Is It Safe To Dye Your Hair When You're Pregnant?

Do you have to choose between beauty and health?

Is It Safe To Dye Your Hair When You're Pregnant?

Is it safe to colour your hair when you’re pregnant? Many, many women wonder about this. And, as with so many things, there is a lot of rumour out there, a lot of urban myth, and a lot of confusion. Is hair dye harmful to your developing baby? How much gets absorbed? Are there safe alternatives?

So let’s clear some stuff up.

One of the reasons why this is a tricky issue is because we have limited research on the topic. Mostly, this is due to the obvious ethical conflict of subjecting women and their unborn babies to unknown, potential risk. That said, we can still make some recommendations.

First thing to know: there is very limited absorption of the chemicals used in hair dye through your skin. This is true, unless you have burns or open sores on your scalp. Or unless you’re eating the stuff (which, by the way, I heartily discourage.)

Motherisk is our gold-standard source of information on all things related to pregnancy and safety. It’s run by the awesome folks at Sick Kids in Toronto, and it’s the go-to resource for physicians when we need to advise women on these sorts of issues.

Motherisk reviewed 25 studies on the subject of hair treatments and pregnancy, and concluded that hair treatments are “unlikely to cause adverse fetal effects.” There are no known or identified risks or birth defects that have been linked to hair chemicals, and “for the average pregnant woman, receiving hair treatments 3 to 4 times during pregnancy does not appear to increase risk of adverse effects on the fetus.”

One of the most convincing lines of research, in my opinion, are the studies that look at hairdressers themselves: a population that is exposed to hair chemicals on a more or less daily basis. One such study compared 550 hairdressers to a control group of women never exposed, and they found “no statistically significant differences in fetal loss, preterm birth, small for gestational age babies, congenital malformations, or achievement of developmental milestones among their children.”

All of this is extremely reassuring. Years of experience and observation, coupled with the existing research, tells us that there is no cause for concern.

Bottom line: colouring your hair when you are pregnant is considered safe.

Of course...the thing about research is that there’s always new stuff coming to light. Although this is how things look right now, I cannot promise that we will never find any data that contradicts the basic position that colouring your hair is safe.

So what to do?

Well, for what it’s worth, I continued to highlight my hair throughout both my pregnancies. But “throughout” means every 3 months...so that meant a total of 3 times during pregnancy. I avoided the first trimester, when most of the critical fetal development is happening. And I only did partial highlights. This was not particularly science-based, but it was a personal choice, and I just felt better about it.

Which is no small thing, and ultimately, what I want you to consider.

You have to weigh things for yourself, personally: it’s important to feel good about yourself when you’re pregnant. Maybe, for you, that means taking particular care of your appearance and colouring your hair. Or, maybe for you that means not having to worry about a potential, unknown risk. It has to be up to you.

(For more reading on harmful stuff in pregnancy, read about the effects of stress in pregnancy, and pregnancy nutrition dos and don’ts.)

So...what do you think? Did you colour your hair during pregnancy? Was it something you worried about? Would you make a different decision if you were pregnant today? And—for you preggos out there—has this post changed your mind about colouring your hair?



The Health Benefits of Red Wine

(Like You Need An Excuse)

The Health Benefits of Red Wine

It’s BlissDom this weekend. I must admit, I’m fairly giddy with anticipation of this event. Mostly, I can't wait to finally meet all the fabulous women I’ve come know online. (Also, to be on a plane all by myself. I can read a book! I don’t have to cut anyone’s meal into bite-sized pieces for them!) And although I’m a BlissDom virgin, from everything I can gather about this weekend (and everything I know about the ladies in attendance)...I'm going to go ahead and assume: there will be wine involved.

So. This strikes me as a perfect time to do a little roundup of the health benefits of wine.   

Are you with me?

Heart health

This is the biggie—this is where the lion’s share of research has shown significant health benefits of wine. Red wine, in particular. Moderate wine consumption appears to protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure, boosting HDL (“good” cholesterol), and inhibiting blood clot formation. It’s all those lovely antioxidants, resveratrol in particular, that give wine its heart-happy properties. While we're at it, here are 10 more heart-healthy habits.

Bone health

Recent studies have suggested that wine may improve bone density, and possibly reduce the risk of fracture. This is provided, of course, you don’t over-indulge, stumble, and fracture your ankle. Please don’t do this.

Sex life

A study of nearly 800 women, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in Oct 2009, found that women who enjoyed regular, moderate intake of red wine had higher sexual desire, lubrication, and overall sexual function, as compared to teetotalers. How lovely is that?

Stroke prevention

In a study of more than 80,000 women, published earlier this year, researchers reported that low-to-moderate alcohol consumption (a glass or two of wine daily) was associated with a reduced risk of stroke, by about 20%. Big study, big benefit.

Brain health

A Norwegian study showed that people who consumed flavonoid-rich wine, chocolate, or tea had significantly better scores on cognitive tests than those who did not. Participants who consumed all 3 goodies (chocolate, wine, and tea) had the best test scores. The effect was most pronounced for wine, and a little weaker for chocolate. (Not that we want to take anything away from chocolate—it has its own delightful list of health benefits).

