After chemotherapy for breast cancer, it’s a relief to see new hair growing back, and you may look forward to styling it. Because breast cancer treatment can also cause skin changes, you may have questions about how to color your new hair. How safe is it to dye hair after chemo? And is one type of hair dye better than another?
If you’re thinking of dyeing your hair after chemo hair loss, keep reading to learn about recommendations from medical professionals and tips from MyBCTeam members.
Alopecia (hair loss) and hair thinning are side effects of chemotherapy that can cause the scalp to become sensitive. Some people experience itchiness or irritation. After chemotherapy, your scalp can be especially sensitive to sun exposure, heat, and cold. Your hair may grow back very slowly at first and will be very fragile. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, but in the process, it can also cause damage to skin cells, hair follicles, and hair roots that will generally heal over time.
Hair growth usually starts approximately three to six months after chemo. Mayo Clinic recommends not using hair dye until your hair feels like it’s strong. Cancer Research UK, a British organization that funds cancer research, recommends waiting six months after chemotherapy before using permanent hair dyes (which last until hair grows out), semipermanent hair dyes (which wash out over time), or perms (chemical treatments to change the texture). Using a hair dye too soon after chemotherapy may damage hair and irritate your scalp.
Some people may choose to wait even longer as hair grows stronger. A MyBCTeam member shared their experience with new hair growth. “Had my 1.5 inches of hair colored. Felt so good to be at a salon again after nine months! Hair is no longer gray, rather reddish brown. Not back to my usual blonde, but so refreshing to not see gray! Progress … Yahoo!”
As hair starts to come back after chemo, be gentle with your scalp and hair, and avoid hair dyes, bleaches, and hot styling devices. Hair changes from chemotherapy may occur in the color, texture, or thickness of hair. For instance, sometimes straight hair will become curly — called chemo curls — or even frizzy after chemotherapy. There’s also a small risk that hair may not grow back after chemotherapy.
Hair dyes contain a range of chemicals, some of which may cause skin irritation, eye irritation, or contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes an itchy rash. Although some ingredients in hair dye have been linked to impaired kidney function, cell damage, and cancer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the use of these compounds to a level that’s believed to be safe for humans.
According to the American Cancer Society, people who work in hair salons or barber shops have a slightly increased risk of bladder cancer. Studies of hair dye and the risk of leukemias, lymphomas, and breast cancer have mixed results.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that personal use of hair dyes doesn’t increase cancer risk. Likewise, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTC), which works with the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has also determined that hair dye is safe for personal use. However, the NTC has classified some of the chemicals used in hair dye as a potential cancer risk for humans.
Some MyBCTeam members report that their hair reacted differently while they were taking cancer medications. One member wrote, “I want to have my hair colored to cover up all the gray I have now. I tried having it colored while on Perjeta, Herceptin, and Taxotere, and it was a disaster, turning my hair almost orange.”
If you’re taking maintenance medication to prevent a breast cancer relapse, ask your oncologist about potential side effects of hair dye.
Vegetable hair coloring — or plant-based hair coloring — such as henna is generally perceived as being safer than chemical hair dyes because it’s “natural.” Some hairdressers consider vegetable hair coloring more gentle. However, plant-based hair coloring may irritate some people. You can check ingredients to see if any chemical additives have been used in a plant-based hair dye, including fragrances, which can irritate sensitive skin.
It’s wise to do a patch test before starting any new hair dye by dabbing a small amount of dye on an area behind your ear. If you have a bad reaction to a hair dye, contact your doctor right away.
Hair dye is a common topic on MyBCTeam. For some people, coloring their hair after chemo is a big step toward getting back to normal. Feeling good about how you look is important for emotional and psychological wellness. Having a hairstyle and color you like can help boost self-confidence after hair loss, and many members are eager to improve the look of their hair.
“Lots of hair now on my scalp, but it’s black and gray,” wrote one member. “The dark hair was a surprise, but I had the gray before. Does anyone have an opinion about natural hair dyes like henna?”
“What kind of hair dye is safe to use after chemo?” asked another member. “My hair is just starting to grow. It’s just peach fuzz now, but I’ll want to dye it when it grows a bit more because it is WHITE, lol.”
MyBCTeam members have shared their tips on dyeing hair after chemotherapy. Some people prefer to go to a salon and have a stylist color their hair after chemo. You may be able to find a hair salon with stylists who are familiar with caring for hair after chemotherapy. Other members are comfortable coloring their hair on their own at home.
“Feeling well enough to get my hair done! And my sweet hairstylist put me in the massage chair while I sit with color! Thankful for a good day!” a MyBCTeam member reported.
Another member said, “I’ve been using the type of hair dye that rinses out after so many washes. Clairol Natural Instincts. It’s ammonia free. It’s done in 10 minutes and looks great, too.”
“I’ve only used what my stylist (who is familiar with chemo hair) said would be OK. She said L’Oreal Excellence was the best if I just wanted to color it at home,” one member offered.
Someone else wrote, “I used to go to an Aveda salon before cancer because their products are milder. I did get it colored a couple of times when it started to come in. It was very gray. Then I got tired of spending a lot of money on my very short hair. I’ve been using a brand called Herbatint. It's supposed to be plant-based and not harsh on your hair. I like it a lot.”
If you have questions about dyeing your hair after chemotherapy, be sure to talk to your oncologist or oncology nurse. They can provide advice based on your medical history and current health status, let you know when it’s safe to dye your hair, and suggest products that are less likely to cause problems.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. On MyBCteam, more than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you dyed your hair since it grew back after chemo? Do you have tips or recommendations for others? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.