Chemotherapy can cause hair loss as well affect hair regrowth. Towards the end of treatment, or soon after, your hair will start to come back. When your hair does return, the texture and color may be different than your original hair - and when your post-chemo hair is very curly, it's called chemo curls. You may be tired of wearing your wig and eager to show off your new hair, so learn how to take good care of your chemo curls.
You've Got Chemo Curls
Chemotherapy drugs affect the roots of your hair, and will continue to affect hair shaft formation because the drugs will still be in your system for some time after treatment. Your hair, skin, and fingernails will take some time to recover as the toxins leave your body. When your new hair comes in, it may be different from your natural hair at first. This is due to the loss or change of pigment and may result in white, gray, or some color different than your natural hair color. As your body recovers and hair pigment rebounds, your hair may return to its original color, or a color close to your pre-chemo hair. Expect a change in hair texture as well - it may initially be kinky, curly, coarse, or even fine as baby hair. This initial chemo hair may be trimmed away as it grows out over the next six to twelve months after treatment. Give yourself time to recover - meanwhile, treat your new hair gently.
Caring For Chemo Curls
Your new hair may feel as if it had a really bad permanent wave treatment, and it makes sense to treat it that way. Use a very mild shampoo - try baby shampoo or products for dry or damaged hair. While shampooing your chemo curls, massage your scalp to increase circulation to your roots and remove any dry, flaky skin. Avoid using very hot water because your scalp may be tender. After your shampoo, put on a leave-in conditioner for fine or limp hair. Here's a tip: put a teaspoon of conditioner in one palm, then rub both hands together gently to distribute the conditioner and finally cup your hands over your hair and gently wipe from front to back. This should distribute the conditioner evenly over your hair. Dry your hair gently by blotting with a thick towel, or use a low heat setting on your hair dryer. Style your new hair gently - vigorous brushing, combing and pinning can break brittle chemo curls. Put away your curling and straightening irons for now - the heat can burn your tender scalp. Use styling products that offer a light hold, as these are easy to wash out and won't make your hair look like plastic. Go for water-based products whenever you can find them - those are healthy for your hair and the environment!
Hair Coloring and Permanent Waves
My stylist got me to wait until my hair was three inches long before she would do anything chemical to it. Hair that is shorter than three inches is very difficult to style and manage. If your scalp is still tender, please wait until it recovers and then consult a professional hairdresser for help with hair color and permanent waves. You'll need to settle for the largest size curlers and a body wave solution with a short processing time. Small tight curlers and harsh chemicals cooking your hair can break those brittle strands and you may lose some of your new hair in the process. As for hair color and bleach, wait until your hair has grown beyond the chemo curl stage before you use any permanent hair color or harsh chemicals to lighten your hair. Instead, use wash-in semipermanent colors or temporary hair colors which are relatively gentle on brittle, dried chemo curls. Your hairdresser may be able to create a few highlights for you, if you just want some variety in your new hair, before it grows out.
Cutting Off Chemo Curls
If you are running out of patience with your chemo curls, you could try doing a one-inch buzz cut. Before you do, please know that the hair close to your scalp may still be curly, even if you use mousse or gel to try and straighten it. Try to wait until your hair has grown out at least three inches, and then ask your hairdresser to trim the ends. That will get the most brittle hair out of your way. You may like to get the ends trimmed monthly or every other month, until your hair returns to its normal texture. In six to twelve months, most of the chemo curls will be gone and you can try new hairstyles with your short hair. Enjoy your new hair - it is another mark of surviving breast cancer.
Chemotherapy Related Hair Loss. Zoe Draelos, M.D. and Mike Mahoney, AHLC Executive Director. American Hair Loss Council
How Do I Deal With Losing My Hair? American Cancer Society. Revised: 12/09/2005.