Can You Dye Your Hair While Pregnant?

Love changing up your look but are unclear whether it's safe to color your hair while expecting? Experts share the truth behind whether it's okay to dye your hair while pregnant.

Hair Health Hotline: Is it Safe to Dye Your Hair While Pregnant?
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Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.

If you're pregnant, you probably have a mental running list of the things to avoid or limit during the next nine-ish months: alcohol, caffeine, sushi, the list goes on. And given that some skin-care products are also best avoided if you're expecting (looking at you, retinoids), you might be wondering about your typical hair-care routine. Specifically, if you can dye your hair while pregnant.

If you're seeking clarity on whether or not you should cancel your standing color appointment or learn to embrace the grays, keep reading for the details on whether you can dye your hair while pregnant from Stephanie Hack M.D., ob-gyn and host of Lady Parts Doctor podcast.

Q: I color my hair and heard that some of the chemicals in hair dye could be harmful to pregnant women. Can you dye your hair when you're pregnant, or is it unsafe?

A: If you're looking for a simple yes/no answer, then yes, it's fine to continue coloring your hair throughout pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Specifically, ACOG noted on the organization's website in 2020 that the general consensus among professionals is that it's safe to dye your hair when pregnant. "Most experts think that using hair dye during pregnancy is not toxic for your fetus," the statement reads. "...Studies on animals show that high doses of these chemicals do not cause serious birth defects. Also, only a small amount of chemicals from hair dye is absorbed through the scalp." In sum, "there's nothing really to be concerned about," says Dr. Hack.

As mentioned, studies have looked into whether it's possible that chemicals in hair dye could get absorbed by a pregnant person's skin, enter their blood supply, travel to the fetus through the umbilical chord, and cause the fetus harm. Some of the chemicals sometimes found in hair dyes (phenylenediamine (PPD), aminophenols, and ethanolamine, specifically) have been studied for their potential to cause birth defects, and seemed to increase the risk when administered to animals in "very high doses," according to an article published in Canadian Family Physician. But human studies have found that the chemicals "are unlikely to reach the placenta in substantial amounts to cause harm to the unborn fetus," according to the article.

Of course, there's no harm in putting off your color treatments until after you've given birth. "If you really, really want to have an abundance of caution, then my recommendation for my pregnant patients is always just to wait," says Dr. Hack. "In the event that something happens, you don't want to end up in a situation where you're blaming yourself, even if it was something that's out of your control."

Hair Health Hotline: Is it Safe to Dye Your Hair While Pregnant?
Courtesy of Stephanie Hack

Extra Precautions When Dying Your Hair While Pregnant

You can reconsider the type of dye you use if you're still uneasy with the idea of using your normal hair dye during your pregnancy. "If you want to take some precautions, you can use a semi-permanent hair dye or a temporary dye or something more gentle such as a vegetable or henna-based dye," says Dr. Hack. "Other [precautions] would be using highlights instead, since they're not really going to be placed on the scalp, and so there's going to be less absorption of the dye. Only a small little bit of that dye is actually absorbed into the scalp, and even less of that is going to get to the baby [through the umbilical cord],but if you really, really wanted to be cautious, highlights [or one of the aforementioned types of dyes] would be safer."

If you decide to dye your hair and plan to use a box dye at home, there are some precautions you should always take whether or not you're pregnant. Namely, make sure to find a well-ventilated space, wear gloves, make sure to thoroughly rinse the dye out, and follow all other package directions carefully, advises Dr. Hack.

You should also test out the dye on a strand of hair before dying your whole head (or inform your colorist that you're pregnant so they know to do so), says Dr. Hack. Yes, even if you've used hair dye for years without issue. "During pregnancy, the hormone levels in your body are changing," says Dr. Hack. "There are some hormones that aren't typically there, such as placenta hormones, for example. And so your body can respond differently. So you may just want to do a little test run or a little trial of hair just in case you don't quite have the result you expect."

If you're pregnant and you're not a fan of your natural shade, rest assured that most experts think it's safe to continue dying your hair during pregnancy. If you're still conflicted, you can consider trying gentler hair dye options or touching base with your ob-gyn for personalized advice.

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