New Hair, New Look After Chemo

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Virgin hair is a term sometimes applied to hair that grows in after chemotherapy. Some women may experience the beginnings of hair regrowth before treatment ends, for many women growth appears about three weeks after they stop chemo treatment.  

A fuzz, similar to duck down, can be seen and felt on a woman’s head. About a month after that, real hair starts to grow at a rate normal for each woman. Usually at the two month after mark, a woman will have an inch of hair.

Growing back a full head of hair will vary from woman to woman. This also holds true for eye lashes, eye brows and pubic hair.

The newly diagnosed women I’ve met often shared that losing their hair was the treatment side effect they feared the most. Some women, devastated by their breast cancer diagnosis, had a very difficult time coping with the temporary hair loss of chemo.

Many women choose to deal with their hair loss by covering their head with attractive hats or scarves, while others prefer wigs. A small number of women choose not to cover their heads at all.

 As someone with personal experience in wearing wigs, hats and scarves I suggest the following:

  • Don't rely entirely on wearing a wig; switch off with a scarf and a hat. Wigs can be hot and feel heavy if you are not used to them. Many hours of wearing one may lead to developing a headache.
  • Buy a wig from a wig salon that can fit and style a wig so it doesn’t look like a wig.
  • Consider a wig made of synthetic hair as it is less costly than human hair and takes less maintenance.
  • Look first for wigs, hats and scarfs in cancer treatment center boutiques that specialize in these products or get referrals from other survivors, or your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
  • Take someone with you when wig shopping for feedback on how you look
  • Buy a wig that closely resembles how you wear your hair and is similar in color

Many women describe the time from the end of chemotherapy treatment to the spotting of the first hair growth as both an anxious and exciting time. 

For most women, their new hair is a proof positive that hair does grow back. Having hair again makes women feel attractive to themselves, and confident that they are attractive to others. For many, hair growth confirms they are on the road to wellness.

Virgin hair may closely resemble what a woman’s hair was like before chemo, or, in many cases, be an entirely new look. One thing is almost always the same; it is soft hair, silky to the touch, like a baby’s hair. Often hair comes in a different color, thicker, wavy, and even curly.

After months of wearing a wig, hats, scarfs or going without any head covering at all, a woman is thrilled and pleased to see hair coming in whatever the color, be her hair straight, wavy or curly !

It is important to be gentle with new hair. It is not a good idea to use styling products, or curling and straightening devices. Coloring or bleaching could damage new hair as well as irritate a scalp that is still sensitive from breast cancer treatment.

It is best to avoid strenuous or harsh brushing. If you use a hair dryer at all, use a low heat setting.

New hair may be improved through regular cutting by removing the ends. It is important not to stress the hair by putting hair in tight, rolled-up styles.

Some women ask about hair extensions and weaving to add volume and length to new hair. This may not be the best solution as weaving can damage hair follicles; hair extensions and weaving can put a strain on existing hair.

Most important...enjoy your new look; celebrate the end of chemo!

Jean Campbell is a 2x breast cancer survivor and the former founding director of the American Cancer Society New York City Patient Navigator Program in 14 public and private hospitals.She is executive director of a nonprofit organization providing research and resource information and support to women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

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