Women's Health
Dangers of Coloring Hair While Pregnant
Dec 10, 2009 - 11:47:26 AM

( - Millions of moms color their hair but deciding whether to color or highlight ones hair while pregnant has many women wondering. Expectant moms want to know if it is really is safe to use chemicals and dyes. What are the risks and dangers involved with traditional processing? Are there any alternatives? Experts agree that certain chemicals in hair coloring products commonly found on drug store shelves may harm one’s health as well as put the fetus at risk.

If you want to make the most informed decision about coloring hair when pregnant, understanding the straight facts about chemical processing, and taking a close look at natural alternatives to chemical hair dyes, can help.

Here’s what you need to know:

What the Experts Say about Chemical Processing

The traditional color process involves the use of harsh chemicals, and some experts believe that oxidative hair dyes can be hazardous. The American Cancer Society, the Harvard School of Public Health and the American Journal of Epidemiology have all conducted studies that suggest a link between chemical hair dye and certain types of cancer.

Toxic chemicals and compounds such as resorcinol, paraphenylene-diamine (PPD) and coal tar dyes have all been identified as carcinogenic and mutagenic, and can cause a breakdown of the hair shaft. For a woman who is pregnant, the effects may be even more devastating -- it could be harmful to the baby.

According to the Mayo Clinic, a 2005 study shows an association between hair dye and pregnancy and the childhood cancer neuroblastoma, but other studies tout the opposite. Researchers from the American Pregnancy Association believe that “it’s likely only a small amount of any hair treatment chemicals are actually absorbed into a woman’s system through her skin,” which is too minimal to create a problem for the baby.

Hair Coloring Options While Pregnant

In general, expectant moms should not be breathing in fumes associated with the typical chemical treatment. Doctors recommend that women who are pregnant steer clear of toxic compounds such as ammonia and hydrogen peroxide for at least the first three months of pregnancy. The reason for this is that some chemicals may be linked to physical birth defects or genetic defects in the fetus. According to, a study in 1998 found that hair dye was associated with approximately a 3% greater chance of a specific type of heart defect.

So what are the options?

Fortunately, there are some alternatives to chemical processing for expectant moms. Natural hair dyes made with plant-based ingredients, botanicals and vitamins can nourish the hair while delivering rich, lustrous color from root to tip. These products do not require stripping the hair of its natural hue before depositing the new color because there is no need for ammonia, hydrogen peroxide or harsh chemicals to complete the process.

Semi-permanent dyes or natural coloring agents that are shampooed into the hair without any stripping agents are usually safer for women who are pregnant. Vegetable and plant-based dyes such as henna and natural products that are free of harsh chemicals are safe for expectant moms. When looking for alternatives to chemical hair dye, these products offer a wealth of benefits beyond standard chemical color treatments – whether it’s at the salon, or from a box.

Words of Caution with Natural Hair Color

Even though natural hair color promises lots of benefits, women do need to be cautious about selecting “natural” hair color from the local drugstore or beauty counter. In many cases, products that claim to be made with all natural ingredients and botanicals still contain a significant amount of toxic chemicals.

Almost all of the current hair dyes on the market are problematic. The popular brands often use the “natural” label, but a closer look at the ingredients will reveal a list of artificial ingredients because many of these products use PPD-based coloring agents. PPD is also a known allergen--which is why many doctors tell pregnant women simply to avoid coloring their hair altogether.

Other ingredients to steer clear of include: aminophenol, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, phenyl methyl pyarzolone, and DMDM hydantoin. Some of these ingredients act as preservatives, while others are used to enhance the effects of or activate other compounds present in the formula. Coal tar is the most common ingredient in hair dyes that are very dark in color, but does have the ability to penetrate the skin. It’s important to look for all of these ingredients when reviewing products that claim to be “all natural” or “chemical free”.

Benefits of Natural Hair Dye for Pregnant Women

Natural hair dyes made without PPD, resorcinol, aminophenol and artificial colors can deliver intense, rich color – as intense as many synthetic dyes – without the harmful side effects. These are usually quick and easy to apply, and semi-permanent color can last 40 or more shampoo cycles. Other advantages of natural hair color are that they:

Fortify the hair with minerals
Condition the hair from root to tip
Keep hair healthy and strong by minimizing hair damage
Do not require the use of ammonia to open the cuticle in order to deliver color
Offer many options in permanent or semi-permanent color
Present a low risk of allergies
Give a wide range of lush, natural-looking colors
Whether choosing natural, organic or vegetable dyes to color your hair, it’s still important to review all of the ingredients and make sure the color is free of some of known carcinogens and toxins such as PPD, ammonia, peroxide and resorcinol. Take the time to learn about hair coloring products that work by helping the hair absorb color and deliver nutrients and minerals that can protect and nourish hair during the coloring process, and will not negatively affect a developing fetus.

Author bio: Jeff Greaves is the President and CEO of Advanced Cosmetic Technologies and has over 20 years’ experience in the natural food coloring and flavor industry. Applying his extensive knowledge of plants and their natural capacity as colorants was a logical step to creating Advanced Cosmetic Technology's permanent hair color and semi-permanent tinting shampoos and conditioners. Jeff’s expertise in this field led to the development of patented hair coloring technology using RBE-Colors™ that allow his products to naturally deliver rich color without harmful chemicals or synthetic dyes. To reach Jeff with questions, readers may contact him directly at: [email protected]

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