Hair Color and Pregnancy

Cautions and Alternatives

Hair color and pregnancy raises very real concerns for expectant mothers. Is it okay to color your hair when you’re with child?

There is no concrete evidence against hair coloring during pregnancy. Mostly because it hasn’t been studied in-depth on humans. Pregnant women (naturally) aren’t willing to subject themselves and their unborn children to testing.

The research studies that have been conducted on animals show an increased rate of birth defects in fetuses. However, the ratio of chemical to blood is far higher in animals than it would be in humans, so the results are not altogether reliable. In humans, the chemical compounds in hair color are thought to have little or no effect on fetal development.

So what’s the concern all about?

Possible Dangers

Following are the major factors that should be considered when weighing the decision about hair color and pregnancy…

Chemicals and Skin Contact

Permanent and semi-permanent color (both drugstore or professional brands) contain a chemical called Para-phenylenediamine (PPD). It’s essentially a darkening agent — upon exposure to oxygen, it “oxidizes” and darkens the hue. The darker the color, the more of this chemical it contains.


PPD is considered a contact allergen and a mild carcinogen. Couple this with the fact that it is easily absorbed through the skin and the concern over use of hair dyes is understandable.

Because some people are particularly sensitive to PPD, I would recommend that you never color your hair for the first time during pregnancy. Although, people who have colored their hair for years can suddenly develop a sensitivity as well.

This is why a patch test is recommended before each haircolor application. However, even a patch test can be unreliable as some people have delayed reactions to PPD. Symptoms can take up to several weeks to become apparent.


The fumes from haircolor can make pregnant women nauseous. Some salons have exceptionally good ventilation. Some don’t. If you’re feeling nauseous, get some fresh air.

If it’s a warm day, sitting outdoors while your hair processes is a great way to avoid inhaling fumes and the sun will help your haircolor process more effectively.

If it’s not so nice, stand outdoors for short spells and/or ask your stylist to cover your hair with a plastic bag to keep the fumes enclosed. Alternatively, requesting an appointment early in the day can help you avoid exposure to excessive fumes from surrounding clients receiving chemical processes.

Alternatives For Hair Coloring and Pregnancy

Here are a few ideas that may help quell your concerns about coloring your hair during pregnancy…


Many doctors advise waiting until the end of the first trimester to color. By that time, the baby has reached important neurological and organ development milestones and the fetus is considered less fragile.

Products and Application Options

There are several things that you can do to minimize any ill-effects as a result of mixing hair color and pregnancy…

Using “vegetable dyes” (including some products sold as “natural” Henna’s) is considered by some a safe alternative. However, you should know that many of these so-called “natural” color formulations may contain metallic dye components (i.e., lead, copper, etc) and unless you’re buying a 100% natural henna powder from a reputable merchant, there’s a chance your “vegetable dye” could contain PPD as well.

My personal choice, as a hair professional and a mother, was to stick with highlights. This meant I could still enjoy the benefits of hair color without having the formula touch my scalp.

Even if you’re covering grey hair, lowlights can be applied with foil. You or your stylist can weave out the greyest strands and color them inside of a foil.

More on foiling hair.

Another option is to have your stylist use a silicone highlighting cap. Depending on the results you’re after, s/he can either pull a small percentage of hair through the holes for a highlight or lowlight effect, or pull a larger percentage of hair through for more coverage. The silicone cap will act as a barrier between your scalp and the haircolor formula.

If you’re coloring your own hair at home, ensure that you have sufficient ventilation and wear gloves to keep the formula off of your hands (which should be done whether you’re pregnant or not). Also, have someone inspect your scalp before coloring to ensure that you don’t have any open sores. If you do, wait until they’re healed to apply color.

Unpredictable Results

The hormonal changes that come with pregnancy can alter the results you get from your hair color. Lighteners may not be as effective and tones may not adhere properly. Or, your hair may color more easily than in the past. So be sure to keep a close eye on your hair as it processes.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the decision of whether to color hair during pregnancy is a very personal one. If, after doing some research and speaking with your doctor, you are comfortable with coloring your hair, do so and enjoy the boost that a fresh hue can bring.

If the notion makes you uncomfortable, forgo the process until after delivery. In that event, you may also want to avoid chemical processes during the time you’re nursing your newborn.

Related Pages

Hair Color Article Index