Pregnancy and hair coloring: safety, precautions and alternatives

A person uses hair dye to change the color of their hair. A pregnant person may worry that the chemicals in hair dye will harm their fetus. However, the small amount of chemicals absorbed should not be harmful.

Hair dyes can contain potentially harmful chemicals. The skin can absorb these chemicals through the skin when applied to the hair.

However, if used correctly, the amount of chemicals absorbed during the hair dye process should not be harmful to the fetus.

Read on to learn more about the safety of using hair dye during pregnancy, hair dye alternatives, and the safety of other hair treatments during pregnancy.

Although limited research is available, researchers believe that it is not harmful for a person to dye their hair during pregnancy.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology states that many experts consider hair dye not toxic to the fetus. Based on animal studies, the scalp only absorbs small amounts of chemicals.

There are different types of hair dye that a person can use, including:

  • permanent
  • semi-permanent
  • temporary

Permanent dyes may contain stronger chemicals than semi-permanent or temporary dyes. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the permanence of a hair dye makes it more harmful to the fetus.

2018 research found that women who dyed their hair before pregnancy were more likely to have low birth weight babies.

However, the researchers did not mention how often people dyed their hair before becoming pregnant. Additionally, they did not collect data regarding the use of hair dyes during pregnancy.

Hairdressers and cosmetologists

There is no recommendation for hairdressers or cosmetologists to stop working during pregnancy. A 2015 meta-analysis notes that hairdressers and cosmetologists may have a slight higher risk of:

However, many different factors could contribute to these small increases, such as:

  • ventilation
  • work conditions
  • Business hours
  • exposure to various chemicals

A person should perform a patch test each time they dye their hair. A patch test involves applying a small amount of dye to a person’s skin before dyeing their hair.

Patch testing can help see if a person is allergic to any of the hair dye ingredients. Allergic reactions to hair dye can cause serious symptoms, such as throat swelling and difficulty breathing.

the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends the following steps for a patch test:

  1. Apply a small amount of dye to the inside of the elbow or behind the ear.
  2. Leave the dye on the skin for 48 hours.
  3. If there is a rash after 48 hours, do not use the hair dye.

If a hairstylist dyes a person’s hair in a salon, they must perform a patch test.

The FDA also recommends the following safety tips when dyeing hair at home:

  • Always follow the instructions on the packaging.
  • Always wear gloves.
  • Never use hair dye to dye eyebrows or eyelashes, as it can cause serious injury or blindness.
  • Rinse scalp thoroughly with water after dyeing hair.
  • Never mix two different hair dyes.
  • Do not scratch or brush the scalp for 3 days before dyeing the hair.
  • Do not dye the hair if the scalp is irritated, sunburned or damaged.
  • Wait at least 2 weeks after straightening, perming or bleaching the hair before dyeing it.
  • Read the ingredient list and make sure the dye does not contain substances that have previously caused problems.

People should also avoid leaving hair dye on longer than recommended. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) advises leaving the dye on the hair for the minimum time recommended on the can.

Also, they suggest that a person may wish to wait until after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is when the risk of chemicals harming the fetus is much lower.

To minimize exposure to chemicals, some doctors suggest people wait until after pregnancy to dye their hair. Others may recommend waiting until after the first trimester.

If a person uses hair dye at home, they should try to keep the space well-ventilated. They can do this by opening windows and doors or by using ceiling fans.

A person can also reduce their exposure to chemicals by lightening their hair rather than dyeing it. Highlighting hair involves using a cap that covers the scalp, which can reduce the amount of dye that reaches a person’s skin.

To reduce their exposure to chemicals, hairdressers and cosmetologists can:

  • use protective gear, such as gloves
  • work in well ventilated areas
  • avoid eating and drinking in the workplace
  • take frequent breaks
  • practice safe handling and storage of hair care products

If a person does not want to use chemical dyes during pregnancy, alternatives are available.

The NHS notes that some dyes are plant-based or use henna. Henna is a natural dye that comes from the leaves of the henna tree. There are also chemical hair dyes without bleach or ammonia.

A person can use natural dyes the same way they use chemical hair dyes. Henna comes in powder or cream form. If a person uses henna powder, they will need to mix it with water to form a paste before application.

Natural dyes may not last as long as chemical dyes and may fade sooner. They also may not produce as strong a color as chemical dyes or have as many colors available.

Pregnancy can affect the typical condition of a person’s hair. The NHS advises carrying out a wick test before applying the dye to the rest of the hair.

Here are some frequently asked questions about using hair dyes and other hair treatments during pregnancy.

If a person is concerned about using hair dye or hair treatments during pregnancy, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

Will the use of hair dyes increase the risk of pregnancy loss?

The non-profit organization Mother To Baby states that no human pregnancy studies suggest that using hair dyes during pregnancy may increase the risk of pregnancy loss.

He points out that the amount of chemicals the scalp can absorb is very low with typical use and very little would reach the fetus.

Is hair dye safe to use while nursing or nursing?

Information from Mother To Baby indicates that the effects of hair dye on a breastfed baby are unknown. However, they note that hair dye is unlikely to affect them.

The NHS states that only a very small amount of the chemicals in hair dye will enter the bloodstream. As a result, a person will not be able to pass a significant amount through breast milk.

Is it safe to bleach hair during pregnancy?

There is no evidence to suggest that bleaching hair could be harmful during pregnancy. Mother To Baby states that no hair treatment is currently known to be harmful to the fetus.

Is it safe to perm or use relaxers during pregnancy?

Hairdressers use chemicals to perm or relax a person’s hair.

A study 2021 explored the relationship between chemical hair product use during pregnancy and gestational age at delivery. It found no difference in birth weight or premature birth among people who used chemical permanents or relaxers 3 months before pregnancy or during pregnancy compared to those who did not.

There is currently no evidence to suggest that a person should not perm or relax their hair during pregnancy.

If a person has questions or concerns about hair treatments during pregnancy, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

There is no evidence to suggest that any hair treatment, including hair dye, is harmful during pregnancy. As a precaution, a doctor may recommend that a person wait until the end of their pregnancy or the first trimester before dyeing their hair.

A person should always perform a patch test before dyeing their hair. Additionally, a person should follow certain precautions to limit their exposure to hair dye chemicals.

Various vegetable or herbal dyes are available if a person does not wish to use chemical hair dyes. However, these dyes may fade more quickly or produce a less vibrant result.

If a person has any concerns about hair treatment during pregnancy, they should speak with a healthcare professional.

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Susan W. Lloyd