Has pregnancy made your hair look shiny and voluminous? Or are you experiencing dandruff and dry scalp like never before?
There’s a great deal of things happening to our bodies during the nine months of gestation. We’ve all heard of the pregnancy glow. We get an unrealistic image in mind that, somehow, being pregnant will make us look flawless.
Realistically, however, pregnancy will likely give us pimples, varicose veins, and swelling in every limb. But luckily for us, it usually has some positive effects on our hair. Let’s have a look at some of these, and whether treatments are safe or not.
Hair Changes During Pregnancy
Many things happen to a woman’s hair during pregnancy — some may not surprise you, while others might. I remember I really got to enjoy my voluminous hairdo.
1. Va-Va-Voom Volume!
A few weeks into your pregnancy you may begin to notice fewer hair strands left in your brush. Fast forward a month or so, and you’re probably sporting a thicker head of hair.
“Is pregnancy making my hair grow thicker?” you may ask. No, being pregnant can’t magically cause your hair strands to thicken. It could, however, prevent you from losing as much as you would prior to being pregnant.
It’s actually pretty amazing what’s going on. When we are not pregnant, about 85 to 95 percent of our hair is growing. Then the other 5 to 15 percent is in a resting phase, getting ready to shed.
As you brush or wash your hair, the strands finally loosen their grip and fall out. In fact, on average, women shed approximately 100 hairs every day. Now in their place, new strands begin to grow, replacing what is lost.
Pregnancy and the overproduction of hormones it triggers interrupts this shedding cycle. Our pregnant bodies begin to produce higher levels of estrogen. This extra amount prolongs the hair growth phase, thus delaying the sheddings, resulting in thicker hair (1).
It’s also not uncommon for these extra hormones to cause shinier, straighter, or curlier, hair.
2. Hair Fall
Hair loss is generally not considered a side effect of pregnancy. As we read above, the overproduction of hormones occurring will prevent this from happening.
However, some women may experience hair loss during pregnancy. But this is usually an indicator of vitamin or mineral deficiency. This generally reverses once you regain the appropriate level of nutrients.
When people talk about hair loss and pregnancy, they’re typically referring to the excessive shedding that occurs afterward (2).
During the nine months of pregnancy, most of your hair was in a resting phase, inhibiting sheddings. Once you’ve given birth, hormone levels return to normal, thus triggering postpartum hair loss. This occurs as the follicles rejuvenate.
Therefore, make sure you enjoy your luscious locks while they last. The shedding phase typically occurs during the first months postpartum, and peaks around the fourth. It can be overwhelming to notice increased hair loss, but it is completely normal. During this time, your hair may become quite thin, but don’t worry, it will grow back eventually.
3. Dry Scalp
Dry, itchy scalp is one of the annoying side effects of pregnancy. This symptom generally takes you by surprise during the third trimester. However, some women may suffer throughout the whole nine months (3).
Different factors can lead to a dry scalp, including:
During pregnancy, some of us get all kinds of crazy cravings, while others might struggle to keep even toast down. This can all contribute to a poor diet, where you’re not receiving a sufficient amount of nutrients.
Luckily, you can easily treat this by talking with your doctor or midwife, who may recommend a change of diet, or prescribe some supplements.
Excessive Stress and Anxiety
Studies have revealed that our skin is vulnerable to stress. When we experience excessive pressure, it induces inflammation and immune responses in our skin. This includes the skin on our scalp (4).
While we’re pregnant, it’s common for us to experience an increased amount of stress. This could be worrying about labor, other symptoms, or maybe even personal matters.
Depriving your body of fluids will show in your skin — including your scalp. Dehydration can also lead to constipation, which would only make your dry scalp worse.
If you’re constantly feeling like you are overheating, this could be an indicator of dehydration. Preventing dry skin is a lot easier than treating it.
How to Treat a Dry Scalp
For your dry scalp, you can use either a prescription or over-the-counter shampoo. Look for those containing selenium or zinc pyrithione. Apply like a regular shampoo, and let it sit for five minutes before rinsing it off.
If your dry scalp is due to dehydration, make sure you up your intake of fluids. You should also apply mild, moisturizing products to the area.
However, if you feel excessive itchiness, consult your doctor. He or she may recommend a different topical cream, or order some tests to eliminate other causes.
You can also prevent dry skin by improving your diet. Make sure you include foods containing the required nutrients, such as:
- Fresh fruits.
- Nuts and seeds.
Avoid eating foods containing saturated fats and butter. You should also try to reduce your intake of fried food. I know it can be challenging to resist cravings, but give it a go.
