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Can You Color Your Hair While You’re Pregnant?
By Meagan Francis

You’re three months pregnant, and you haven’t been to the salon since you saw the double pink line. You have two-inch dark roots and you are desperate to freshen up your look. But is it safe to color your hair while pregnant?

Research seems to point to yes. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, hair dyes are probably safe to use during pregnancy because very little of the dye is absorbed through the skin. However, experts disagree on what processes and types of color can safely be used during pregnancy.

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“The use of hair dyes in pregnancy has not been studied very conclusively,” says Dick Leavitt, Director of Science Information for the March of Dimes. “The original suspicions surrounding hair dye originated in the late 1970s when a particular form of testing showed that hair dye contained mutagenic (mutation-causing) ingredients.”

Since hair dye ingredients are absorbed into the skin, this discovery raised concerns that dyes could harm a developing fetus. However, says Leavitt, “Hair dye has not been proven unsafe, and what studies have been done tend to relieve the original concern.”

Play it safe
Though there has been no definite proof that using hair dye during pregnancy causes any harm to the fetus, many health care professionals still prefer to play it safe — especially during the first trimester, when the most rapid and vital development is taking place. “A lot of people in obstetric practice still recommend that pregnant patients not use permanent hair dyes in the first three months of pregnancy,” says Leavitt. “It’s more a philosophical position than one based on hard science.”

Besides the fact that hair dye ingredients are absorbed through the skin, there is a concern among some health care professionals and hairstylists that breathing fumes during the process could be harmful to the growing baby. According to Leavitt, the scientific concerns surrounding hair dye have never centered primarily or even strongly on the fumes produced. However, pregnant women are usually advised to avoid chemical fumes, and permanent hair dyes contain ammonia — a particularly powerful substance.

“I don’t use colors with ammonia on pregnant women,” says Rene Spagnolo, co-owner of the DeFranco Spagnolo Salon/Spa in Great Neck, New York, who also recommends that pregnant women avoid perms. “For me, they are a no-no. The solution goes on the scalp and touches the skin, and the fumes are really bad to breathe. Straightening and relaxing products do the same thing.”

What colors are safe?
For pregnant women wanting to refresh their color, Spagnolo recommends semi-permanent dyes or a highlighting process. “Highlights are okay,” says Spagnolo. “The woman isn’t exposed to the fumes because the dye is inside closed foil, and it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin. As long as the dye doesn’t touch the scalp, I think it’s ok.”

Many women are not concerned by the theoretical risk of hair dye, while others prefer to avoid it “just in case.” Since the jury is still out on all-over permanent color, whether or not to use it is a personal decision — but if you do decide to dye your hair, some simple guidelines can help make it safer.

• If you dye your own hair, wear gloves and avoid rubbing the dye into your scalp.
• Dye your hair outside, near an open window or in a well-ventilated room to avoid fume exposure.
• Consider waiting until after the first trimester. The fetus is most sensitive to chemical exposure during the first three months of development, when most of the baby’s organs are forming and cells are dividing rapidly.
• Try highlighting, a process where dye is applied to individual hair strands that are either pulled through a plastic cap or wrapped in foil. Since the dye does not rest on the scalp, absorption into the skin is reduced or eliminated.
Vegetable dyes such as henna and other nonpermanent or semi-permanent hair colors are generally considered to be safe during pregnancy.

© Meagan Francis; first appeared at

Meagan Francis is the mother of three wonderful sons. While she's not tracking down Bionicle pieces, she works as the office manager/ communications director for a freestanding birth center. She's also a freelance writer and has been published in magazines like Brain,Child, Skirt! and ePregnancy.

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