Is It Really Safe to Dye Your Hair When You're Pregnant?

Here's the real deal

Updated 11/05/18

Photo by Judy Pak

Pregnancy quite obviously alters your appearance. In addition to your beautiful bump, other physical changes include breast size, swelling, skin changes, hair texture changes—the list goes on and on. Many women begin to wonder what changes they'll also have to make to their beauty, skin-care, and hair routines during pregnancy. A top concern for moms-to-be? Hair dye. Is it safe to dye your hair while pregnant? Or will it be a long 9 (actually 10) months of au naturel color?

It's understandable that many women would want to keep up with their hair color and highlights during pregnancy—especially those with a wedding on the horizon! So, we did a bit of research and spoke with Iffath Hoskins, M.D., clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, for her expert advice. Here’s what we found.

The Concern

While it might initially sound harmless, Hoskins explains that actually, “Everything that comes in contact with the scalp is absorbed, but in varying amounts.” Therefore, pregnant women are often concerned about hair dye, root touch-ups, highlights, and glazes.

Mother to Baby, a helpful resource for pregnant women, offers even more insight. With their Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), they use the latest research and serve as a leading resource on potentially harmful chemical exposures during pregnancy, even suggested by the CDC.

In regards to hair dye and scalp exposure, they explain that the potential for absorption through the skin depends on four factors: the health of the skin; the percentage of active ingredient; the surface area exposed; and the frequency of application.

Overall though, they state, “Low levels of hair dye can be absorbed through the skin after application, and the dye is excreted (removed from our bodies) in urine. This small amount is not thought to be enough to cause a problem for the developing baby.”

Salon Setup

Another concern with most chemical exposures during pregnancy (like cleaning supplies, nail polish, and, of course, hair dye) is proper ventilation. Hoskins says, “Good ventilation is always preferred in order to avoid inhaling harsh chemicals.”

Timing

The most vulnerable time of fetal development (though all are important) is undoubtedly the first trimester. Hoskins explains, “Risks of any and all agents are far greater in the first trimester because the developing fetus is a mass of rapidly dividing cells. This is the phase in the life cycle of a cell that makes it most susceptible to harm by ‘outside insult.’”

The Research

Mother to Baby explains that, unfortunately, “There are no good studies on using hair dye, hair perms, or hair relaxers during human pregnancy,” though, “Specific to hair dye, in animal studies with exposure levels 100 times higher than what would normally be used in humans, experts did not identify a risk to human pregnancy.”

Because it is generally believed that only a small amount of any product applied to your scalp would be absorbed into your blood, "little would be able to get to the developing baby."

"The data in animals, along with the poor absorption through the skin, makes hair treatment in pregnancy unlikely to be of high concern," says Mother to Baby.

Your Options

Though it depends on the colorist's approach and other factors, some women opt to only do cap highlights or to embrace the balayage trend, where the hair dye does not come in contact with the scalp, reducing any potential risk even more.

Even still, it’s important to get the OK from your doctor prior to scheduling your appointment.

As Always, Ask Your Doctor

As every pregnancy is unique and doctors sometimes have different school of thoughts, Hoskins advises to, “Whenever possible, discuss with your doctor before dyeing your hair, getting a gel manicure, or using bleach, house paint, and household cleaners.”

“Better to be VERY safe than VERY sorry,” she says.

Related Stories