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Chemo Took My Hair and It Grew Back Curly: Tips to Care For Chemo Curls

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

A benefit of chemo, other than it killing nasty breast cancer cells, is that it can leave you with a whole new head of hair once it grows back. Even if you had stick-straight hair all of your life, it could come back curly, like mine did. Called chemo curls, the question then becomes, "How do I style these new locks?"

Chemo cannot distinguish between your good cells and bad cells, so it kills them all, including your hair follicles. That is why your hair falls out when you go through chemo. But, when it comes back in, it can appear as a new texture or color, and medical professionals say they are not sure why that is.

In my case, I found that even after I painstakingly dried my post-chemo hair straight, curls would soon pop out. All. Across. My. Head. And, my hair became an unruly mess. It literally felt like it took a matter of moments before my hair would transform into curls, especially if it was humid outside. I even once took a straightening iron to it, but my hair was still so short that it was impossible to straighten it all. I could only straighten the longer strands of hair on the top of my head and I swear I got strange looks from people with that look. I didn't care. I couldn't do anything with my chemo curls. But, that mindset led me to where I am now: I have embraced the curls. They provide a fun, new look, and hey, I am just happy I now have hair.

So, what do you do with those curls?

Embrace Your New Look by Adopting the Curly Girl Method

Some women toss their shampoo and switch it for conditioner as a cleanser. It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is a part of the Curly Girl Method that many curly or wavy-haired girls use.

  1. First, wash your hair one last time.This will help to cleanse it of any silicones that are in some products. If you are having a hard time going cold turkey with the shampoo, wean yourself off of it. Be sure you begin to use a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo.

  2. If you have wavy hair as opposed to curly hair, continue washing it with shampoo once a week, but condition it afterward. For curly hair, use only conditioner and water to cleanse your locks. This is called co-washing.

  3. Next, condition your hair. If your hair is wavy, do not rinse the conditioner away completely. Leave a protective layer. Some say that the kinkier your curl, the more you should rinse the conditioner away with water.

How to Style Your Chemo Curls In a Few Easy Steps

To style your hair, scrunch your wet curls and let them air-dry. Some women swear by DevaCurl and its gel, conditioner and other styling products. Others use different brands of gel or creme styling products, applying it to their wet locks. I have not yet given up the shampoo, and use it maybe twice per week.

Then, I condition, rinse and run Pureology's liquid wax through my hair. Apparently, it's been so long since I had hair that now that product is discontinued, but any gel or similar product should work.

Next, I of course scrunch my wet curls and let them air-dry.

The results are much better than before, when I tried to use a blow dryer on my hair. My curls now have more life and I believe are prettier. And, it is so much easier to take care of my hair!

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