It’s time to celebrate! But if you’re feeling a little puzzled or frustrated as well as elated, relax-hair growth after cancer treatment hardly ever goes like you’d expect. Your locks could be thicker, straighter, curlier, even a different color than they were. “My hair used to be straight and wispy,” says survivor Gerry, “and then [it] grew back curly and thick. ‘Your hair looks so good!’ said a friend. ‘Where’d you have it done?’ ‘Paoli Memorial Hospital,’ I joked.”
As your hair struggles to set up house again on your head, keep in mind that it’s still in a state of transition. The chemo (or radiation) affected the hair follicle, and it will take time before it regains its health and strength. Be ready for a change, and perhaps even more than one shift in texture or color. “When my curly hair grew back in,” says survivor Charlotte, “at first, it was quite straight, and some was grey. My oncologist assured me that both things would not be permanent and he was right. My hair went back to being curly and the grey hair cleared up.”
The important thing to remember is this: Be gentle. New hair is sensitive-like baby hair, starting all over again. Think of the strands like baby sprouts on your spring plants, and you’ll get the idea of the tender care they need! According to cancer educator Lisa Fayed, it’s best to use a gentle shampoo and conditioner (like Terressentials or Aubrey Organics) and avoid any processes like perms or colorings for at least six months. The skin of your scalp remains sensitive as well, and is best not exposed to strong chemicals. Fayed even cautions against heated styling tools like curling and straightening irons and hair dryers, as they can easily damage new hair. Use a soft bristle brush, and never tease or rat tender strands-it causes breakage.
To encourage healthy regrowth, good nutrition is a must. Consider a multi-vitamin, and perhaps an extra supplement of B vitamins, which are known to be good for hair. Other good nutrients include zinc, magnesium, and beta carotene. Since hair is made of keratin and protein, a diet rich in protein will promote healthy growth. Add more soy, light meats, wheat germ, yogurt, eggs, and fish to your daily meals. Protect new hair from the sun (resurrect your favorite hats and scarves!) and go for natural styles that won’t require a lot of manipulation. And you may want to try scalp massage. It feels great, and it’s believed to improve circulation and thereby support hair growth.
What if you’re hair isn’t growing back? “If regrowth is not happening that quickly, talk to your doctor about the likely causes,” advises Mario Lacouture, MD, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Dermatologic Care Center. “These [causes] may include treatment-induced low levels of zinc or iron, thyroid problems, or stress.” Dr. Lacouture says your doctor may suggest iron or zinc supplements, or other solutions depending on your particular case.
In the end, use the patience you’ve learned through the whole cancer process, and remember that the whole experience has given you something not a lot of people have: an appreciation for your own hair. “It seems like forever to get enough hair to make you feel good (and not like a cancer patient),” says survivor ly3. “After nearly 3 years, I still, and probably always will, appreciate the feel and sight of my hair.”
Have any great tips to encourage hair growth after chemo? Let us know!
Photo “soft and fuzzy” courtesy of catch my fancy, via Flickr.com.