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Pregnancy and Hair Dye

The Final Word on Hair Color & Pregnancy

By Amalah

Dear 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.

Advice Smackdown ArchivesHair 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 [email protected]

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The Final Word on Hair Color & Pregnancy: Is touching up your grey roots safe? Or still a grey area?

Published November 22, 2010. Last updated April 17, 2018.
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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