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Is It Safe? Shampoo Edition

By Amalah

Hi Amy!

So after reading 0-40 like 3 times, wishing and wishing, I’m finally pregnant! Now the worrying starts…I’m very into the whole “CurlyGirl” haircare routine, though altered a bit. I do not use any silicones or “cones” on my hair and I’ve begun using sulfate-free shampoos only. I used to use Head and Shoulders for what I thought was dandruff…now I have a sneaking suspicion it was my scalp freaking out from being stripped every day.

So, basically my issue is that I found a WONDERFUL shampoo, Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat Shampoo. I groan at the price, but it works, my flakes are gone and my hair is not stripped. Yay! But now, Tea Tree Oil is on the NO list for essential oils during pregnancy. I can’t seem to find an answer anywhere on if it’s ok in the dilutions it comes in in shampoo, or if that’s just for putting it directly on your skin “neat”. Please help! I hate to have to go back to H&S, and the itchies and I am for now, but I will go back for good if it’s not safe for the bebe.

Thanks for your advice,
Getting Itchy

According to WebMD
, tea tree oil “SEEMS” to be safe when applied to the skin, even while pregnant or breastfeeding. However, most other sites put it soundly in the DO NOT USE category, simply because the effects are not fully known. Which is almost always the problem with the natural remedies: the FDA (as imperfect as it is already) doesn’t monitor them, so there’s no driving force for companies to pony up money for in-depth clinical studies, particularly studies that would involve experimenting on pregnant mice or rats (as no human being is going to offer up her fetus in the name of essential oil science). And OF COURSE, this is a big no-no for anything marketed as natural and organic and cruelty-free and all those other words we like so much.

The result? We just don’t know how safe a lot of this stuff is, so pregnant women are told to avoid a lot of stuff that MIGHT really be safe in small amounts. But when you don’t know for sure, who wants to risk it?

Personally, I do enjoy poking holes in the overly long list of foods and substances that pregnant women are banned from — some of it really is stupidly over-the-top and assumes that none of us have any common sense about moderation, and that we need doctors to save us all from like, eating our acne cream. But in this case, I actually do have some concerns.

An “infusion” of tea tree oil applied to the scalp is probably not a huge concern, and the shampoo doesn’t appear to have any warnings about its use in pregnancy. But keep reading the ingredient list, knowing you’ve already got one red flag ingredient:

Infusion of Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree Oil), Peppermint Extract, Eucalyptus Extract, Rosemary Extract, Nettles Extract, Thyme Extract, Birch Leaf Extract, Chamomile Extract, Sage Extract, St. John’s Wort Extract, Coltsfoot Extract, Yarrow Extract, Mallow Extract, Balm Mint Extract, Soy, *Sodium C 12-14 Olefin Sulphonate, Grapefruit Seed Extract, *Betaine, Sodium Chloride, Citric Acid, Trac

Nettles are a controversial herb, with lots of conflicting advice about whether they are a beneficial pregnancy tonic…or whether they can induce miscarriage or early labor, if ingested in the wrong form. Lovely. St. John’s Wort is not considered safe for pregnant women. Coltsfoot extract is a huge NO for pregnant women and actually has been proven to be harmful. Yarrow extract can cause uterine bleeding. Mallow is “unknown.”

Now, are these dangers most likely associated with taking actual supplements and not from a pea-sized dollop of shampoo? Probably. Do we know for sure? Nope. Would I personally use this shampoo while pregnant, particularly during the first trimester? Hell to the no.

You’ve got five or six ingredients with varying degrees of contraindication during pregnancy, which seems sufficient to tip the scales. Your doctor or midwife may disagree if you bring in the bottle and ask them…or they may also shrug and say better safe than sorry, since they can’t absolutely definitively tell you there’s nothing to worry about.

But! Here’s what I hope will happen for you: You get past the misery of the first trimester and experience hair and scalp perfection for the rest of your pregnancy and don’t need to worry about ANY dandruff treatment. I have the oilest, crappiest scalp in the world and it completely corrected itself during both of my pregnancies. Hot damn, my hair was fabulous. Now, it’s back to its old tricks, but at least I no longer have to read ingredients lists for two and can beat it into submission with all the dubious compounds I want.


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


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 Ama...

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 [email protected].

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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This may seem really weird, but I’ve been washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar for about 2 months. It’s been amazing. This site goes into detail on how you go about doing it:


This might seem ridiculous, but I use a tea-tree l based facial wash every morning in the shower (from the Body Shop, a UK-based beauty store) and it never would have occured to me that it could be harmful while pregnant. I’m not currently pregnant, but I may be within a few years, and it seems like a good idea already to be aware of the products I will need to avoid. Alcohol, hair-colour, smoking are obvious no-nos. I would also make an extra effort to eat well, fruit and vegatables and what-not, and take folic acid. Besides that, I… Read more »

Ms. K
Ms. K

Um…what’s wrong with the CurlyGirl hair care regime? I used it all during my first pregnancy, blissfully unaware that it could possibly be detrimental. (I only conditioned/styled my hair once a week or so – again, the whole curly-hair thing – is frequency of exposure significant in this case?) Please explain.


I use the same face cleanser at Sarah – the tea tree foaming cleanser from the Body Shop, including while I was pregnant, and it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t been.


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Tea tree oil will dry up breast milk. Anything with menthol can!!!