Can I colour my hair during pregnancy?

It’s perhaps the most frequently asked question of all: Is it okay to dye your hair during pregnancy? Tiffany Brown investigates.

I’m an older mum, and I envied my younger counterparts, who seemed to be glowing with youthful energy while I could barely make it off the couch. Frankly, the idea of letting my hair “go natural” was just a step too far. But in the 80-odd weeks I carried my little ones, should I have invested in a wardrobe of hats instead of a dozen hair colouring treatments? Unfortunately, there is no conclusive answer to this question. Like many aspects of pregnancy research, ethics don’t permit a grand scale of study, so ultimately science isn’t sure. The limited research available indicates that any absorption of toxic ingredients will be minimal, and therefore unlikely to cause a problem during your pregnancy.

To colour or not to colour?

Can topical ingredients that you apply to your skin and hair pass through to the placenta, and therefore to your baby? Yes, the ingredients in skincare can be absorbed into the bloodstream, as can the ingredients in hair products, particularly those rubbed directly onto the scalp. And from the bloodstream they can pass through the placenta to your unborn baby. But again, general advice doesn’t really commit either way. If the ingredients in your hair dye are toxic, there may be some absorption. But any absorption is probably minimal, so the choice is yours. There has been some scientific research over the past few decades into the generally carcinogenic nature of hair chemicals, including studies showing women who regularly used permanent colour on their hair, as well as people who work as hairdressers, as groups of people with a higher risk for bladder cancer. There have been other studies showing no link between hair chemicals and cancer, so again, the science is far from settled. Some pregnancy practitioners adopt the position of recommending you try to abstain from using chemicals on your hair at least until the first 13 weeks of your pregnancy have passed, which may be a reasonable compromise for you. Logic would also dictate that any colour treatments not directly applied to the scalp, such as foils or highlights, could help mitigate any risks even further.

Natural hair colour: Your options

There are a number of options available to you if you prefer to use natural hair colouring methods during your pregnancy. While these methods can keep your scalp free from potentially toxic ingredients, be aware most of them require more regular maintenance than chemical treatments, as the effects won’t last as long as permanent solutions. Henna and indigo, being permanent natural colours, are the exceptions to this rule. Also keep in mind most professional salons probably won’t offer any of the following treatments (yet!), so you’ll have to sort yourself out at home.

On the dark side

The plant henna, or lawsonia inermis, naturally possesses one red-orange dye molecule in sufficient quantity to stain hair. Products claiming to produce other varieties of henna colours, like blonde or brown henna, are not pure henna, but rely on various additional compounds to achieve this result. And these additives may have similar toxic effects to regular chemical hair colour, bringing you full circle in your quest for lushly dark pregnancy hair. Be sure the product you use is 100% henna, with only natural or organic additional ingredients if any, if you are trying to forego the chemicals. Indigo is another natural product capable of permanently colouring hair. The blue dye in the indigo plant is the very same product used to dye blue jeans, and has been used for at least 4,000 years to colour hair black. Again, if your indigo product is not pure, it may contain toxic additives like PPD (paraphenylehediamine). Pure indigo should look like a green powder before use. If the powder looks brownish black, it probably has PPD in it, and you should avoid using it while you’re pregnant. Other natural treatments for darkening hair are black walnut hull powder steeped in hot water, or a strong black tea or coffee rinse. In all cases, use extreme care when colouring your hair with natural dyes, as they will dye the rest of you as quickly as your hair if you’re not sufficiently caped and gloved!

Lighten up

The humble lemon is a reliable hair lightener. Spray or pour lemon juice over your hair and dry it in the midday sun. This method works best on light brown or blonde hair. A chamomile, calendula, or rhubarb root tea rinse can also add honey tones to darker blonde hair. These natural lightening methods can be used to achieve a cumulative highlighting effect.

Seeing red

Henna is a perfect choice for a rich auburn tone, but may prove too dark for blondes. Tomato juice can be used as a hair dye by soaking through your hair, leaving for 30 minutes and then rinsing. Beetroot or beetroot powder can also be used, although these will give a colour more purple than red. Hibiscus flower and calendula flower tea rinses can add red tones to hair.

Cover those greys

Try applying a dry spray-style shampoo for dark hair to camouflage light roots. Use a daily chamomile or calendula rinse to lighten dark roots gradually.

Embrace your inner earth mother

Pregnancy gives you an all-over glow, and your hair is no exception. If you choose to ditch the hair colour for the duration of your pregnancy, at least your hair will be looking fuller and more beautiful to compensate.

Pregnancy hair changes

Many women experience changes in hair texture and growth during pregnancy. The hormones secreted by your body will cause your hair to grow faster and fall out less. But these hair changes usually aren’t permanent; most women lose a significant amount of hair in the postpartum period or after they stop breastfeeding. Caterina Di Biase, Schwarzkopf Professional International Creative Ambassador, talks about some of the changes your hair will experience during pregnancy.

Pre-pregnancy/ during pregnancy

You look fabulous when you’re pregnant and your hair actually gets fuller. The side effect of this is that your body sheds hair post-baby. Your hair can change while you’re pregnant; straight hair can become curly and curly hair can become straight, so you may need to change your haircare routine accordingly. Talk to your LMC about taking silica during pregnancy. This acts as a preventative measure rather than only dealing with the problem once it arises.

To combat losing hair post-pregnancy

  • Look for a stimulating shampoo that treats the scalp to encourage hair growth at the roots.
  • Massage your scalp regularly to stimulate follicles.
  • Take weight off excessively long hair.
  • Consider using organic and ammonia-free hair care ranges.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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