As you’ve probably noticed, many cosmetic products contain a number of chemicals with names that are hard to pronounce. Although the Food and Drug Administration allows these products on the market, some studies suggest that certain ingredients in skin and hair products might be less than healthy, particularly during pregnancy.
Your skin is not an impermeable barrier. Your skin and scalp absorb a portion of the products you put on it and these chemicals can enter your bloodstream and cross the placenta. That’s why, just as with medications and supplements, think about what you’re putting on your skin and hair.
Are hair products unsafe to use during pregnancy? It depends on the ingredients. Here are some hair products you should probably avoid:
Don’t be tempted by ads for Brazilian Blowout products. Some of these popular hair straighteners contain formaldehyde, a chemical that’s suspected of causing cancer. Not only that, formaldehyde exposure during pregnancy is associated with premature birth, birth defects, and spontaneous abortion. What about other chemical straighteners? Some are formulated with methylene glycol, a chemical that can turn into formaldehyde in the presence of heat. If possible, avoid using any chemical straightener on your hair while you’re pregnant. There’s plenty of time for that after you deliver!
While there’s no proof that chemicals used to perm your hair are harmful, there’s little research to support their safety either. Why take a chance? Perm solutions stay on your scalp for a sustained amount of time and that means more opportunity to absorb chemicals. If you must perm your hair, avoid using solutions that contain lye. There’s another reason to avoid perming during pregnancy. Perms typically don’t last as long. If you want curls or waves in your hair, use a curling iron or hot rollers. Chemical free curls are safer.
Hair dyes contain a hodge-podge of chemicals, some of which may be harmful to a growing baby. The cells of a developing baby divide rapidly during the first trimester of pregnancy. During periods of rapid cell division is when fetuses are most susceptible to chemicals. While it’s safest to avoid dying your hair, if you do, wait until the second trimester to do it when the risk is lower. Even better, use henna or a vegetable-based dye as opposed to one that’s chemical based.
If you can’t resist the urge to touch up your roots while you’re pregnant, this will make you feel better. The esteemed Mayo Clinic points out that dyeing your hair during pregnancy, if you take appropriate precautions, is unlikely to be harmful to your baby. The most recent studies don’t show a link between the chemicals in hair dyes and an increased risk of childhood cancers or other health issues. If you do color your hair, wear gloves when applying the solution. Leave it on the least amount of time possible, and rinse thoroughly.
Should you switch to an organic shampoo and conditioner? Some conditioners and shampoos, while free of formaldehyde, contain formaldehyde releasers. These chemicals emit small amounts of formaldehyde for protection against bacterial growth and a number of shampoos and conditions are formulated with them. Although the quantity of formaldehyde these products release is small, it’s best to limit your exposure to these chemicals. Choose a shampoo and conditioner that’s plant-based and free of petroleum and other chemicals.
Play it safe during pregnancy by limiting exposure to questionable chemicals during pregnancy. There’s plenty of time for that once your baby safely enters the world.
MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2015 May-Jun;40(3):180-5.
What to Expect. “Hair Dye and Highlights During Pregnancy”
Mayo Clinic. “Is It Okay to Use Hair Dye During Pregnancy?”