Hair Regrowth After Chemo

An Interview with Sonya Keshwani, founder of StyleEsteem Wardrobe

Erin Hazelton is a freelance writer and women’s health advocate. Formerly a fashion and beauty writer, Erin’s career changed paths after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. Since then, her main objective has been educating women about the nuances of breast cancer and encouraging resilience in the face of adversity. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from New York University. She currently lives with her husband and two children in Farmington, Connecticut.

Meet Sonya Keshwani, the founder of StyleEsteem, a label that makes hair turbans you actually want to wear. As someone who walked the path of diagnosis to survivorship, and lost her hair in the process, Sonya wanted to blaze the trail for the women who would follow suit, providing them with something she couldn’t find during her own journey: a head wrap someone would actually feel good wearing. Read on for more of Sonya’s story and hair regrowth after chemo…

1. Can you tell us a little about your breast cancer journey and why you started StyleEsteem?

I am a breast cancer survivor, and cancer-preneur, who was diagnosed at age 29 with early stage, triple-positive breast cancer. I am the first in my family to face such a diagnosis. During my year-long chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, losing my hair was the hardest part. I no longer looked or felt like the woman I was before, so I decided to rebuild my self-identity… and I decided to do it through fashion.

I began by shopping for swatches at a fabric store next to my infusion center, and then experimenting with a sewing machine during recovery. I created runway-worthy turbans that I wanted to wear but couldn’t find in stores. This is how I became inspired to launch my personal turban collection into a company. That experiment has since transformed into StyleEsteem Wardrobe, a community for women of all hair journeys. Today, StyleEsteem Wardrobe offers cancer patients fashionable options and wellness resources no matter where their hair journey takes them.

2. Self-care during cancer treatment is something every woman can benefit from. What are a few things you did for yourself that helped you feel—and maybe look—better as you went through chemotherapy? 

During chemotherapy, I created a hair self-care routine, even while I went through hair loss. I started enjoying regular scalp oil massages as a way to keep my scalp healthy and ready for regrowth. Eating hair-healthy foods also inspired my diet: I began eating with a long-term goal of regrowth, incorporating foods rich in iron, like broccoli, spinach and nuts, and protein, like eggs, salmon, lentils and nut butter. Lastly, expressing my personality through my style helped me feel so much more like myself, even though I was bald. Wearing the turbans I created made me feel like I had a wardrobe full of superhero capes, waiting for me to get dressed and start the day.

3. Can you give us tips for each phase our hair goes through during chemotherapy? And tips for hair regrowth after chemo?

I believe that hair loss happens in three phases: before treatment (when you are diagnosed and learn you will need chemo which may impact your hair), during treatment (as your hair is falling out), and after treatment (as you experience hair regrowth after chemo).

Before treatment, diagnosis and hair loss may make you feel like you are losing control of your life. The solution is to take back that control! Making a decision about how to face hair loss can be an empowering and memorable moment in your cancer journey. You can cut your hair short or dye it a fun color before it falls out. You can have an after hours head shaving party with your loved ones at a salon. You can even make the transition privately at home with family members. Make this moment your own.

As your hair is falling out, your scalp will be particularly sensitive. Storing your turban in the freezer (like our cooling swim turban, releasing this summer) can provide pain relief to your scalp as well as relief from chemo-induced hot flashes. This is also a good time to switch to satin pillow cases. Compared to cotton, satin is much gentler and can keep your scalp healthy by helping it to retain its natural oils.

As your hair grows back, remember that it takes time, and that your hair journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Look forward to each phase of regrowth as a chance to see yourself in a beautiful new light. Continue to experiment with your style and know that having hair—or not having it—doesn’t have to limit or define the way you look.

Finally, we all have to pass through a few awkward phases of regrowth. The right haircut can help! We’ve shared some expert hair styling tips on our blog to give you confidence at each hair length.

4. Lastly, what is one piece of advice you’d give a woman who is just beginning chemotherapy?

Treatment taught me that it’s so important to slow down and take it day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute. Chemotherapy is one of the most challenging times you may experience, so it is important to show yourself grace and patience. This is a technique I use to this day, and it’s something we all could use a little more of.

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I no longer looked or felt like the woman I was before, so I decided to rebuild my self-identity… and I decided to do it through fashion.

- Sonya Keshwani

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