Is it safe for a chemo patient who has now grown back their hair to get a perm?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it safe for a chemo patient who has now grown back their hair to get a perm? (And, I'm still getting chemo.)


Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

The new hair that grows in after a round of chemotherapy is very delicate and prone to breakage, so treatments such as perms and hair dyes are not a good idea. Chemotherapy drugs affect the health of the follicles in the skin that produce the hair, so you don't want to introduce new chemicals that could damage the hair shaft just as it's becoming healthy again. Also, the results might not be what you have in mind -- some strands could take the curl while others remain straight.

And if you're still undergoing chemotherapy, a perm is not a good idea at all, because the perm chemicals could interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy itself.

You will probably need to wait several months after completing your last round of chemo before experimenting with perms or dyes. Most cancer patients find their scalp is very tender during chemotherapy, and for some it continues to be unusually sensitive for up to a year after stopping chemotherapy. If this is true for you, you probably won't be able to tolerate perm chemicals until your skin toughens up. See our article on chemo-related hair loss for more information.

The way to find out is to have your hairdresser do a strand test (or do one yourself if you're home perming) to make sure your scalp can handle the chemical solution before you apply it to your entire scalp.