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The Final Word on Hair Color & Pregnancy

Nov22

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Amy,

I know you’ve written about this topic before, but I’m hoping you’re willing to talk about it one more litttttttle time for me.

Hair color and pregnancy. I’m about seven weeks pregnant. I’ve read that it’s considered safe and I know that many women continue to get their hair colored and/or highlighted throughout their pregnancies, but then all the books I have add in that dreaded caveat that you should still “ask your doctor.”

So I did. And my doctor did this whole not very helpful wishy-washy thing about it PROBABLY being safe and okay and fine but you know, if I’m at all concerned it’s probably better to just stop coloring my hair. (She also gave similar answers to some of my questions about specific foods and medicines, so I left my appointment feeling afraid to do/use/eat/drink anything!)

I have very, very dark brown hair and noticed my first grey hairs when I was all of 26 years old. Amy, I do not want to see inches of grey roots for the next seven-and-a-half months! I don’t want to look at grey hair in every photo taken of me while pregnant and at the hospital. I also don’t want to be selfish. Add to the dilemma the fact that my dear worrywart husband was at the appointment with me and now of course believes that I shouldn’t color my hair or indulge in a single piece of sushi or even blue cheese dressing for the next 33 weeks.

I’m pretty sure you said you highlighted your hair during your pregnancies (right? am I a stalker now?), and I know you changed to red hair (which I love!) and I imagine that’s a single-process thing? So are you planning to continue getting it colored? Switch back to highlights? Let it grow out and do nothing at all?

I’m already prone to OCD-like thinking when it comes to stuff like this and I really, really wanted to have a calm, rational sort of pregnancy where I wasn’t obsessing and anxious over every little thing I do, and that REALLY won’t happen if I follow my doctor’s rationale and completely eliminate every. little. tiny. thing. that I’m possibly concerned about.

Really, is it okay if I let advice I see ALL OVER THE INTERNET trump what my doctor says in this case?

Sign me,
I Grew More Grey Hairs Just Writing This Email

All right, let’s just get the extraneous personal details out of the way: I did indeed continue to get my hair highlighted during both of my first two pregnancies. This doesn’t mean I was going to the salon and getting chemicals smeared on my scalp every month or anything — I probably got no more than two applications during each pregnancy.

I also plan to continue coloring my hair this time. You’re right, my red color is an all-over single-process color, although it is actually just a semi-permanent dye. (No ammonia.) I get the roots touched up and the color “freshened” about every 8-10 weeks. I go with the semi-permanent color because red dye over old growing-out blond dye can go very, very wrong and can be very, very hard on your hair since it requires a lot of upkeep. The semi-permanent is super gentle and non-damaging. It does fade, but it fades less and less the more times I have it done. If I stopped coloring, though, I’d probably be back to more or less my natural color in about four months.

Needless to say, I have ZERO concerns about semi-permanent hair color and my pregnancy. But I don’t think I’d have concerns over “regular” permanent color either. I’ve probably read all of the same pregnancy websites you have, so let’s review the facts:

1) Hair color, even when it sits directly on your scalp for 20 solid minutes, is not absorbed into your skin in any real significant amount. It’s not like lotion. It’s more like…paint. It’s not the greatest stuff, but it’s not the worst, really.

2) The small amount of dye that does absorb does not stay in your system for very long at all, and it’s very unlikely that the dye actually crosses through the placenta where it could actually do some harm. Animal studies have never once revealed any evidence that hair color causes birth defects or abnormalities when dealing with comparable amounts of dye that a normal human would absorb during regular hair appointments. (Translation: Yeah, a study involving injecting a pregnant mouse directly with hair dye is not going to end well, nor is it going to be particularly USEFUL when translating the results to humans.)

3) Hair color has never once been definitely linked to birth defects or abnormalities in human pregnancies, either.

And yet, as you’ve likely seen, the general advice about hair color still likes to include a few “if it makes you feel better” caveats. If you’re worried, “wait until the second trimester” or “wash the color off five minutes earlier” or “switch to henna.” My favorite are the ones about at-home dyes that stress the importance of gloves and coloring in a well-ventilated area. Which, you know, YOU SHOULD BE DOING ALL THE TIME, IN THE FIRST PLACE, EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT PREGNANT. (My second favorite are the ones that then rush to assure pregnant cosmetologists and stylists that their career choice isn’t going to kill their babies because salons and dye formulations have gotten so much safer, yet for some reason the rest of us occasional salon customers are supposed to proceed with incredible caution.)

