A common concern for moms-to-be is how to maintain a lustrous hair color through nine months of pregnancy without exposing the unborn child to potential toxins found in conventional hair dyes. "The environment that the mother provides for her child while pregnant is critical," advises Ruthie Harper, M.D., founder of Nutritional Medicine Associates in Austin, Texas, and creator of the Skinshift line of skin-care products. "As the body's largest organ, the skin acts as a source of significant exposure, and there is never a time when a child will be more sensitive to potential toxins than in utero." Hair dyes that contain certified, organically grown ingredients and significantly fewer synthetic substances or chemicals are a safer option during pregnancy. "A simple first step any future mom can take to protect her child is to go organic -- not only with food, but with skin-care and hair-care products, too," Harper suggests.
A Toxic Time Bomb
Hair dyes that contain certified, organic and natural ingredients are safer for use during pregnancy than conventional hair-dye products that contain chemicals like aromatic amines, parabens, resorcinol and ammonia. Aromatic amines are precursors of nitrosamines, and some nitrosamines (such as those found in tobacco smoke) are known carcinogens. Parabens are preservatives that mimic the hormone estrogen -- potentially problematic during pregnancy when the body is already facing challenges brought on by hormonal turmoil. Resorcinol is highly toxic and dangerous if absorbed into the bloodstream, and therefore pregnant women should completely avoid its use. It's also advisable to avoid products that contain resorcinol if you are planning to conceive, as it can collect in fat cells and release into the bloodstream at a later time. "A 2005 study by the University of North Carolina suggested a link between neuroplastoma, or cancer, in offpsring of mothers who used permanent, semi and temporary hair color at home or in a salon," warns Stephen Mazer, a Florida-based physician and on-staff doctor for Organic Color Systems.
"Pregnant women should delay any chemical color treatments until after the first trimester," according to Dr. Mazer. However, gray hairs sometimes appear to sprout overnight, and if you are used to promptly covering your gray, you may feel reluctant to break this habit during pregnancy. Dr. Mazer recommends using a reputable brand of organic hair dye, which contains natural ingredients and is safer for moms-to-be than hair dyes that are chemically based. A patch test is highly recommended before using any hair-dye product, and is especially important during pregnancy "when women's bodies can sometimes react to substances in unexpected ways," Dr. Mazer explains.
Pregnant women sometimes experience a heightened sense of smell and increased sensitivity to strong smells such as ammonia. Dr. Mazer advises pregnant women to avoid breathing in ammonia fumes, as these could harm a developing fetus. Organic hair dyes often smell more pleasant than conventional hair dyes because they are ammonia-free and do not contain harsh synthetic fragrances. Ingredients like coconut and soy-oil byproducts soften and moisturize hair cuticles and are more gentle on the hair and scalp than hair dyes that contain ammonia, which can damage hair cuticles. If changing hormones during pregnancy have made your hair drier, an oil-based, organic hair dye might help to restore its lustrous shine.
If you have only a few gray hairs or you're concerned about the potential toxicity of all brands of hair dye, Dr. Mazer recommends using organic products for coloring techniques like highlighting or lowlighting. In these procedures, dye is applied to selected hair strands instead of an all-over application. Hair strands are wrapped in foil, and contact between scalp and hair dye is largely avoided, thus reducing the risk of the dye being absorbed into your skin and causing harm to your unborn baby.