OBGYNs explain why it’s probably OK to change your hair color during pregnancy — but why you may not want to nonetheless.
Switching up one's hair color has always been one of the best cures for boredom. And with boredom being one of the most far-reaching side effects of the coronavirus pandemic, it's no surprise that people are changing their hair color left and right during this socially distanced time.
Needless to say, pregnancy doesn't disqualify you from boredom, nor the urge to make a big beauty change. Take Hilary Duff, for example. The actor recently shared video clips to her Instagram Stories in which her entire head was covered in foils as colorists bleached her hair, creating the ideal canvas for the blue hue she then dyed it. She remarked what a good client she was, only getting up once to go to the bathroom because she's eight months pregnant.
It raised a few eyebrows; we've all heard mixed advice on whether or not it's OK to bleach and/or dye your hair while expecting. So, is it actually safe to color your hair during pregnancy? According to the experts, the answer isn't a straightforward yes or no.
Are the ingredients in hair-color treatments safe?
There was a time when the ingredients in dyes and bleaching agents were a lot more dubious than they are today. "When you look historically at hair dyes, years ago, they did have toxic chemicals in them, and they did have things that were problematic. And right now, that's just not the case," says Lauren Streicher, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. "Are there any carcinogens in it? No. Are there any things that should create problems in pregnancy? No."
Aleha Aziz, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University, agrees that contemporary hair dye and bleach do not pose health risks when used correctly. "Chemicals in hair dye are generally not thought to be harmful, and evidence suggests that systemic absorption of hair products is minimal," she tells Allure. "Reaching the placenta in substantial amounts to cause harm to the fetus is unlikely."
However, "none of this stuff has been tested in pregnancy, and it's not going to be," Streicher says. "No one's going to take 10,000 pregnant women and have them all dye their hair once a month and see if the babies turn out OK."
When is the safest time during pregnancy to bleach or dye your hair?
Although there's no categorical evidence to suggest hair dye or bleach is harmful to the mother or fetus at any point during pregnancy, you may want to exercise extra diligence by holding off for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy because crucial fetal development happens during this time. "Generally, as with most exposures in pregnancy, waiting until after the first trimester to dye or bleach one's hair is advisable," Aziz tells Allure. "After this period, the risk of chemical substances harming the fetus is much lower."
Streicher has offered similar advice to her patients. "If you're going to dye your hair, wait until you're out of the first trimester. Maybe don't do it as often as you normally would do it," she says. "But I've never told people not to dye their hair."
Are there any hair-coloring alternatives that may be safer than traditional dye and bleach?
It's not what goes on the hair but what's absorbed by the scalp that matters, which is why highlights are an option that may put your mind at ease when you're craving a color change. "Highlighting or painting one's hair by putting dye on strands of hair so that it doesn't touch the scalp reduces risk, as the chemicals are only absorbed by the hair rather than by the scalp and bloodstream," Aziz says.
Because there are deep pores on the scalp with the potential for internal absorption, Aziz explains, the fewer chemicals, the better. Therefore, she says, natural, semipermanent vegetable dyes such as henna are a safe alternative. Those require a close look, too, though. "Make sure you check the label before buying, as some 'natural' products or processes may contain the same amount of chemicals as the traditional options."
Ultimately, the choice to bleach or dye your hair during pregnancy is up to you and your comfort level with what's known — and unknown. "There is no evidence that hair bleach or dye chemicals cause birth defects, miscarriages, or other complications, particularly in quantities for personal use," Aziz says. "However no studies show unequivocal safety."
Written by Marci Robin.
This article originally appeared on Allure US.