Of the many physical changes I went through during my pregnancy three years ago, most weren’t considered “pretty.” But along with the stretching, swelling and puberty-worthy pimples came the lush locks I’d always dreamed of. My ankles were swollen, sure, but I had va-va-voom volume and a wonderfully thick ponytail.
“Great hair is something many pregnant women rave about,” says Caroline Ruggiero, a hair specialist and co-owner of Capilia Truly You, a hair-loss treatment clinic in Mississauga, Ont. That’s because during pregnancy you have increased levels of estrogen and androgen, which promote shinier, healthier-looking hair. Some women also experience changes in hair texture, such as more or less natural curl or suddenly oilier strands, which could be attributed to hormonal fluctuations. And many moms-to-be notice a fuller head of hair.
Every strand of hair goes through a three-stage cycle of growth, transition and rest before it falls out. Normally, we shed up to 100 hairs a day, but the extra estrogen we produce during pregnancy prolongs the growth stage, resulting in very little shedding.
Some pregnant women also notice new hair growing in unwanted places, like the face, belly or around the nipples, and, although rare, hair on the forearms or upper lip can appear thicker and darker. If this new-found body hair bothers you, the safest route for removal is tweezing (for those small facial areas) or shaving (for larger patches of fuzz). “Waxing is also safe, but I’d recommend seeing an aesthetician instead of doing it yourself at home,” advises Ruggiero. Your skin can be more sensitive to pain when you’re expecting, and if you’re in the second or third trimester, you’ll have trouble seeing and reaching delicate areas below the waist. According to Motherisk, an organization that provides up-to-date advice for pregnant and nursing women and their doctors, depilatory creams are considered safe. However, if you are concerned about using chemicals during pregnancy, you could wait until after the first trimester, since that’s when a lot of major development happens. (Always test on a small patch of skin first, to avoid reactions.) Bleaching products are also considered safe, but you may choose to use the same caution.
For better or for worse, none of the hair changes last. When your hormone roller coaster levels out about six to nine months postpartum—or possibly later, if you’re breastfeeding—your hair’s growth cycle will go back to normal. Body hair will thin out and lighten; that massive mane will go back to its usual size. For some women, this transition is dramatic, resulting in a condition called telogen effluvium, where hair may come out in handfuls. Some new moms even experience small temporary bald spots for a few months.
For Kara Faulkner-Lee, a new mom in Peterborough, Ont., the shedding has been shocking. She’s now three months postpartum, and her hair is falling out in a big way. “I have to clean out the drain halfway through a shower because so much is coming out,” she says. “Then I have to sweep the floor after I blow-dry because there’s hair everywhere—it’s that bad.”
Some of the hair changes that happen during and after pregnancy can be distressing, but it’s important to remember that they’re temporary and common. “Things will go back to normal, eventually,” says Ruggiero. “But if the hair growth—or loss—is significant or really bothering you, there are professional treatments available; you don’t have to just live with it.” If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor for more information.
Do you colour? Studies show our bodies absorb very little of the chemicals in hair dyes (as well as those used to bleach, relax or perm hair), so three or four trips to the salon during a pregnancy is deemed safe. To be cautious, you may want to skip your treatment until the second trimester or opt for ammonia-free bleach or vegetable-based colours.
A version of this article appeared in our June 2015 issue with the headline, “Pregnancy hair,” p. 45.