Hair Dye and Pregnancy: Is it a safe mix?

General Advice
Generally, pregnant women are advised to avoid any kind of chemicals or fumes. The reason for this stems from concerns about possible physical birth defects and/or genetic defects induced in the fetus. Some chemicals are known to cause birth defects when a woman is exposed to them while pregnant. The chemical interferes in some way with the normal bio-chemical reactions that take place in fetal development. For most substances, we do not know exactly how teratogenetic (the medical term for something that causes birth defects) they are. Obviously, no one wants to try them on a group of pregnant women and find out!

What the Studies Say
The methods we are left with do not give us clear answers. We have to look at women who have children with one type of birth defect and work backward in their medical histories to see if there is a pattern in exposure. When a pattern is found, it is unclear whether that chemical really caused the birth defects or whether that exposure is somehow related to yet another chemical or the woman's genetic background.

Women who dye their hair might be different from the average woman in many ways. Is she more likely to be Caucasian? Maybe a natural brunette? Then perhaps the ethnic backgrounds of brown haired Caucasians has the tendency toward that birth defect. Do women in different parts of the country dye their hair more? Do urban women dye more than their rural counterparts? Then maybe what we are seeing is the effects of geographic differences in exposure to toxins. The bottom line is we don't know. Doctors err on the side of caution and say "you had better avoid this, just in case."

Questions about hair dye use in pregnancy were asked in women who had kids with a rare kidney tumor called Wilms' tumor. No association with hair dye was found. Interestingly enough, the same study failed to find associations with a number of other common substances (coffee, tea, smoking) that had been found in previous studies. This points out another problem forming taboos for pregnant women from this kind of methodology-one study sees an association, the next doesn't.

In 1998, a study found that hair dye was associated with about a 3% greater chance of a specific type of heart defect. It did not conclude that the hair dye caused the defect. In fact, it had the lowest increase of all the factors they reported, including pesticides, painting, cleaning solvents, and certain medications. Even the guys got in the act. Paternal marijuana use was associated with an increase in a different heart problem of 7.8%, which was over twice as much as hair dye usage. Are women who dye their hair more likely to be the partners of guys who smoke pot?

In any case, a single study found a small, possible association between hair dye and a birth defect.

What You Should Do
Since most studies have not been for the sole purpose of determining the risks of using hair dye during pregnancy, it is difficult to know for sure if hair dye is a risk. The studies that have been conducted so far have indicated that it is unlikely that hair dye is a risk factor in specific cases, but we do not know if it is an across the board risk factor (such as smoking or drinking would be). In most cases, especially in the case of pregnancy, one should err on the side of caution, especially since no conclusive evidence has been able to indicate whether or not hair dye is a risk during pregnancy.

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