Deciding to undergo any kind of chemical treatment during pregnancy can be nerve-racking. Of course, the level of time you obsess over this kind of thing largely depends on the type of person you are. I’ll give an example of the depths my neurotic nature took me during my pandemic pregnancy for context. Instead of eating whatever was in sight, I meticulously surveyed any and everything that went into my body. I think the apex of this was spitting out pierogies I had been craving because I found out there was farmer’s cheese in them (evidently a no-no due to unpasteurization). I sat in my kitchen alone chewing but not swallowing a very likely harmless doughy pierogi I had microwaved into oblivion because why risk it? I changed my deodorant to the natural kind and tried to live as chemical-free as possible, without being too smelly or starving. On the other end of the spectrum, a good friend of mine who was also pregnant enjoyed brie cheese and salamis and all the other no-no’s, crediting her French husband for unlocking this confidence. Ultimately, both of our babies are perfect but I was definitely the more risk-averse. All this to bring up the perm. Can you get a perm while pregnant? We asked two gynecologists to weigh in, so you can determine if you want to sacrifice curls for nine-ish months or live wavy.
So, Can You Get a Perm While You’re Pregnant?
Dr. Monica Grover, a Double Board Certified Gynecologist at VSPOT Sexual Health Spa stresses that there is no evidence that a perm is harmful, but the story doesn’t end there. “There is not sufficient evidence that a perm can cause harm to a fetus. What needs to be taken into account is the processing time and scalp absorption. The longer the processing time, the more there is a risk of absorption into the scalp and possibly into the bloodstream. It is also advisable to stay away from perm chemicals that contain lye as it can be potentially caustic to living tissues. Toluidines are also chemicals in perms that should be advised against as they are found to be carcinogenic to both the fetus and the mother. Inhalation of prolonged or repeated exposure to these chemicals can also cause respiratory issues for the pregnant mother, as well as discomfort due to decreased respiratory reserve from the increased pressure of the diaphragm against the lungs as a result of the expanding uterus,” she explains.
But Should You Get a Perm?
Dr. Carolyn DeLucia, MD, echoes this sentiment. “You can get a perm but should you? That is the big question. No one knows. The danger exists when wondering how much of the chemicals used get absorbed by the scalp. So, if a woman desires to be most conservative she should avoid getting a perm. If she desires to take a chance, which as an Ob/Gyn I cannot condone, she should wait until the first trimester is over. That would mean after three months.” Dr. DeLucia notes that not too many women are willing to risk a perm while pregnant. “There have not been any studies on fetuses in women who received perms or hair dye. Let’s think about it; would you say, ‘Let my unborn baby be a test subject to see if perms are safe in pregnancy. I need to know?’ That is where the problem lies. Not enough women are willing to take the risk simply to answer this question for women in general.”
While Dr. DeLucia notes that she recommends avoiding any treatment during the first trimester, if you’re desperate, she says to go for “highlights or tip lightening because these do not involve scalp contact.” Again, it comes down to what’s being absorbed into your body—if it’s touching your hair only, it’s not as detrimental.
What Other Hair Treatments Should You Avoid?
While with child, it’s better to opt for natural everything. Dr. Grover recommends organic. “Organic hair dyes that are 10 minute processing times and are not necessarily in direct contact with the scalp can be considered safe,” she says. As far as hair services are concerned, you may have to just wait it out. “Avoid hair chemicals that also contain ammonia, or Para-phenylenediamine (PPD), if possible. Hair dyes that go on as highlights/lowlights or balayage, have the least contact with the scalp as they are processed by foils which can act as a protective barrier against the scalp. It is also recommended to avoid any hair chemicals during the first 12 weeks of gestation as this is when the fetus is going through the most sensitive cellular changes during development. Also, when scheduling an appointment, try to schedule the first appointment of the day, as there are fewer chemicals that have accumulated and will not be inhaled,” she continues.
When Can You Get a Perm Post-Pregnancy?
Dr. Grover recommends waiting three to six months postpartum to get a perm or other chemical treatments. “Pregnancy hormones even after delivery can alter the texture of a woman’s hair and how it will respond to the chemicals as well as any significant hair loss during pregnancy or thereafter can be accelerated with these chemicals as well,” she shares. Dr. DeLucia is less conservative on time, saying “a perm can be done as soon as they desire.”
Whatever you decide, be sure to consult your OB before impulsively booking a service. “Overall, many of these treatments have not had many studies but should be first discussed with the Obstetrician/Gynecologist prior to doing a treatment,” Dr. Grover confirms.
Why Should You Avoid Perms and Other Hair Treatments While Pregnant?
If you’re looking for a pep talk, Dr. DeLucia’s got you. Remember, pregnancy is just practice for motherhood and putting your needs after your baby’s. It’s beyond worth it but this isn’t the last sacrifice you will have to make. “The most important issue is to have a healthy baby. Keep priorities straight,” she stresses. “Think before trying to get pregnant about what you are willing to tolerate as far as your hair is concerned. Do not change your hair color and then get pregnant and freak out when the roots start to show. Perhaps return to your natural color before getting pregnant. As far as perms, perhaps get a fresh perm right before trying to conceive. Do this only if you are okay with a year’s worth of growth at the root. Just realize the health of your baby is the most important responsibility you have while being pregnant. Avoid anything that would endanger your developing child.”