Pregnancy is sort of famous for all the changes it brings. The process of growing a human will change your body, your lifestyle, your skincare routine, and yes, pregnancy will even change your hair.
Unlike a lot of the bodily changes you’ll deal with — looking at you, stretch marks, heartburn, and pregnancy acne — the news is at least (mostly) good when it comes to pregnancy hair changes. “Pregnancy is a special time for many women, and one of the most notable changes is the growth of luscious, thick hair,” says Jamie Wiley, a celebrity stylist and global artistic director of Pureology. “While this is a welcome change, women should be aware that this will not last forever,” she adds.
To help you navigate the hair changes you can expect during pregnancy and the postpartum period, here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know to keep your strands strong.
Meet the Experts
Jamie Wiley is a celebrity stylist and global artistic director of Pureology.
Mark Faucher, M.D., is a hair loss specialist in New York who spent the first 20 years of his career as an obstetrician.
Pregnancy hair changes
The famously luscious mane many women develop during pregnancy is due to the many changes in hormone levels that come with this period — particularly, the significant rise in estrogen.
Estrogen levels rise steadily as your pregnancy progresses, peaking in the third trimester. As the hormone supports all of the changes in your baby’s body (like triggering the development of organ growth) it also wreaks havoc on your body. Heightened levels of estrogen are responsible for increased blood flow to your skin which can cause redness, itchiness or blotchiness, and hyperpigmentation and melasma.
When it comes to hair, however, pumped-up estrogen levels do your follicles a solid. “Estrogen causes the hair follicles to remain in the growth phase for longer periods of time,” explains Wiley. Not only does that promote new hair growth, it curbs your hair’s natural levels of shedding for an overall thicker effect.
That doesn’t mean pregnancy hair is all voluminous ’90s blowouts though. During pregnancy, many women also experience some unwelcome changes in their hair texture. Frizzy, limp, and brittle strands are all normal during pregnancy, again, thanks to changing hormone levels.
Postpartum hair changes
After giving birth, the hormones in your body will return to pre-pregnancy levels, kicking your hair follicles back into their normal cycle of growth and shedding.
Functionally, that means your hair suddenly has an extra nine months’ worth of strands to shed. “New moms may experience noticeable hair loss a few months after having a baby,” especially after they stop breastfeeding, says Mark Faucher, M.D., a hair loss specialist in New York who spent the first 20 years of his career as an obstetrician. “Some women even experience what feels like excessive shedding or a one-time shedding event,” he says. Although it’s just returning to your pre-pregnancy baseline, the rapidness of the change can make it feel like you’re suddenly losing all your hair. Don’t panic, you’re not, Dr. Faucher assures. The hair loss is natural, “typically caused by hormonal swings and specifically falling estrogen levels,” he says.
“To minimize shedding, it is important to use gentle, hydrating products and take good care of the hair,” says Wiley. For this reason, you may want to avoid heat styling tools during the postpartum period, Wiley says. “They can strip the hair of its natural oils and cause further breakage,” she explains.
If the shedding continues several months into the postpartum period or you feel like your mane really is significantly thinner than it was before pregnancy, “don’t be afraid to ask questions or consult with a hair loss specialist,” says Dr. Faucher. “While rare, excessive hair shedding may be unmasking a predisposition to genetic hair loss, requiring more medical intervention.” It’s also possible for the hormonal rollercoaster of pregnancy to disrupt normal thyroid function, he adds. “Thyroid levels may need to be checked to rule out any potential thyroid disorders at play.”
How to style your hair during pregnancy and postpartum
Dealing with all these pregnancy and postpartum hair changes often means updating your styling routine. “To tackle increased frizziness, I recommend using a smoothing shampoo and conditioner to help tame the flyaways,” says Wiley. She also suggests a weekly deep conditioning mask and topping off your routine with a lightweight leave-in conditioner.
If you’re dealing with limp strands, regularly deep cleansing your hair to remove buildup is key, says Wiley. “To tackle increased brittleness, I recommend using a hydrating shampoo and conditioner to help nourish the hair,” she says. She recommends Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner. “The jojoba, green tea, and sage will nourish the hair,” she says.
Haircare ingredients to avoid during pregnancy
There are certain products that shouldn’t touch your pregnant skin. (Retinol and salicylic acid, chief among them, as they can be absorbed through skin and have been linked to birth defects.) Likewise, there’s a reason to pay closer attention to ingredient labels on your hair products when you’re pregnant.
“As a hairstylist, I always recommend that women avoid common hair care ingredients such as sulfates, parabens, and synthetic fragrances,” says Wiley. “These ingredients can cause irritation to the scalp, skin, and eyes, as well as strip away natural oils that are essential for healthy hair.”
Pregnant women have even more reason to be concerned. Phthalates and parabens in particular are known endocrine disruptors and some research suggests that they may be especially harmful during pregnancy. “Studies have found that high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals (phthalates, parabens, triclosan) that are found in personal care products and fragrance additives, can increase the odds of preterm birth, decreased gestational age at birth, birth weight, and body length,” says Dr. Faucher.
One recent study published in the journal of Environmental Research found that certain hair products containing phthalates had the potential to alter hormone levels during pregnancy which could contribute to growth restriction and preterm birth. “While the extent of the potential harm is not fully understood, it is best to be cautious and avoid products with these ingredients while pregnant,” says Wiley.
You should also avoid chemical hair straighteners that contain formaldehyde, especially during pregnancy. “This ingredient has been linked to fertility problems and miscarriage,” says Dr. Faucher.
Can you dye your hair during pregnancy?
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, dyeing your hair during pregnancy is safe. “Hair dyes have improved over time and are even safer for use now than in previous years; the chance of any chemicals reaching your bloodstream, and therefore your baby, is low,” says Dr. Faucher.
Since erring on the side of caution is always better during pregnancy, many doctors and stylists will recommend waiting until after the first trimester — a critical period of fetal development — before you book time with your colorist, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “Peace of mind is important for overall well-being during pregnancy, so I have this rule of thumb: If you have any doubt or sense of being uncomfortable with dyeing your hair, just don’t do it,” Dr. Faucher says.
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