Colouring hair before and during chemotherapy treatment
Many people ask us if it is okay to go ahead and colour their hair prior to starting cancer treatment. For example, perhaps it is several weeks before you are due to start treatment and you wish to cover your root re-growth. Or maybe you are going to start chemotherapy and try scalp cooling and so hope to keep your hair. Additionally, some people do not experience hair loss and so wish to maintain their style.
In the following section we will help you to work out if colouring is an option that may be available to you. If colouring your hair is appropriate we do advise you carry out a skin sensitivity/patch test prior to colour (when applicable). This is not about testing the quality of hair, it is to try and avoid an allergic reaction to ingredients in the hair colour. Read our guide to understand why a Sensitivity test is important.
Additionally, we have created a dedicated section all about Colouring new hair growth.
Ask the experts – our Cancer Hair Care Specialist Hairdressers are here to consult with you and offer one to one guidance. Plesae contact us by email or call the team – we are happy to help.
Colouring hair before and during chemotherapy treatment – commonly asked Q&A
- I want to colour my hair before treatment begins, is it okay to go ahead?
- What are temporary colours?
- Why is there concern about colouring hair?
- How to carry out a patch/sensitivity test
- My type of chemotherapy treatment doesn’t cause hair loss, can I still colour my hair?
- How can I find hair colours that have more natural ingredients?
I want to colour my hair before treatment begins, is it okay to go ahead?
As long as you are not experiencing any hair or scalp issues and you do a sensitivity test prior to colouring then colouring hair in advance of starting treatment should not be a problem. You may like to consider the following:
Scalp cooling – if you are starting scalp cooling, do make sure that you avoid any colourants that may dry your hair out such as bleach. This is because you need to maintain the best possible condition during scalp cooling. If you do colour your hair before scalp cooling remember to have a sensitivity test. Once you have started scalp cooling treatment you are not advised to colour your hair. However, you may find that temporary colours help to disguise any root re-growth.
Preparing for hair to fall out – colouring hair before treatment – many women tell us that they have a few weeks to go before they start treatment and want to look and feel their best. Additionally, most hair loss won’t start until around ten days to two weeks after the first treatment. With this in mind you may like to colour your hair in order to maintain your style. Once treatment has started we don’t recommend you colour your hair as your hair follicles will become very sensitive. Don’t forget to do a sensitivity test.
Chemotherapy or cancer treatments that don’t cause hair loss – if your type of cancer treatment doesn’t cause hair loss then as long as you have no scalp or hair issues and you carry out a sensitivity test there is no reason why you can’t colour your hair if you choose to. Many women continue to colour their hair whilst having various treatments for cancer.
Radiotherapy to the scalp
If you are having external beam radiotherapy to the scalp area you are best advised to talk with your cancer nurse specialist before colouring hair. This is because the condition of the scalp is very important when having treatment to the scalp area.
What are temporary colours?
Temporary colours are like using a styling product. They will wash out when you shampoo your hair. Temporary hair colours such as coloured mousses, hair sprays and root touch up products can all be good options to add some colour to new hair.
You can use temporary colours to blend in grey and white hair and to add tones and deepen shades to other natural colours. Whilst there are a number of blonde products on the market, it is your natural shade that will determine how well a blonde product will show up. Generally speaking it is easy to make hair darker then it is to make it appear lighter.
Temporary colours and camouflage products can also help to blend in finer patches of hair loss and make hair appear to look thicker.
There is little risk of allergic reactions to temporary colours as they do not contain the ingredients PPD or any activators such as peroxide.
Why is there concern about colouring hair?
The ingredient that is most well known for causing concern about skin irritation, and in some cases a very serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis known as ‘anaphylactic shock’, is an ingredient called paraphenylenediamine, known as PPD. PPD can be found in some hair colourant and eyebrow and lash tint.
The possibility of a serious allergic reaction can be easily avoided by carrying out a patch/sensitivity test forty-eight hours prior to using the hair colour or dye, alongside following the manufacturers guidance.
In our experience the subject of colouring hair can cause a lot of confusion. Even very well meaning medical staff are sometimes unaware of what to say to someone who asks about colouring hair.
At Cancer Hair Care we always recommend that you speak with your medical team about any medical concerns. However, when it comes to colouring hair, unless you have been specifically told by your medical team to not colour hair (e.g. radiotherapy to the scalp) then it is normally a case of ensuring that your scalp and hair are in an appropriate condition to colour and you carry out a sensitivity test.
Read more in our section Sensitivity test.
How to carry out a patch/sensitivity test
A patch/sensitivity test is the best way to try and check that you are not allergic to a product. Whilst this guide is centered towards testing against sensitivity to hair colourants you can use this guide to do a patch/sensitivity test for almost any product. When it comes to hair colour a professional salon will normally carry out a test for you. If you are using a home kit, the instructions will tell you if you need to do one and how to do it on the pack information. Read more about How to carry out a patch/sensitivity test for hair colour.
My type of chemotherapy treatment doesn’t cause hair loss can I still colour my hair?
If your type of cancer treatment doesn’t cause hair loss then as long as you have no scalp or hair issues and you carry out a sensitivity test there is no reason why you can’t colour your hair if you choose to. Many women continue to colour their hair whilst having various treatments for cancer.
How can I find hair colours that have more natural ingredients?
One of the best places to find hair colourants that contain more natural and less harsh ingredients can be to visit a health and wellbeing store. Additionally, some chemists stock ranges of colours that have more natural ingredients. The majority of the time you will still need to carry out a sensitivity test.
Next planned review: February 2024