Dear Ask a Stylist, My mother finished chemotherapy three months ago and wants to know if it’s OK to have her hair colored and permed. What do you think?—Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I spoke with Leslie Mann, co-owner of Head West Salon in Santa Barbara. She’s an expert on the topic as she has over 30 years experience behind the chair, and is herself a cancer survivor and a long-time lover of hair color.

Crescent LoMonaco

Going through cancer treatment takes its toll on your hair as well as your body. You may lose some or all of your hair, and when it grows back, it may be an entirely different head of hair than you had before. The texture, color, and density may all have changed during your treatment. Getting used to your new locks may take time.

For many people, the time during treatment means no chemical services to your hair. No color. No perms. No straightenings. You must quit. Cold turkey. So when treatment is finished, it is understandable that some gals want to get back into the (hair) saddle as soon as possible. Leslie explains that “The drugs may be out of your system in as little as three days after treatment, but it can take your body a full year to recover from the after-effects. It’s a good idea to ask your oncologist for her recommendation before having your hair colored (or permed).”

Once you are given clearance, speak with your stylist and explain what you’ve been through. If either you or your stylist is having reservations, you can make an appointment 24 hours prior to your service, to stop by the salon and have a “patch test” done to determine how your body will react to the chemical. A patch test is performed by applying a small amount of the chemical to be used during the service on your skin. When you come back for your service the next day, your stylist will look at the results of the patch test and decide if you are able to go ahead with the service. If you’ve had no adverse reactions on the skin, you may proceed! Leslie said, “I was in the chair immediately after treatment, having my hair highlighted!”

Once you know how your body will react, you should consider how your hair will react. Remember, it’s a different head of hair than you had before. “Hair may be finer, thinner, and more fragile than before treatment,” Leslie explained. “The client will need to build up and strengthen hair with protein and moisture before having it colored.”

Color, perm, or not? It’s up to you. Just know, if you choose to wear your hair au natural, you are beautiful just the way you are!


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