Breast Cancer: How to Tame Chemo Curls and Improve Scars

Cynthia Bailey, MD|October 6, 2014

  These great questions came in from reader Isabelle as a comment on my post celebrating my first day back at work after "The Breast Cancer Year." Thank you Isabelle, this is a great pair of questions. Frankly, from what I can tell, all of us chemo and mastectomy gals have these questions - I did too.  Bravo for writing to me and asking these questions, it reminded me to share my answers (chemo brain?!).  chemo curls  Ask Dr BaileyDear Dr. Bailey, I'm so happy for you, may each day bring more energy and health. I, too, am recovering from breast cancer. Had my last Herceptin in July 2014, last full chemo Nov ’13. Any suggestions for improving my now gray, dry frizzy chemo “curls”, and scar improvement from mastectomy & port removal site? Here’s to feeling better one day at a time!  Isabelle   Dear Isabelle, Congratulations to you too! We are now "survivors!" I much prefer that to "breast cancer patients." These are questions I faced and am asked locally by my breast cancer "sisters".  I'm so glad you've prompted me to share what I know. Changing existing hair requires product. (My stylist will kiss me for saying that.) Once emerged from the follicle, nothing we do internally will change the existing shafts of hair. That said, products can entirely change the character of hair. For example, frizzy tames down with dimethicone-containing hair products or other dimethicone-cousins ingredients that sound like "-ethicone". They are in the silicone ingredient "family."  They work by coating the outer hair shaft. Layering hair shafts with silicone type ingredients will:

  • hold moisture into the shaft, thus hydrating the hair
  • give hair more shine
  • layer on the hair shaft to give it a smoother outer surface and overall texture
  • make the hair shaft heavier and less "fly away"
  • seal the outer shaft so that it absorbs less ambient humidity which can give you extra frizz

Look for conditioners or leave-on treatments with an "-ethicone" listed as an ingredient. I love these types of products since I've always had fly-away hair. Now it's super curly AND fly-away. I call this my "mutton" phase. I actually love it. I think I'm headed for a "Boo Peep" phase that I will not like so much so I'm playing this phase up as much as I can. Also, scruffing your hair vigorously with a towel can worsen frizz problems. The mechanical action can lift up the overlapping hair cuticle dead cells which are like shingles. Instead of using a scruffing action to dry your hair, use the towel in a downward direction. I’m also using a hair wax to give the wild chemo curls a more sassy look. My stylist taught me how to apply it. I have very stunted hair skills and needed a remedial tutorial grin  As a life-long straight- and long-hair girl, I'm really having fun with this new adventure - and it sure beats chemo! Click here to see the photo of my curls on my first day back. Below I've listed some of my personal favorite dimethicone products. Also, one last point, gray hair is inherently more course than non-gray hair. That may be contributing to the frizzy dry feel. 

My list of -ethicone hair care products to smooth, to tame, and to soften hair includes:

  • L'Oreal Professionnel, Vitamino Color Incell Hydro-Resist Conditioner
  • MoroccanOil Hydrating Conditioner
  • Moroccanoil Treatment

My new, very fun hair wax: KMS California Hair Play Gel Wax

What to do about our scars? 

These are our battle wounds. I'm feeling proud of mine, but I certainly only take that so far. I want them to look healthy and as subtle as possible.   My top care recommendation is strict sun avoidance of the scar so it does not hyperpigment. That means keep the chemo port scar covered. The second bit of advice is ... silicone! Yes again, silicone can soften scars to prevent keloids and hypertrophic (thick) scars. For some reason, silicone calms down the overgrowth of scars. (I think of it like a scar lullaby.) I like Kelocote brand (that's what I used) and ... time. Scars do settle down over time. Mine are just now losing the red color and flattening out. My port was removed in March and my mastectomy and lymph node removal (both sides - poor me, but all is good now!) was early January. Woot woo to us!!! I hope that helps! Cheers,  Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist

Show Your Support and Help Raise Money too for Breast Cancer Awareness

Almost everyone’s life has been touched by breast cancer: your mother, sister, a friend, co-worker,  or partner. Dr. Bailey and the entire Skin Care team want to show our support for everyone’s fight against breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month by donating 10% of our profits to breast cancer awareness and research. Thanks for your part in spreading the word, increasing awareness and your skin care purchases this month that help fight breast cancer. Doctor recommended skin care for chemotherapyDo you have skin problems from chemo?   Dr. Bailey developed her Chemotherapy Skin Care Kit to keep her own skin healthy and comfortable while she underwent chemo treatments.  Her kit helps support the health of cancer patients' skin after chemo too.  Dr. Bailey's Chemo Skin Care Kit is a complete skin care routine for anyone undergoing cancer treatment.  She personally knows how exhausting and overwhelming it is to be a cancer patient and so she has written clear instructions to help take the guess work out of your skin care during chemo.  Having healthy skin during chemo is more important than ever. Remember, skin is your  body's biggest organ and it is constantly exposed to germs and environmental stress.  Rashes can become a dangerous risk for infection when you are on chemo.  Dr. Bailey's kit helps keep your skin healthy.  Her kit is also a thoughtful gift for anyone undergoing chemo, whether it's you or someone you love. Click here to see Dr. Bailey's Chemotherapy Skin Care Kit.  Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.    

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