Cancer treatment can make hair more fragile, cause thinning or hair loss, and can affect the strength, texture and colour of your hair as it begins to grow back. In this post we answer some common questions about cancer and hair dye, separate fact from fiction and recommend good natural hair dye options for people going through cancer treatment...
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can sometimes cause significant changes to your hair. Chemotherapy in particular may cause hair to become thinner or fall out either partially or completely, and radiotherapy may cause you to lose hair in the area that’s being treated.
As your hair begins to regrow, you may find that it’s different to the hair you had before, and it’s likely to be more fragile and require some special care. If you had straight hair, it may grow back curly (also known as ‘chemo curl’), and it may be thinner or more brittle. It may also come through a different colour, including grey.
For many people, witnessing these changes to their hair can be one of the more difficult sides of having cancer treatment. Our hair is part of our individual identity, and hair loss can also be one of the more visible signs that you have cancer.
It’s understandable that as they start on treatment, many people want to know when they can dye their hair, and whether the dye will affect their ‘new’ hair, as it begins to regrow.
Can you dye your hair before you start treatment?
As a general rule, it’s advisable to take things gently with your hair in the run-up to cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy works by using chemicals to attack rapidly dividing cancer cells. However, because hair cells also divide quickly, they too can be damaged by the treatment, causing hair thinning and loss.
While the exact interaction between the hair follicles and the chemicals in hair dye is not fully understood, if hair loss is a concern you should ideally stick to using only natural products on your hair before treatment and avoid using peroxides, tints or perms which can irritate the scalp and cause breakages. (It’s also a good idea to steer away from using heated devices such as tongs, hair straighteners or blow dryers, which can damage the hair strands.)
Exactly how your hair is affected by cancer treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the type and length of your treatment. Normally after chemotherapy hair will begin to grow back a few weeks after the final treatment has ended.
It’s important to note that not all forms of chemo cause hair loss - you can find out here how likely it is that your chemotherapy drugs will cause hair loss. For further advice on your individual treatment plan, talk to your medical team.
How soon after treatment can I start dyeing my hair again?
It’s generally recommended that you avoid using hair dyes for at least 6 months after finishing your cancer treatment, to avoid placing your hair under any additional stress and to give your hair follicles and scalp a chance to recover.
After your treatment, and as any lost hair begins to regrow, you should continue to treat your hair and scalp gently. Avoid heavy brushing, massaging or rubbing, and use mild, natural shampoos and styling products. You can see a range of scalp-friendly hair care products here.
When your hair begins to grow back, it’s likely to be fragile and more prone to damage. You may find that it’s quite fine and fuzzy to begin with. Your scalp may also feel dry, sore or irritable.
Before using a hair dye, it’s important to make sure that your hair is growing well and that your scalp is healthy and not sore or irritated.
Bear in mind that your hair and scalp may react differently after cancer treatment, and if your hair is dry, brittle or lighter in colour than normal the results may be different to the ones you might normally expect. You should always perform a strand and sensitivity test 48 hours before using a hair dye, even if you’ve used the product before.
It’s also a good idea to have a chat with your hairdresser to see if they can advise you on protecting and caring for your hair following your treatment.
Will hair dye affect my hair regrowth?
Hair dye doesn’t directly affect the regrowth of your hair itself, but the act of dyeing your hair can damage fragile or emerging hair.
Firstly, the increased combing and massaging actions involved in dyeing your hair can encourage the shedding of hairs.
Meanwhile, the chemical ingredients in hair dye, such as ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, can weaken the hair shaft and make it more prone to breakage. This is especially the case for peroxide products which are used to lighten hair.
After cancer treatment, you should choose a natural hair dye, such as a henna or plant based dye, which will be gentler on your hair as it regrows.
Best natural hair dyes for post-treatment
Here are some of our favourite natural hair dyes for that post-treatment boost:
Tints of Nature Permanent Hair Colour - this natural, organic hair product can help to restore colour, softness and elasticity while giving your hair a subtle healthy-looking gloss, with up to 100% grey coverage. It’s also free from ammonia and parabens.
- If you’re looking for lustre and colour but without the long-term commitment, Tints of Nature Semi Permanent Henna Dye will lock in rich, glossy colour and help to nourish and hydrate your hair using natural henna and plant extracts:
“The hair dye is absolutely brilliant. Two applications gave my mum a rich, bold and vibrant colour, and she has felt confident enough to ditch the wigs which is so freeing.” Live Better With community member
- Naturigin Natural Hair Dye - this award-winning hair dye was created by a breast cancer survivor. It contains gentle, natural ingredients including 12 natural oils and extracts to help give your hair shine and vibrancy:
“I found it hard to get a dye that looks natural red. This colour is perfect and knowing it is not harmful is an added plus.” Live Better With community member
- It’s Pure Organics Herbal Hair Colour - this is a pure, 100% organic and chemical-free hair dye which will give vibrant colour and volume, while being gentle on fragile hair and sensitive scalps:
“It was easy as pie to apply, and the colour is fantastic. Left my fine, layered, short hair healthy, vibrant and touchable.” Live Better With community member
- Tints of Nature Highlight Kit and Tints of Nature Lightener Kit - while many highlighting and lightening treatments can damage fragile hair, these kits are formulated with organic ingredients and are free from ammonia, offering naturally healthy blondes while being gentle on your head and scalp:
“Lovely results on my fragile hair.” Live Better With community member
Remember, even with a natural treatment, you should always do a patch test before using any hair colourant.
Do you have any tips for dyeing your hair after cancer treatment? Or are you looking for advice? Why not join the Live Better With community forum.