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Can hair coloring trigger migraine?

Can hair coloring trigger migraine?

Our readers ask some of the best questions. This one is so good that the answer deserves to be shared with everyone.

“I stopped coloring my hair. Now my migraines are less frequent and less severe. Can you explain this?”

What a great question! Not being an expert on hair coloring, I decided to consult my daughter who is a licensed cosmetologist specializing in hair coloring. She also happens to have Chronic Migraine. I figured if anyone could help us out, it would be her. I learned a lot. Hopefully, her wisdom will help you, too.

Scent triggers

Depending on the quality of your hair coloring product, it is quite possible that some chemicals could trigger migraine. She was quick to implicate bleach as the primary culprit. Apparently the bleach used to strip color from the hair stays on the hair shaft and scalp for quite a while. This is one potential trigger that really sticks with you.

She didn’t rule out perfumes or other harsh chemicals either. Any strong smell can be a migraine trigger. To be safe, she recommends using all-organic hair coloring with no perfumes or chemicals for hair health and migraine trigger avoidance.

Physical stress

But she didn’t stop with just ingredients. She went on to explain that the physical process of hair coloring can also be a trigger.

When applying an all-over color, the stylist must pull the hair tight to apply coloring to the root. This puts stress on the scalp. The use of foils also requires pulling tightly on the hair dozens of times. Plus, the added weight of the foils themselves puts physical stress on the scalp.

If you color your own hair, then you have the added physical strain of raising your arms up to apply color and wrap foils for several hours, too.

Hair coloring is not a fast process either. Sitting in a stylist’s chair for hours can set off muscle tension – yet another migraine trigger. You might also miss lunch or fail to stay hydrated.

The salon environment

If the chemicals and physical assaults to your scalp don’t set off a migraine attack, there is still the possibility that the salon itself is a trigger. The fumes from manicures or chemical perms could certainly trigger an attack. Florescent lights, noises of hairdryers, music, and people talking, or the smell of perfumes can all add up to a migraine disaster.

The process of coloring your hair is full of potential migraine triggers!

However, not all potential triggers will be your personal triggers. You might find that only certain brands of coloring are triggers. Maybe you will be able tolerate an all-over color, but not tolerate the physical stress of highlights, ombre, or multiple colors. Maybe you can’t tolerate bleaching.

She recommends finding a quiet salon that does not offer manicures or chemical perms. Schedule the appointment during a slow time and arrive rested, hydrated, and not hungry. Choose an all-organic hair coloring and ask for an all-over color done by a licensed cosmetologist. This is the gentlest way to color your hair with the fewest number of potential triggers.

If you can tolerate a basic coloring, then slowly experiment with other hair coloring services. Over time you will discover what services are tolerable and how to avoid the most noxious environments to minimize your trigger load.

Good luck and happy, migraine-free hair coloring!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • arobe1002
    3 years ago

    I switched to Madison Reed Hair color, and it doesn’t smell bad at all! It has a very mild scent! So, if the scent of the hair color is a trigger for you, I recommend this! It’s only available online right now, but you can chat with an expert and find the right color for your hair. It’s pretty nice!!!

  • Tammy Rome author
    3 years ago

    Great tip!

  • Jojiieme
    3 years ago

    My stylists also live with dermatitis and migraines, so they understand my chronic issues well. Thank goodness! I feel so lucky have found them.
    The salon is quiet, and low-stimulus anyway (relying on a spectacular external view for relaxing impact). Products used are generally a low-scent vegan range because that’s kinder for the greater percentage of their customers’ needs (ranging from very young to quite elderly, male and female).
    They open quite early in the morning, so you can get an appointment when everyone else is still rushing to work.
    They make sure you’re hydrated with free glasses of water all through your session; if you need meds, they’ll race to the pharmacy a couple of doors up to grab what they can for you. (Helps if it’s your pharmacy!)
    A couple of the basin chairs are also back-massage chairs; the staff all do great scalp massage, tho, if you’re up to it. Once or twice it’s been too much for me, so they’ve just rinsed off, gently towelled dry and got me safely home.
    I don’t pay extra for this either – their prices are very competitive. But I only go about 4 times a year max so that I don’t push my luck 😉

  • TNmigGal
    3 years ago

    I’m actually very lucky – my hair stylist is a family friend and she comes to my house to cut & color my hair. She doesn’t use bleach, but a true lightener and it doesn’t seem to linger. Also the dye we use on my hair is a dark purple and doesn’t use a catalyst (I think that’s the technical term) – it’s a vegan dye with very little smell – none of that harsh chemical stuff. I had my hair long for a while, but would always need to pull it away from my face – usually in a ponytail or headband, but realized this was not helping my migraines, so I am now sporting a fairly short haircut – it’s easier to style and takes less daily maintenance than the longer hair.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    “She recommends finding a quiet salon that does not offer manicures or chemical perms.”
    I finally had to do this just to get a hair cut with instructions to only spray my hair with plain unscented water. A few years ago the beautician started cutting then went into the back room for a minute. She put lotion on her hands then kept running her hands through my hair. Took 3 days to get that smell out of my hair. Now I just let my hair grow and occasionally I trim it. In the last year or so I have had to stuff my hair in a hat when out shopping to keep the smell out of it. This just from going to regular stores. Always wanted to put a red rinse in my hair but not worth the risk of contaminating my air space (brain :))

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