Along with morning sickness, cravings and sleepless nights, pregnancy is peppered with uncertainty about what you can and can’t do beauty-wise. The areas that typically serve up the greatest level of confusion about what is deemed safe and unsafe though, are those concerning hair colour and chemical straightening. From what to avoid to what to do instead, I spoke to the experts to find out about the modifications that are worth making.
Can I dye my hair when I’m pregnant?
In a nutshell, yes, but there are some provisos.
As a starting point, consult your doctor rather than your hairdresser. “Virtually every colour service involves a chemical and you will be exposed to it,” Jack Howard , hair colourist and leading Balayage educator tells me. “If your doctor doesn’t have any worries, then go ahead.”
Once you’ve been given the green light, timing is the next consideration to bear in mind. The experts I’ve spoken to agree that mums-to-be shouldn’t colour their hair during their first 12 weeks of pregnancy (the risk of chemical substances harming the baby becomes lower after this). However, a skin test is essential before having your colour done, even if you’ve had one done before. “Pregnancy changes your sensitivity, potentially making you more susceptible to allergic reactions,” organic hair colour expert Karine Jackson explains. Top hairdresser Paul Edmonds also notes that hormone changes that occur during pregnancy, can affect the porosity of hair and its strength, so extra care should be taken to protect its integrity.
After your 12-week abstinence period, technique will play a big role in your hair colour strategy. Opting for processes that prevent the dye from coming into contact with the scalp are more likely to reduce potential toxin exposure. “Highlights or a lived-in Balayage mean colour doesn’t touch the scalp during application, so you’re absorbing fewer chemicals,” says Karine. “As well as being on-trend, it grows out beautifully leaving no stark regrowth.”
Clare Drawbridge, Senior Creative Colourist at Hari’s Salon also recommends considering booking in for high or lowlights rather than a full head. “They develop in foils which protects the scalp,” she explains, to keep the risk of irritation to a minimum.
What dye should you use? The NHS highlights that the chemicals (and the levels of them) present in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes aren’t highly toxic. If you’d prefer to use a less chemically-loaded alternative though, for greater peace of mind, there are a growing number of options to choose from.
“We use Organic Colour Systems colour,” says Karine. “As it doesn’t contain ammonia (and contains the lowest level of PPDs possible – the ingredient that makes colour permanent but also causes most reactions), it’s less likely to irritate someone with a skin concern or a pregnant client.” What’s more, its fresh scent is more pleasing to the nose, which will come as good news to those experiencing the drawbacks of a heightened sense of smell!
Other gentler alternatives are vegetable colour and Henna, two of the least chemical of all the colouring offerings available in Clare’s experience. Both are great options for darkening hair (especially handy for greys) however, they’re not for everyone: “You can’t lift hair without chemicals,” says Claire. “So, unless you want to opt for highlights, consider embracing your natural hues instead.”
The other alternative to your colourist’s brush is the bevy of root cover-ups that are available at the moment for refreshing your colour in-between appointments. Ones that are particularly effective in this regard are Color Wow’s , Josh Wood’s and L’Oreal Paris’ new Magic Retouch Precision (read my full review here).
Can I have a straightening treatment when I’m pregnant?
This is a little trickier to answer. “The topic is a bit of a grey area,” notes top hair stylist and co-founder of Percy & Reed , Paul Percival. “Some salon treatments say you can use them when pregnant, some say you shouldn’t, and it really is salon dependent. If you were considering something like a keratin straightening treatment during pregnancy, I would speak to your stylist and get their advice.”
The safety of straightening and keratin treatments (such as the well-known Brazilian Blowdry), has been up for debate for a while. Many contain high levels of chemicals such as ammonium thioglycolate in order to provide the months-long frizz-free finish that they’ve become known for. They can be damaging and lead to breakage though and can trigger an allergic reaction too. However, there’s one chemical found in some keratin treatments that’s courted serious controversy, formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen. It’s the gas that’s given off when certain ingredients are heated or mixed with water and can cause unpleasantries such as burning eyes and breathing difficulties in both those who have the treatment and those who apply it.
As a result, the demand for formaldehyde-free alternatives is greater than ever. Finding the real deal can be tricky though. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your stylist for the full breakdown of ingredients that your treatment contains.
It lists several factors that differentiate it from traditional keratin treatments: it’s formaldehyde and aldehyde-free and releases no chemical off-gases, it uses herbal and plant-based proteins instead of keratin to realign the bonding structure of the hair to make it more manageable and less frizz-prone, and, because it penetrates strands more readily (rather than sitting on top of it), hair can be styled immediately after it’s been applied. Due to its less abrasive formula, it claims to suit everyone - even pregnant women - and last for around three to five months, provided that you use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners post-treatment. There are three interchangeable variants to choose from: Revive for natural hair, Refine for coloured hair, Replenish for blondes and Refortify for afro hair.
Having tried chemical keratin treatments before, GTG’s lovely Alex Harrison booked in at Hare & Bone and to try it out and report back to us. She was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Despite being quite time-consuming to get done (around two to four hours from chair to door) and its high price tag (£250 depending on your level of stylist and length of treatment), it’s so far given her two months of more manageable hair. She especially liked the fact that you can leave the salon with smooth post-blowdry hair rather than having to wait the usual three days or so before styling it. Like-for-like, it’s a promising alternative so far. As with hair colour though, always check in with your doctor beforehand first!
While encouraging strides are being made in this regard, there’s still a way to go when it comes to taking the fear factor out of straightening treatments. As the first port of call, it’s worth exploring other ways to keep hair frizz-free while you’re pregnant. “Keeping hair very hydrated is important,” says renowned hair colourist, Josh Wood . “There are certain styling products like Redken Velvet Gelatine , £11.80, that can help maintain texture and frizz and give you a smooth and easy blowdry.”