Is it just an old wives’ tale that won’t die? Everybody covering their ass on the off chance we someday find out we were wrong? Our general tendency to be so overly suspicious about “chemicals” leaving us unable to fathom the idea that some chemicals really actually aren’t that terrible, and that eliminating them doesn’t immediately translate into a big tangible benefit? Another example of women being reduced to not-as-important fetus-growing vessels during pregnancy and thus guilted about our vanity or desires for favorite foods or a glass of wine because OMG WHAT ABOUT TEH BAYBEEEEE?

I don’t know. I do know that I am not a doctor or scientist. Yet I think it’s probably okay for you to make an appointment at your salon. And it’s probably even okay for that appointment to involve the full-on single-process permanent color. (Which is exactly what…let me count…a good half dozen or so of my friends did throughout their pregnancies. The rest of us got permanent highlights. And the one who preferred Manic Panic. Yet zero of us gave birth to mutants.) Though hey, “if it makes you feel better,” sure. Wait until 12 weeks or so. That’s pretty standard advice. Or talk to your stylist about semi-permanent color or try a box of it yourself from the drugstore. (Note that semi-permanent is NOT chemical free, by any means, but it is ammonia free.)

And honestly? You’d probably be justified in going doctor shopping, as well. You DO deserve a peaceful, anxiety and OCD-free pregnancy. And having a doctor who won’t answer a single yes or no question with a declarative sentence isn’t going to help you achieve that, roots or no roots.

__________________________________________________________________
If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “The Final Word on Hair Color & Pregnancy”

  1. Sarah Nov 22 at 12:23 pm Reply Reply

    I never comment, but we must go to the same doctors. I am 37 weeks pregnant now and have yet to get one clear Yes or No answer on anything I asked about: facewashes, hair coloring, Splenda, etc. So I took doing my own research and narrowed out what made me uncomfortable: no artificial sweeteners, highlighting after 12 weeks, and I continued to use my facewash (because no one likes acne). At the end of the day, I think a lot of doctors are scared of lawsuits and don’t want to OK anything that there hasn’t been a ton of research on. Deeply irritating for the patient, but that’s what our litigious society pretty much forced these OBGYNs to do.

  2. Stefanie Nov 22 at 12:38 pm Reply Reply

    I asked my doctor about chemicals on the skin (hair dye, my face lotion) during my pregnancy.  Her response?  “Are you going to eat it?  No?  Then it’s fine.”  I second Amy’s suggestion that you need an OB who will set your mind at ease, not work you up.  Your OB appointment is supposed to be where they debunk all the Googling you’ve been doing since you last saw them, not a time to make you more nervous!  

  3. The Other Amy Nov 22 at 1:48 pm Reply Reply

    “And honestly? You’d probably be justified in going doctor shopping, as well. You DO deserve a peaceful, anxiety and OCD-free pregnancy. And having a doctor who won’t answer a single yes or no question with a declarative sentence isn’t going to help you achieve that, roots or no roots. ”

    THIS is why Amy is the best advice-giver on the ‘net.

    My midwife says not to worry about anything topical – from athlete’s foot cream to the antibiotic I use on my face to lotion to hair dye. However, I can’t stand the smell of salons when I’m pregnant. You might want to wait until you’re out of the 1st trimester if you’re puking, just so you don’t have to deal with the smell.

    (Other smells I can’t stand when pregnant – Yankee Candles, raw meat, dirty diapers, fish…)

  4. Christine Nov 22 at 2:46 pm Reply Reply

    I think the main issue here is liability.  Back in the 60′s there was an anti-nausea medication called Thalidomide, used a LOT in pregnant women.  There was no evidence that it was bad, but it turned out to be really, really bad.  A lot of birth defects.  It got pulled from the market and the company was sued many times, and I believe quite a few doctors were as well.   We now use different standards for determining when we tell pregnant woman what they can have in the US.  Mostly that means something has to be proven to be ok (many times over) rather than just having lack of evidence that something is bad.  Is this good?  Is this bad?  Probably depends on the ingredient.

    My OB was a bit more forthcoming with info and his opinion, though likely because of my background.  I’ve also done a lot of research on my own and have used the library at work to decide what to do with different ingredients.  I’m a beauty blogger, a pediatrician and I’m 32 weeks pregnant.  

