Pregnant – true colours or hair dye?

Hesitating over hair dye during your pregnancy? Kate Fathers looks at the chemicals in hair dye and suggests a range of eco alternatives.

Hair dye chemicals and pregnancy

What are the options for hair dye during pregnancy? Photograph: Arteunporro

Rarely has there been a time when people – women – didn’t colour their hair. Since the Bronze Age the option has been available, using natural ingredients such as “henna, indigo, sage and chamomile”.

Now in the twenty-first century, our penchant for dyeing our hair everything from Barbie blonde to royal purple hasn’t changed. However, what we use for dye has. Read on for more information on the:

  1. Makeup of modern hair dye
  2. Chemicals in hair dye
  3. Limiting exposure during pregnancy
  4. Eco hair dyes

The makeup of modern hair dye

Modern hair dye can be placed into four categories: temporary, semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent colour.

  1. Temporary
    Usually contains only tint and is washed out of the hair after a few shampoos. Typically, temporary hair dye does not contain ammonia or peroxide.
  2. Semi-permanent
    Coats hair with colour that washes out after 6-12 shampoos. The dye sits at the surface of the hair instead of being absorbed into it. These dyes are also free from ammonia and peroxide.
  3. Demi-permanent
    Lasts twice as long as semi-permanent colour, and like the other two, because it does not contain ammonia or peroxide, only colours the hair, not lightens it.
  4. Permanent
    By far the most popular option, and available in the widest variety, permanent hair dye cannot be washed out. It contains both ammonia and peroxide which raise the cuticle of the hair in order to allow the tint to penetrate to the cortex. It lightens the hair by breaking up the melanin that gives hair its natural color, fundamentally changing the shade of the hair. The only way to get rid of the colour is to dye over it, or to let it grow out.

Chemicals in hair dye

Ammonia and peroxide are two of the most prominent chemicals in commercial hair dye (although all four contain a plethora of chemicals, including such gems as p-Phenylenediamine (PPD), Cocamide DEA, and Formaldehyde).

Ammonia is both a naturally occurring and human-produced chemical, being found in the decomposition of organic matter such as plant and animal waste, and in many man-made products like fertilizer and pesticide. Hydrogen peroxide is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, and is sold in low concentrations as a disinfectant and antiseptic. It is also an ingredient in many household and personal products, such as in products used to treat acne.

Limiting exposure when pregnant

Hair dye doesn’t just go onto your hair, but also onto your skin where it is absorbed through your scalp and mums-to-be often wonder whether or not it is safe for them to use.

The research that is available does not show any evidence of birth defects related to using hair dye, however, hair dye is full of chemicals that in any concentration can’t be good for you, and according to the Mayo Clinic website “[a] 2005 study suggested an association between hair dye and pregnancy and the childhood cancer neuroblastoma”.

With such little information, is it even worth the risk?

Eco hair dyes

For those who just can’t resist the dye, here are a few eco-friendly – and baby-friendly – options:

  1. Herbatint
    free from ammonia, perfume, alcohol and parabens, and with reduced peroxide, this dye is available in a variety of hues and is readily found in organic shops. Prices vary from £8.54-£9.32
  2. Surya Henna Natural Hair Colouring
    Free from peroxide, ammonia, resorcinol, PPD, parabens and heavy metals, this is semi-permanent hair dye that boasts to be 100% natural and made with plant products. Dye from £6.95
  3. Logona Natural Hair Dyes
    Chemical free and BDIH certified, this semi-permanent dye is available as both a powder and a cream. From £11.74
  4. Palette by Nature
    100% plant-based, semi-permanent dye that lasts from 4-6 weeks, is not tested on animals, and is chemical free. £22.95


Colour Lovers, Hair colour a history of folicle hue adjusting, 2007
The Facts About Ammonia, New York State Department of Health
Mayo Clinic Pregnancy and Hair Dye


Arteunporro @ Flickr

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