When I discovered I was pregnant, the last thing on my mind was my hair. I was too busy wondering what the baby's sex was (girl), decorating the nursery (moon and stars) and finding the perfect name (Tessa). But when my highlights began to grow out, I was suddenly faced with a decision many pregnant women confront: Should I dye or not?
Women make many lifestyle changes when that stick turns pink on the pregnancy test. We know we need to worry about every little thing that enters our bodies when we are carrying another life inside.
Some choices are clearcut: No drinking, smoking or drugs. No sushi, and be very careful about fish. But others aren't as clear. And the experts don't have definite answers about such things as caffeine and certain forms of exercise.
But what about hair dye, perms or straighteners? Are the chemicals involved in those hair treatments safe for a pregnant woman to use?
Effects of dye
We can tell you that when you are pregnant, everything changes. Hormones cause the hair growth to slow and as a result hair becomes thicker. We've all heard stories of drastic changes in hair, including chemical treatments simply not working. Dye that took before you were pregnant might look the same or even stay in your hair long after you become pregnant.
And everyone is different. So, the results of any chemical treatment, whether it be dyes, permanents or straighteners, are also uncertain.
My thick curly hair disappeared during pregnancy and reappeared on my daughter around the age of 1. She receives compliments on her hair all the time and when people ask where it came from, I explain she stole it from me.
But when it comes to safety, there are questions. Since there are ethical implications of experimenting on humans-especially pregnant humans-no official studies have been done on the effects of hair dye on women and the fetuses they carry.
We can tell you what the experts say: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says dyeing hair during pregnancy is safe. Your Pregnancy & Birth: Information You Can Trust from the Leading Experts in Women's Health Care, a booklet published by the group, says: "Some substances once were thought to be harmful but now are considered safe during pregnancy. For instance, many women worry that using hair dye during pregnancy may be harmful to their babies. But hair dyes are believed to be safe to use during pregnancy."
Therese Doyle, director of Midwest Midwifery in Bloomingdale, agrees dyes are probably safe, but she suggests women err on the side of caution.
"We counsel women to use hair dye in a well-ventilated area and to wait until after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy simply because nobody knows the effects."
Many moms and doctors feel hair treatments, such as highlights, are safer since they are less invasive than applying color to the entire head of hair. Highlights and color treatments that are applied using foils do not touch the scalp, keeping chemicals from absorbing into the skin.
Mary Zack, a neonatal nurse and mom of four, chose to get highlights during her last pregnancy.
"My OB said it was safe to get highlights because they are only applied to the hair and don't touch the scalp," says Zack, of Bolingbrook, who was pleased with her experience and delivered a perfectly healthy baby boy.
Shane Talbott, of Duo Salon in Chicago, told us in an e-mail what he suggests to pregnant clients: "I usually recommend that we extend the time in between appointments an extra two or three weeks to get the maximum time out of a hair color service before doing the next touch up."
So what if you have decided the best route is to stay away from the chemicals, but the gray is creeping through--is there anything you can do?
There are some natural options and some tricks you can use instead of dyeing your hair.
Check out your nearby natural food store and you will find a large section of so-called "natural" hair dyes. Some of these are safer. Yet, it is important to check the labels because some of these products contain the same chemicals as some of the products you might have been trying to avoid.
Henna, a vegetable dye, has been used for thousands of years to color hair. While it can turn your hair a brilliant red, a la Lucille Ball, the color may not please all tastes. You won't look like a natural redhead, but you can cover the gray and be bold. (And again, remember, it might not work the same as it once did on your pregnant hair.)
If you are feeling very adventurous, you can go the route many of us poor college kids used: Kool-Aid. It's a very cheap temporary dye that does not contain the heavy chemicals of normal dyes. (Warning: A quick check of some Web sites about this process indicates it is crucial you use only unsweetened Kool-Aid.)
Still, word is this is best for blondes. It may work if you are a brunette or a redhead. But again, some Web sites suggest the best results from Kool-Aid come after you have bleached your dark hair. So, even this seemingly easy process might take you back to the chemical stuff you were trying to avoid.
Forgoing the dye
You might just want to forget the dye. Try a new haircut that minimizes the attention to your roots. Browse magazines for new styles and talk to your stylist.
Consult with your girlfriends about styles before you choose one. Pregnancy hormones have led women to some unfortunate choices in the past. Even better, go online to www.thehairstyler.com and open an account-but it is $14.95 for a three month membership. The membership allows you to upload a picture of yourself and then view more than 5,000 different hairstyles on your face.
Talbott also recommends changing your normal shampoo and conditioner at home to maintain the health of your hair during pregnancy.
"Since your body and hair are changing, it is likely that a different product will take better care of your hair while you are pregnant. I notice that sometimes a woman's hair and scalp can get a bit oily during pregnancy, and a balancing shampoo and conditioner can be helpful."
Michelle Sussman is a mom, wife and writer in Bolingbrook who chose not to highlight her hair during pregnancy.