Dry scalp or not, you need to drink plenty of water. During pregnancy, you should ideally drink about 10 cups of water a day. Staying hydrated will not only improve your skin, but also help liver and bowel functions (6).
Dandruff is a skin condition affecting the scalp. It causes flaking and itchiness, usually due to a faster shedding process triggered by a specific event.
If you are experiencing dandruff during your pregnancy, you are not alone. This is yet another standard side effect of being pregnant. Let’s explore three common causes.
Increased Oil Production
Pregnancy will increase the production of oils in our body. When this affects the scalp, it results in a much more efficient production of newer cells.
As the newer cells develop, the old must discharge. This also occurs at a much higher speed than before, which is why you’ll notice more flakes on your scalp.
Sensitivity of Products
Sometimes we can’t blame our hard-working bodies. It’s time to point the finger at those hair products.
Pregnancy can cause us to be ultra-sensitive to chemicals and additives. As we apply products such as shampoos or oils containing these, our skin responds by producing more cells to keep the area protected.
Even a product that you were using before pregnancy without issues could now be causing your dandruff.
Our pregnant bodies tend to get a bit overprotective. During gestation, our body suddenly sees various microorganisms (even good bacteria) as dangerous bacteria or germs. This is an amazing feature that products your baby against biological harm.
However, it can be inconvenient. To fight these bacteria, your scalp begins to shed the outer skin cells, resulting in dandruff. It might also itch or feel irritated.
Treating Dandruff During Pregnancy
Dandruff during pregnancy is treatable (7). However, you should choose a special shampoo, such as those containing:
- Ketoconazole: An antifungal agent.
- Pyrithione zinc: Has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Selenium sulfide: Slows down the aging of the cells, prolonging sheddings.
- Tar-based: Also prolongs the process and may be useful to treat other conditions.
Or a natural remedy, such as:
- Apple cider vinegar: Holds anti-inflammatory properties that clean the scalp of dandruff-causing fungus. Apply overnight and rinse in the morning.
- Aloe vera: Helps remove yeast and fungus with its natural anti-fungal traits. Apply pure aloe directly onto scalp and massage it in.
- Garlic and argan oil: Helps improve blood flow while removing impurities. Finely chop the garlic, mix with argan oil, and rub it on the scalp.
- Coconut oil: Holds antifungal agents, among other nutrients known to fight dandruff. Warm the oil and apply to the scalp, remove after an hour.
- Sea salt: Add a couple of tablespoons to an oil-infused shampoo to exfoliate your scalp. Apply a moisturizer after.
There are also a few ways you can prevent dandruff from occurring:
- Manage stress: As we established above, stress can induce an array of skin issues, including dandruff. Try different ways to manage your stress, such as yoga, warm baths, or — my favorite — binge-watching Netflix.
- Proper diet: Including foods rich in vitamin B and zinc can help regenerate the skin, boost immunity, and optimize your metabolism.
- Proper hair care: Keeping your scalp clean using an anti-dandruff shampoo will help prevent it from becoming an issue.
5. Oily Hair
While some women may enjoy a thicker head of hair, others must endure nine months of greasy locks.
This symptom is, again, quite common and another result of the surging hormones. The production of hormones goes into overdrive to compensate for the changes occurring.
For some women, this means an increased amount of sebum production in the hair follicles, which leads to greasy hair (8).
The intensity all depends on your genetic makeup. For some women, it may also affect their facial area — causing greasy skin and acne breakouts.
On the other hand, these same oil glands can also slow down during your pregnancy and thereby cause frizzy hair or dandruff.
Fortunately, there are ways you can help reduce the amount of oil in your hair.
Skip the Conditioner
While it’s normally recommended to condition your hair after shampooing, during an outbreak of pregnancy-induced oily hair, it’s better not to. Trust me.
The build-up of grease is a naturally occurring moisturizer, so by using conditioner you’re sort of overdosing on the stuff. This, in turn, will worsen the appearance of your hair by making it even more greasy.
Yes, this may sound ridiculous, but shampooing your hair excessively can backfire.
Your shampoo works to clean your hair of dirt and residue, plus oil and grease. Now, the oil glands on your scalp must compensate to prevent dehydration. Thus, they begin to produce even more oil, further increasing the amount of grease on your scalp.
The best thing to do is to use a mild shampoo and wash your hair two or three times a week.
The last two things you can try, like the symptoms above, are improve your diet and reduce stress.
