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Dyeing Your Hair While Pregnant: What to Know

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 07, 2022

Hair dye is a staple of self-expression. People use it to stand out, maintain their natural hair color over time, or change it up a little.

Since hair dye is laden with chemicals, its safety has been placed under scrutiny time and time again. Whether it's causing permanent hair damage or cancer, hair dye deserves a second look during pregnancy.

Hair Dye Safety and Pregnancy

Before you get too far, there's a lack of evidence regarding hair dye and pregnancy. Many studies have excluded pregnant participants due to the ethical concern of studying drug and cosmetic effects on pregnant women. 

Most cosmetics don't require approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Studies about their effects regarding pregnancy are mostly incidental, so their overall safety is something to be cautious about.

Hair dye is generally considered safe while you are pregnant if you follow guidelines and precautions. Since no one knows the exact risks, though, many sources recommend waiting until after pregnancy to be safe.   

Why Hair Dye Might Be a Concern

Your skin protects you, but it's still absorbent. Many factors influence how much it can safely absorb. Being pregnant can make your skin incredibly sensitive to intense chemicals. 

If you're pregnant, topical chemicals can be a concern. Your skin can absorb the chemicals, which can circulate through your bloodstream and reach your baby. 

Does hair dye cause cancer? Hair dye has been labeled a potential cause of breast cancer. Studies have shown varying results, but there have been links between increased risk of breast cancer and frequent use of hair dye.

There's no single cause of cancer, so using hair dye doesn't pose a dire risk. Pregnant women might be at particular risk, though, because of their bodies' significant changes. For women with a history of breast cancer, avoiding hair dye could lower your risk of developing breast cancer down the road. 

Why you don't need to be concerned. Hair dye chemicals aren't very toxic. Your scalp also doesn't absorb much of the hair dye, especially if you have a healthy scalp. Since the risks are unknown, though, it's always better to be on the safe side. 

What About Other Hair Treatments?

You may reach for the bleach to change your hair's shade or prepare for a more intense dye. You may stick to hair highlight or relaxers instead. How do those affect your pregnancy?

When it comes to safety during pregnancy, there's no difference between bleach, hair dye, relaxers, or curling solutions. They don't pose additional risks as long as you follow the precautions below. 

Take Precautions

Though hair dye is generally safe, there are several precautions you should take. Always talk to your doctor before using hair dye while pregnant. 

Wait for It

The first trimester is a critical time for your baby's growth. To be extra cautious, wait until the second trimester to start dyeing your hair.

Be Cautious of Your Skin

Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis cause cracking of the skin. These breaks allow your skin to absorb more of the hair dye's chemicals into your bloodstream.

Skin conditions also typically mean more sensitive skin. Hair dye can lead to more irritation and breaking of the skin, ultimately making the skin condition worse. 

Even if you don't have a skin condition, your scalp may be vulnerable. Don't dye your hair if you have broken skin or sunburn on your scalp.

Do a Patch Test

Before dyeing your hair, you need to test if your skin will react negatively to the hair dye. You should do a patch test whether you dye at home or a salon.

  1. Rub a small amount of the hair dye in the crook of your elbow.
  2. Leave it on your skin for at least 2 days.
  3. Monitor your skin for abnormalities like a rash or irritation.

Even if you're using your regular hair dye, always do a patch test. Your pregnancy can unpredictably change your skin. 

Signs of contact dermatitis. If you have a bad reaction to hair dye during the patch test, it's likely you will contact dermatitis. Some of the signs include:

  • Itchiness
  • Pain
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Swelling
  • Dry or flaky skin
  • Breaking or cracking of the skin

If any of these symptoms appear, you can try another hair dye or wait until later to dye your hair. 

Be Mindful of Changes to Your Hair

Pregnancy changes many things about your body, including your hair. These changes can cause your hair to react differently to your usual hair dyes. It's safest to wait until after pregnancy if this is the case to avoid any permanent damage to your hair. 

Always Wear Gloves

Hair dye can stain your hands and expose your skin to chemicals. Your skin is more susceptible to irritation if you're pregnant, so wearing gloves can prevent bothersome stains and bad allergic reactions.

Crack a Window

The chemicals in hair dye can be bothersome. The fumes can be incredibly irritating for pregnant women or people with breathing sensitivities like asthma. Apply hair dye in a well-ventilated space.

Don't Dye Your Eyebrow or Eyelashes

Pregnant or not, hair dye in your eyes is dangerous. Getting hair dye in your eyes can cause injuries and blindness, so it's best to avoid dyeing your eyebrows.

Follow All Package Directions

It may seem obvious, but people can be stubborn about following directions. The directions for applying hair dye are more than a suggestion. 

The hair dye directions are there for your safety. If you ignore or misuse the hair dye, it can lead to complications that you could otherwise avoid. 

Watch the Clock

Grab your phone and set a timer. The amount of time the package tells you is exact. 

Leaving the dye on too long will allow your skin to absorb more of the dye and potentially cause harm. You should also rinse the dye off promptly once you're done to avoid absorption. 

Rinse Your Scalp

Your skin absorbs more of the dye the longer it's on your skin. Rinse your scalp to prevent further absorption of the hair dye chemicals and irritation.

When in Doubt, Call Your Doctor

It's safe to continue expressing yourself during pregnancy with hair dye. If you're concerned about a particular product or chemical, always talk to your doctor first. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Pregnancy Association: "Hair Treatment During Pregnancy."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Skin Exposures and Effects."

Cleveland Clinic: "Is It Safe to Dye Your Hair While You're Pregnant?"

Mayo Clinic: "Is it OK to use hair dye during pregnancy?"

National Institutes of Health: "Permanent hair dye and straighteners may increase breast cancer risk."

U.S. Food & Drug Administration: "Cosmetics Safety Q&A: Hair Dyes," "FDA Authority Over Cosmetics: How Cosmetics Are Not FDA-Approved, but Are FDA-Regulated," "Hair Dyes."

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