From Bald to Beautiful Tresses – The Cancer Thriver’s Guide to Hair Regrowth

The number one thought on most women’s minds during and after chemo is how and when will my hair grow back. We can’t wait for the day to come and yet as soon as those hairs start to sprout, we encounter a host of new challenges. Having the tools and the knowledge to navigate the regrowth will make a world of difference and help you enjoy and style your hair at each step of the path. So let’s jump right in as I share all of my hair “secrets” with you about how manage and style your hair after chemo.

Hair Growth Supplements

One of the first steps post-chemo is to talk to your doctor to see if you can take a hair growth supplement like Biotin. Without supplements your hair will grow, but why not find out if you can give it a little boost. Always check with your oncologist first before taking any vitamins or supplements and ask which brands he/she would recommend.

Keep in mind that depending on your chemo regimen and your genetics, your pace of growth will differ. I know it’s hard, but don’t panic if your chemo buddy is rocking a full head of hair and your baby hairs are just sprouting. Give it a little time and yours will soon take off too.

Don’t be surprised that you will quickly have hair sprouting up EVERYWHERE on your body. The face, leg and pubic hair may be welcomed but sadly we can’t pick and choose.

Education & Inspiration

For many of us, hair regrowth after chemo will be the first time we have ever experienced short hair. Just like with anything new, it helps to have education and “training.”

Head online or pull out a magazine and look for inspiration. Pinterest is another awesome tool to find ideas. Create an idea board with short hair styles. Include a variety of lengths so you have inspiration for each stage of your regrowth. With trends ever changing, there is no lack of resources. The internet is filled with pixies, bobs, and buzz cuts.

Instagram is an awesome tool as well. Use hashtags such as #chemohair #chemocurls #hairgrowth to find other women re-growing their hair. It’s great to find someone a few months ahead of you with similar hair texture. Their progress will give you something to look forward to each step of the way.

Check out some of my favorite hair-spiration pages: Sarah Lou Who, Short Hair Life, Nothing But Pixies, Chloe Brown

All About Texture

One of the most talked about aspects of hair regrowth after chemo is texture. For many women, hair after chemo can come back with a different texture than before, which can be shocking if you’re not prepared for it.  Many times, hair will come back a new color and thicker or thinner than you were used to. In my case my hair came back lighter and thicker, but the color changed over the first few months.

So what about those infamous chemo curls? Chemotherapy kills rapidly dividing cells like hair and that explains why hair follicles are the first to go. When chemotherapy is complete, remnants of the drugs may remain impacting the regrowing hair cells. These altered follicles may appear curly and more coarse. As the hair gets longer, the tight curls may fade to waves, while for others the curls may stick around for the long term. In my experience, my chemo curls appeared at around 6 months and then faded at about 10 months.

Colouring

Sometimes the pigment of hair can be changed when it returns after cancer. Doctors are not exactly sure why this happens but it is most likely linked to the chemo drugs and their remaining effects. For some people their hair comes back light, more grey or a whole new color completely. You may love this change or you may want to do something about it.

So when can you start dying your hair? During the first 4-6 months, your hair will be brand new baby follicles that need to be cared for gently. Try not to dye your hair during that time period and give your new hair a chance to strengthen. When you reach the 5 months mark, it’s OK to consult with your hairstylist about colouring your hair, preferably with a non-ammonia colour such as Loreal INOA. Try to stay away from strong lighteners until at least 8 months.

I started coloring my dark brown hair at 5 months post chemo and slowly went blonde over time.

Styling

So, now that you have some inspiration and your hair is starting to grow, how do you style it? Experimentation and finding the right products are the keys to success. Knowing what products and styling tools to add to your arsenal at each stage will help you adapt to the changing texture and length.

Products & Tools Key

0-3 months

During the first few months there is not much that you can do in terms of styling, but I do have a few tips for you. The sides and nape of your neck will grow much faster than the top/front of your head, so you may want to head to your salon to shape up the edges. It may be terrifying to get a trim when you’re aiming for growth, but it will allow you to have a clean sculpted look as you wait for the top to fill in.

As your hair gets a little longer, you can also experiment with a good wax to help tame crazy hairs and slick down the sides. A little shine spray can really help if your hair is coming in coarse and dull.

4 – 6 months

At around 4 months you can begin to force a side part with a comb and strong hold pomade. This baby hair brush is super soft and will help you smooth your short hairs and set the wax in place.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can also experiment with an undercut or a buzz design while you wait for the top to catch up. Using headbands and strong brows at this stage can really help balance your face and add a feminine touch.

The faux hawk is another great style to try around the 5 month mark. You will have just enough hair to smooth to the middle, and this will disguise the lack of length on the front of your head.

By about 6 months you will have more of a pixie look, which gives you more styling options. Investing in mini straightener and touchable curl cream will allow you to tame the curls for a curly or straight look. Hair oil is also great for smoothing the frizz that comes with chemo curls. Don’t try to brush your hair at this stage unless you want to end up with a big poof. Instead use a wide tooth comb to detangle and gentle massage hair products into your hair with your hands.

This time period will also lend itself well to the ‘tousled look’. Experiment with dry shampoo and texture spray to create definition and movement with your hair.

You may find that you need hydrating products at this stage to combat the dryness that comes with curly hair. The hydrating shampoo and conditioner from Pureology were lifesaving products for me and I know others who have raved about Maui Moisture line. If you’re looking for a natural option, try Beauty Counter’s Smooth & Repair line.

8 – 12 months

As the top of your hair finally begins to catch up in length, you will have more styling options. While you will want to continue to have your hair stylist trim the nape of your neck and ears, start to feather the ear area instead of a blunt cut to allow your ‘fringe’ to develop.

This is the stage where I really started experimenting more with my hair. I used my mini straightener to create more defined curls, slept in foam rollers for a more retro look and even tried a daring curly faux hawk look. Check out these full tutorial for more details.

Retro Curls (1 year post chemo)

Curls with a Straightener (1 year post chemo)

Faux Hawk (1 year post chemo)

1 year and beyond

Once you get to the bob stage (usually around 1 year), you can finally fully straighten your hair (with a 1/2″ straightener), curl it, and even try a fun braided updo. I chose to continue my trims throughout this period to avoid the mullet look. Some people choose to push through the mullet look in order to achieve a little more length quicker. It’s completely up to you as to which route you choose.

I’m not going to lie, it’s challenging to adjust to the ever-changing length, but I always try to remind myself that each stage passes. Even at 2 years post chemo there are weeks when I can’t stand my hair and wish it was longer (or shorter haha). I have to constantly search for new inspiration, try new styles and experiment with new products.  With the right tools, products and accessories, and an open mind I have learned that you can successfully achieve a stylish look at every stage of your chemo hair regrowth.

If you want to learn more about extensions check out this article.

More Hair Tutorials:

Braided bob updo (1 year 9 months post chemo)

Curling with a straightener (1 year 11 months  post chemo)

About the Author

Anna Crollman is a blogger, breast cancer survivor, and motivational speaker specializing in wellness, beauty, and style content. She uses her compelling experience of facing a life-threatening disease in her twenties to inspire young women to overcome adversity with strength, confidence and style. Anna founded and runs My Cancer Chic, a platform providing insight, resources and community for young women facing cancer.

Learn more at http://www.mycancerchic.com/

Anna Crollman