Hair Treatments During Pregnancy
As women, it’s only natural for us to want to look our best. It gives us more confidence, makes us feel sexy and, in all, brings out the best from within. But now that you’re pregnant, there are some precautions to take into consideration.
Below are a few different hair treatments you might think twice about when you’re expecting.
1. Coloring Hair
I always thought this was a big no-no. Yet doctors do actually consider coloring your hair while you’re pregnant safe. Most of the research into the chemicals found in semi-permanent and permanent dyes reveals they are not highly toxic (9).
Additionally, these chemicals are not injected into the bloodstream, only applied to the hair strands and scalp. Your skin may absorb some of the substances; however, it’s just a minimal amount, if any.
This tiny amount has little to no chance of reaching your unborn baby. It’s therefore not considered harmful to color your hair while pregnant.
The most important consideration is to dye your hair in a well-ventilated area. You want to avoid breathing in fumes as much as possible.
To Be On The Safe Side
There is also the option of using natural plant-based dyes, such as henna. These do not contain any chemicals, but make sure you are not allergic first.
If you choose to try your hand at henna, make sure you get a pure product with no additives. These do limit your choices of colors to brown and red. But you can add natural colors such as indigo to darken it a bit, maybe even give it a blue hue.
If you’re looking to lighten your color, spray some fresh lemon juice in your hair and let it dry in the sun. Lemon juice works as a mild bleach that you then enhance with the sun. Just make sure you apply sunscreen to your skin and don’t stay out too long.
You could also opt for a little touch up instead, and go with a few highlights. This will decrease the amount of dye placed on your scalp, thus minimizing your exposure.
A perm, or permanent, is where you use either chemicals or heat to create a curly look that will last a month or more. This fun retro hairstyle is totally making a comeback.
Usually, salons use quite a few chemicals to make the otherwise straight hair curly. It’s a process that includes breaking and reforming the structure of the hair.
Fortunately, for all you regular perm mammas, getting a perm while pregnant is safe (11).
Similar to the hair dyes, there are still little to no conclusive studies on the subject. But the body absorbs little of the chemicals used.
The results of the perm, however, may disappoint you. As we’ve established above, the texture of your hair can change dramatically during pregnancy. This can interfere with the outcome of the treatment, and it may fall flat. Mine did just that — literally.
However, another thing goes for pregnant hairdressers. Again, little conclusive studies are available.
However, you can prevent this with proper working conditions and precautions. For example, by wearing gloves and keeping the room well ventilated to minimize the fume exposure.
3. Straightening Treatments
For some women, the overproduction of pregnancy hormones results in frizzy hair. Locks that just won’t stay in place no matter how much you wash, blow dry or straighten it. For others, it may be that they simply prefer a straight look as opposed to curly.
Either way, in these cases, it’s common for us to resort to chemicals — ever heard of a relaxer, keratin straightening, or a Brazilian blowout?
The answer varies, so let’s start with a relaxer:
A relaxer is when you apply chemical creams or lotions to your hair. These will then relax it, so it’s easier to manage.
Much like hair dye, the chemicals used in a relaxer aren’t absorbed into the bloodstream. Experts do consider it safe when used in moderation, but always err on the side of caution. There is still no evidence of side effects to the fetus.
Keratin Straightening Treatment and Brazilian Blowout
If you’re planning to get a Brazilian blowout or keratin straightening treatment done while pregnant, you should reschedule. Of all the treatments on our list, this is the one you want to steer away from (13).
These treatments take a lot of time, meaning you’re exposed to the chemical fumes for longer. Besides that, our skin tends to absorb these readily. In fact, some studies have shown that long-term exposure can cause cancer.
A 2013 study found some evidence linking hair straightening cosmetics use during pregnancy and the development of childhood cancer like leukemia in children under 2-years-old (14).
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
But especially for this treatment, it might be better to keep your natural curls until after delivery.
Let Your Hair Down
Pregnancy alters a lot about a woman’s body — our belly grows, ankles swell, and sometimes our hair takes on a new look.
Depending on your genetic makeup, pregnancy might make your locks appear voluminous, luscious, and healthy. For others, dry scalp, dandruff, frizz, or oily hair may be more realistic.
Either way, as women, we love to switch up our look, and luckily, most treatments are deemed safe to carry out while pregnant. However, my advice is to do it in moderation, if at all.
Embrace your pregnancy and all that comes with it. Relax and enjoy it as much as you can, as it will soon be a distant memory. You might be pulling your hair out soon enough!
How is your hair changing during pregnancy? We would love to hear your experiences, good or bad! Please let us know below.
And please share our article with the soon-to-be mamas in your life!