Now, of course I would be remiss if I did not administer a warning about the dangers of alcohol. Obviously, you can overdo it on the booze. Sloppy-drunk is not pretty. Alcoholism is even uglier. There are serious long-term complications caused by heavy alcohol drinking. And clearly, it’s not a good mixer with pregnancy.

But, as long as you’re smart about it, I think there is much benefit to be had.

And, there’s one last perk I want to mention. It’s not one proven by science, but it’s one we can all understand—and it’s all about the enjoyment of life. Wine is part of a Mediterranean diet and it’s a cornerstone of French joie de vivre. It’s a sensory experience, it’s something to be savoured with friends, it’s the perfect elixir for any celebration. It’s both luxurious and accessible, and in my book it’s the ultimate in wicked health. Wine is one of the finest pleasures out there; the health benefits are merely the icing on the cake.

But I’ll take them.

And so will my fellow BlissDom-istas, I have a sneaky suspicion.


How To Age Gracefully

Or Go Kicking And Screaming. Whatever.

How To Age Gracefully

So, I’m facing down my 40th birthday. It’s two weeks away and, surprisingly, my mid-life crisis is holding off.

For now.

Anyone else remember that scene from When Harry Met Sally, where Meg Ryan is bawling her eyes out to Billy Crystal, and the cherry on top of her self-pity rant is: "And I’m going to be 40!" Harry says: "When?" She says: "Someday!" and continues wailing?

I was 17 when I saw that movie in the theatre with my friends. Even at that age I remember feeling the horror (cue Jaws music) of the impending approach of 40, but I also felt a certain relief that I was nowhere near that “someday.”

Well, someday has arrived, princess.

There’s much that I love about turning 40. The self-confidence, the layers of life experience, the being comfortable in my own skin, and not worrying so much about other people’s opinions.

What I don’t love is the irreversibility of it all. I’ll never get to be 26 again, which is a shame. Being 26 was pretty kick-ass the first time around, but I think I could do it even better given a second chance, knowing what I know now.

Also? Not crazy about the physical aspects of turning 40. I am not enjoying the lines appearing around my eyes or the various sagging and loosening bits and pieces that will remain nameless. My husband attempts to reassure me that 40 is beautiful. "Look at Jennifer Aniston," he points out, "She looks better than ever." Surprisingly, I don’t find this as comforting as he does. That’s because I glance around me and, curiously, do NOT see a team of hair people, skin technicians, personal chefs, personal yoga instructors, etcetera, standing at the ready. If I had that kind of staff (and I had millions riding on my appearance, besides), I imagine I could look as good as Jen Aniston, too.

It’s not an easy thing. For women, so much of our identity is wrapped up in our appearance. For good or bad, that’s just the way it is. (See Catherine's lovely post on the meaning of beauty.) Clearly, I have to get okay with aging, or face decades of dissatisfaction and misery. The emphasis, little by little, has to come away from aesthetics, but it’s a delicate balancing act. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up. I’m not going to stop colouring my hair, for example. ("It will be a cold day in hell" is the phrase that springs to mind here.) But there are other lines I won't cross. Like cosmetic surgery. Thank you, but no.

So, if you’re like me—pushing into (cringe) middle age, working hard to embrace it, but not exactly willing to go quietly—here are my top tips for aging well:

1. Don’t smoke

I can pick out smokers, now, as they sit themselves down in my office. Mostly because I can look at their chart and see their birth date. If they look significantly older than their age, you can bet there’s smoking in their history. (Trying to quit? Here’s how.)

2. Stay out of the sun 

Most people don’t realize that the majority of skin aging on your face and hands (wrinkles, dark spots, etc.) is due to accumulated sun exposure (photoaging), not to actual aging. True story, people. (If you’re avoiding the sun and concerned about vitamin D, read this.)

3. Use Retin-A (tretinoin) cream

It’s the single best thing that has been produced to fight the signs of aging on your skin. The proper stuff is only available by prescription, but the best news: it’s cheap.

4. Keep a healthy weight

It was the French actress Catherine Deneuve, I believe, who said: “After a certain age, a woman has to choose between her fanny and her face." Meaning, as you try to stay slim and maintain a trim rear-view, the unwanted side effects of your well-intentioned efforts can include a loss of facial plumpness, a hollowing-out of your cheeks, a sunken appearance under your eyes—not a youthful look. The trouble here is that fat is the very thing that plumps out facial lines and wrinkles . . . and bottoms. Still, I think you can have the best of both worlds if you aim for a healthy weight, with a little meat on your bones, and not a super-skinny weight.  

5. Get enough sleep

They do not call it beauty sleep for nothing. When I was in my twenties, I’m pretty sure I looked fresh as a peach, whether I had pulled an all-nighter studying for a physics exam or whether I had indulged in a full 12-hour hibernation. Now? Not so much.

6. Wear sunglasses

Frowning and squinting into the sun all the time leads to what? You got it—frown lines and squint lines. Sunglasses have the dual effect of protecting the skin around your eyes from UV exposure and stopping you from doing all that squinting. Bonus: you get to look stylish and glam.

7. Smile and la​ugh a lot

That way, your facial lines end up in all the right places.

At least that’s what I’m telling myself, and that’s going to be my approach on my 40th birthday. Since it’s either that or ugly-cry my head off à la Meg Ryan. I’m going to opt for the celebration approach.

But not without the biggest glass of wine I can locate.