    I’m avoiding Retinoids/vitamin A, all hydroxy acids, DHA (aka: sunless tanners) and skin lighteners.  I’m using “Big 3 Free” nail polishes, though the nails are NOT porous and this really is only because all of the brands I use (OPI, Essie, China Glaze and Zoya) are free of the chemicals anyways.  I don’t dye my hair to cover greys, though I had been doing a single process color to take my medium brown hair a bit more auburn.  I swapped over to lowlights (similar to highlights, but darker) when I found out I was pregnant.  Why?  If you watch how it’s put on, they pretty much never touch your head with the color.  It’s a few mm down the hair shaft.  Personally I would have been fine with the color (Amy’s right, it doesn’t really absorb), but it freaked out my over protective, type A personality engineering professor hubby.  So, lowlights, and my hair looks the same anyways, it just takes an extra 20 minutes at the salon.

  5. Brooke Nov 22 at 3:35 pm Reply Reply

    Not that it really matters, but Thalidomide was never approved for use in the US, specifically because there was evidence that it was dangerous. Go FDA!

    And it is really, really difficult to do research on pregnant women, so we don’t have a lot of evidence for most products. Lack of evidence of harm is not at all the same as proof of safety.

    That said, the thought of going to a salon in the first trimester is enough to make me need to go lie down, even three years later. The smells! Shudder.

  6. Christine Nov 22 at 4:38 pm Reply Reply

    True, it wasn’t ever approved for use in the US, but had been distributed very widely worldwide before the evidence came out.  A large number of doctors in the US were given a ton of samples to give out for years before the FDA denial even (I have no idea how they got away with this), and a large number of patients in the US used it as a result.  It was an even bigger issue in Europe, where it had been approved.
    The difficulty in doing research in pregnant women is exactly why so many things are “unknown.”  However, with widespread use of drugs more info is available since sometimes there is no choice but to try it out.

  7. crabbyappleseed Nov 22 at 6:20 pm Reply Reply

    I also went gray at 26. As in, so gray that my stylist threw up his hands and said, “I cannot hide this with highlights anymore. You need to either live with salt and pepper hair in your 20s, or go to all-over color.” I am FAR too vain to go salt and pepper, soooo…there you go.

    I dyed my hair all through my pregnancy with my daughter, and have done so thru my current pregnancy as well. Aside from a few obnoxious habits like waking every day at 5:30 and finding time-outs hilarious, she appears to be fully intact. For whatever that is worth.

  8. Lani B Nov 22 at 8:45 pm Reply Reply

    You might be going to my dad! (Except he’s not an ob). From living with/being family to him, this is what I think:
    1) Like Christine said, a lot of this is due to liability. Heck, even when something is “proven”, you still have people throwing fits (ie vaccines vs autism).
    2) It may be that you are getting “non-answers” because there is NO actual-for-sure-100% answer. My dad will only say “yes” or “no” if it is totally for certain–otherwise he will always try to present you the information to make the decision yourself. It’s annoying as hell, unless you know that is what is coming, and are ok with that.

    Based on 2, if you aren’t ok with that (which will probably involve your own research), then totally find another doctor! Nothing would be worse then to spend this entire time stressing about a personality difference.

  9. Kate Nov 23 at 5:12 am Reply Reply

    My strawberry-blonde look is only acquired through blonde highlights on top of all-over red. The smells made me too nautious during the first 12 weeks, but I went regularly (like, every 6-8 weeks) after that. When I asked my hairdresser if it was okay, he just laughed and said that he had been dying the hair of pregnant women for years and nothing adverse had ever happened beecause of it. I gave birth to an incredibly healthy, bouncy baby boy with nary a problem. So that’s my anecdotal evidence, for what it’s worth.

  10. Katie Nov 23 at 12:12 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t color my hair (yet!), but I asked my hair stylist about this while I was pregnant. She told me that there aren’t currently any concerns from a chemical safety (or whatever) perspective, but that she sometimes prefers not do dye a pregnant mama’s hair because the out-of-whack hormones can cause a person’s hair to react differently to the dye. Hmmm. Never heard that one before.

  11. Nadya Nov 23 at 12:46 pm Reply Reply

    I dyed my hair twice during my pregnancy. Once the day before I gave labor. I gave birth to a vibrant, alert and happy healthy baby girl. I did to semi perminant if that matter and my Dr. told me after the first trimester you are good..so..stop stressing..and indulge because once your baby comes you beauty time is VERY LIMITED!!!

