washes out after 4-12 shampoos and causes less damage to the hair than permanent (shampoo resistant) color. However, semi-perm still contains chemicals that remove melanin and penetrate the hair shaft – kind of harsh esp if you’re carrying.
Permanent dye contains aromatic amines and phenols, which were found to case cancer in mice – as well as other unhealthy chemicals like araphenylenediamine (PPD), and “coupler molecules” such as resorcinol.
The takeaway is that any treatment that penetrates directly into your skin could potentially be toxic, whether it is inhaled or absorbed. If you’re going to take part in any of these treatments, according to AmericanPregancy.org, you should wait until your second trimester just to be safe. In all cases, make sure the treatment is performed in an area that’s well ventilated.
Extensions + highlights and lowlights
To take your chances of toxicity down to no way, extensions and weaves are the best (and most fun) way to cheat color. Otherwise, lowlights and highlights get Andrew’s full stamp of approval – since they are not directly touching the scalp and only affecting the hair, there’s pretty much no risk involved.
What the FDA has to say
If you do decide you simply can’t hold off, Dr. Butler explains that you should follow the Food and Drug Administration’s guidelines for safety when applying at home hair, which include the following rules of thumb:
Follow package directions carefully
Wear gloves when applying hair dye
Leave the dye on your hair no longer than directed
Rinse your scalp thoroughly after using hair dye
Do a patch test
Look for non-toxic
The FDA passed a decision to stop the use of lead acetate as an additive in hair dye as recently as October 30th. The decision came as a response to scientific data proving that this lead acetate does in fact do harm—and was a long time coming. “In the nearly 40 years since lead acetate was initially approved as a color additive, our understanding of the hazards of lead exposure has evolved significantly. We now know that the approved use of lead acetate in adult hair dyes no longer meets our safety standard. Lead exposure can have serious adverse effects on human health, including for children who may be particularly vulnerable. Moreover, there are alternative color additives for hair coloring products that consumers can use that do not contain lead as an ingredient,” commented FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. Taking this message into consideration, it’s definitely worthwhile to know what’s going into your dye and opt for a safer formula—pregnant or not.
“The FDA’s decision is a step in the right direction,” says Andrew. “My clients and I spend so much time around formulas, anytime we can use cleaner options, we do, but it’s great when there are larger pushes towards less toxic ingredients.”
Non-toxic Options Do Exist
Some great non-toxic dye options include Lush’s henna collection – an all natural (although hugely permanent) plant-based alternative to typical hair dye, which is a great option if you’re going darker or redder. If you still want a dye that performs like regular color but minus the chemicals, check out Original and Mineral. The brand has pioneered Clean Color Technology (made without PPD, ammonia or resorcinol) and instead with their brand of molecular blend technology and certified organic Macadamia oil. It’s harsh-chemical free but will still dye your hair (finally)! Hairprint – which is just for darker hair tones (it’s not made for blondes or redheads yet)-works to restore natural color, well, naturally. Made from food grade ingredients, the kit removes chemicals already present in your hair while reversing greying. Though it sounds sci-fi, editors swear by it.
Of course, before you do anything that might be considered risky or try out any new hair treatment (plant-based or otherwise), it’s always best to consult your physician.