  12. Lisa Nov 23 at 3:03 pm Reply Reply

    I decided that if my hairsylist can go through two pregnancies applying my low/highlights, I could continue receiving them. Also, I’m vain about one thing…my hair. I wasn’t and won’t be giving this up. I also ate lunch meat.

  13. Lisa M Nov 23 at 7:46 pm Reply Reply

    hate hate hate doctors like that…if they’ve been reduced to practicing CYA medicine, then it’s time for the to re-evaluate their careers.

    As far as the dye, I have the dreaded skunk stripe, too. My favorite solution (even when not pregnant, just to not thoroughly trash my hair) is to dye an inch or so on each side of my part, and around the hairline. Then the next time the roots start showing, I do a full head and comb it through for the last 5-10 minutes, depending on the brand; then next another part and harline, repeat as necessary. When you’re doing just the part, do not comb the color through the rest of your hair. Incidentally, I started doing this when I couldn’t justify getting my hair dyed at the salon every 4-5 weeks, but still gettting the skunk stripe around 3-4 weeks.

    Oh and with baby # 2, I was in the salon the day before the scheduled c-section. Looked nice for pictures, and helped my ego since I knew I wouldn’t have time for myself for the next month or so. Totally worth it. :-)

  14. Lizzie Nov 24 at 2:56 pm Reply Reply

    Going back to the person whose hairdresser said hormones and dye don’t always mix…I have been regularly dying my hair a darker brown than my natural “blah” brown (mixed with grey) with a semi-permanent boxed dye off and on for years. However, when I was pregnant, I pretty much stopped because it was pointless. I did it twice, same color/brand/everything and my hair pretty much laughed at the color. It hardly covered the greys at all and the rest of my hair stayed that color for less than a week. So, you know, like I said, pointless!

  15. Carla Nov 25 at 12:02 am Reply Reply

    I think people need to lay off the docs. There are studies conducted every day on almost everything, so new evidence is being revealed all the time. This is why your doctor didn’t have a straight answer for you: because there ISN’T one. As further proven by the response given. It sounds like this woman just wants a doctor to tell her that it’s ok.

  16. lindswing Nov 26 at 12:41 am Reply Reply

    W

  17. class factotum Dec 02 at 1:46 pm Reply Reply

    RE: Thalidomide. We lived in Spain (on a military base) when I was a kid, 1969-73. There was a girl in my 3rd grade class whose fingers started at her shoulders. No arms. Just fingers. I suspect she was a thalidomide baby.

  18. anica Jun 14 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    HENNA…. AND NO NASTY CHEMICALS

  19. Mary Jun 28 at 11:00 am Reply Reply

    Just a thought – but has it ever occurred to anyone that the reason why doctors don’t give a straight answer on this topic is because they truly don’t know the answer? Obviously studies haven’t been done on this, so how can they speak definitively on something that has/has not been proven?  Do you want them to tell you they think it’s fine, when there’s no data proving either way if it’s ok or not?  It makes sense that they err on the side of caution and say it’s probably not a good idea. I would do the same thing if I were in their place.  It’s just like with the idea of having botox while pregnant.  If you ask a doctor if it’s safe, of course they will tell you they don’t think it’s a great idea, even if they don’t have any evidence to the contrary.  Why take the risk?

    • Ambaa Oct 10 at 10:07 am Reply Reply

      That’s what I do. I got concerned about dying my hair chemically every three weeks since I was 22 (that would be ten years now) so I switched to henna and I don’t even do the indigo over it to make it black. I love the red! It looks like really beautiful highlights.

      It’s kind of a lot of work when you’re first learning how to use henna, though, You do get used to it, but the first time takes some time!

  20. Melissa Dec 07 at 9:57 pm Reply Reply

    Hi,

    I’m a licensed cosmetologist and can tell you hair color during pregnancy is 100% safe. Years ago (Lucille Ball times) it was unsafe. The reason was because the color molecules were so small that they actually absorbed into the blood stream. These days the color molecules are much larger and do not absorb hence why reds fade so quickly. I myself am a “manufactured” red head. Unfortunately color does not last as long but hey, atleast it’s safe. My advice is if you are concerned at all, go with semi-permanent ammonia free hair color like Amy said. It won’t cover the grey completely but it will deposit enough so you don’t have terrible regrowth. Roots are for trees. Lol good luck. Everything will be fine. :) oh and congratulations!!

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