I've been working with these short, post-chemo curls as best I can. But the one area that – ALMOST – completely beat me down was the beach (or pool). Basically, any place where you combine wind, insane humidity, and the potential for a dunking was a total and complete disaster. Remember when my hair was this short? Yeah – in hindsight, that hair rocked. This? This length is just long enough to be trouble.
Don't believe me? Let's take a pop quiz. In the picture below, choose the answer that best describes how this hair will look when dry (feel free to use the helpful hints below):
A. Oh pish-pish. Short hair is so easy that it'll dry perfectly straight and piecey, like Mia Farrow's. I'm pretty sure she rolled out of bed that way. Helpful Hint: NOT EVEN FREAKING CLOSE
B. Remember when Felicity cut her hair short? It'll look like that – cute little curls, all perfectly defined, BOING-BOING. Helpful Hint: NOPE-NOPE
C. A cross between an old-lady bouffant and bad man-hair. Helpful Hint: Marge Simpson and Donald Trump had a baby….
The answer is C, people. C!
Well. A last-minute trip to Free People cured my beach-hair woes. Admittedly, a last-minute trip to Free People can cure just about anything, but I am especially thrilled with these little headband/turban things. Unlike a scarf (which I did try), these things stay put really well, even in windy beach conditions.
Not bad, right? I took the advice of my fellow instagrammers who had suggest that I simply embrace the crazy hair. So instead of trying to shellack it down with gel, I used a salt spray and curl defining cream to just mess it all up on top.
Of course, my hair started winging about everywhere. But trust me when I say that this hair is much better with headband than without.
One final note: Shannon (my stylist at Salon Ziza) used a pretty strong keratin treatment on the sides of my hair to help control some of the curl. It REALLY helped. Just an FYI for anyone who might be in a similar situation.
Any other ideas? (Hats, I know. But so tricky with short hair, so hot on the beach.)
Each year around this time I dutifully check the EWG's Skin Deep database and start the mind-numbing task of choosing sunscreen. Weighing environmental safety vs effectiveness vs cosmetic appearance, I – with trepidation - order my top three. They arrive, and from that point on my boys and I spend way too many days looking like greasy snowmen. On a good year, the whitish cast is only observable for the first few hours. The reallygood sunscreens, however, provide a thick white layer that will last through several showers. Sunscreen For Life!
At some point, we will meet friends at the beach. Friends who don't obsessively search product ingredient lists for triclosan and retinyl palmitate or who can recite the list of the EWG's top ten safe sunscreens in their sleep. These friends will come armed with the poison known as spray-sunscreen-in-a-can (not even paraben-free!!) and I will watch – ashamed by my jealousy – as they spray down their kids in 10 seconds flat.
"Raines and Pax? Time for more sunscreen!" I call. Raines, resigned to his fate, dutifully trods over and sticks out his arm. It's covered in white streaks. I squeeze out a blob of the safest-ever sunscreen and start rubbing. Sand is stuck all over his body, combining with the sunscreen to form a particularly sticky type of sandpaper. I resort to gentle pats. Raines shoots me a death glare, his eyes very blue in his shiny white face. Pax just runs screaming. Can't blame him, really.
But at some point, I give up. I don't even care anymore. I borrow my friend's poison-in-a-can or, if I'm being completely honest here, I just stop applying sunscreen altogether (my kids, like their father, don't burn anyway). Somewhere in my warped brain I'm trying to weigh the risks of invisible chemicals vs the risks of sunburn. Vitamin D is good for you, right? I KNOW. It's just…too much. I am defeated by overabundance of information and fear. So I come home burned to a crisp, my children annoyingly (thankfully?) tan. I have tan children. I AM THAT MOTHER.
I'm done. I'm done with this whole mess. This year I just want sunscreens that work, sunscreens that smell good and feel good. Sunscreens that are a joy to apply, dammit! Remember how exciting it was in high school to bust out the coconut-scented coppertone oil? EXACTLY. I want that. But in, a, um…paraben-free version that actually works. ( My earth-mother bar has lowered, but it is still there.)
For self-tanner, my requirements are simple: no streaks, no orange, no parabens, NO SMELL. Like, really, truly, none of that telltale self-tanner stink. Don't try to hide it under stronger smell, just get rid of it altogether.
And you know what? I was shocked to discover that products like this actually exist. For the first time in a long, LONG time, I am L-O-V-I-N-G my sunscreen and self-tan products.
This stuff is genius: you simply add a few drops of this face self-tanner to whatever moisturizer you currently use. Wake up the next morning with a little glow. I typically use it a few days in a row to build up to the color I want, then take a few days off. Or whatever. It's pretty foolproof.
This one blew me away. The color is perfection (no streaking, no orange), it dries in seconds (literally seconds), and there is no smell. I mean OK: hours later, once the color starts to really develop, there is an ever-so-faint smell of self-tanner, but it's NOTHING compared to other brands. And this stuff is organic! Happy Hippy Earth Mothers rejoice! However, ignore the claims that this self-tanner lasts 2-3 weeks. If you are shaving and exfoliating this tan lasts roughly 5 days like all others. The good news is that when it fades, it fades really naturally. And you must – MUST – apply with a mit. (See #5.) One bottle of self-tanner typically lasts me all summer (my look is more OK,tan enough, rather than sun goddess).
I know powdered sunscreens get the EWG all worked up. But here's the thing: I put sunscreen on in the morning. Then I carefully apply concealer, blush, no-shine face powder, mascara, lippy….and so hell will freeze over before I smear goopy white sunscreen over all of that. Talk about a hot mess. So if I'm outside all day with the boys, I will end up sunburned and eventually turn into a wrinkled old lady. Granted, wrinkles are inevitable, but until I succumb (NEVER SAY DIE), I'm touching up throughout the day with this stuff. And ps. I love this stuff for buffing onto my kid's scalp through little baby hair….or dusting their nose as they sprint past.
Because the self-tanning mousse dries so fast, attempting to use your hands will leave your tan streaky, and your palms dark orange. This mit will change your self-tanning game regardless of which self-tanning mousse you buy.
Here's what you do: Shower and exfoliate (aka shave your legs). Then when your skin is dry, put on your tanning mit. Pump out a single pump of tanning mousse directly onto the mitt. Then, crunch up the mitt by making a fist a few times to distribute the product a bit. Quickly use the mit to rub the tan on – really go ahead and scrub, for evenly distributed tan. I used one pump of product on lower legs and feet, one pump on thighs, one for each arm, two for my back, and one for chest and stomach. I was done in roughly 3 minutes.
So…..that coconut-scented tanning oil of yesteryear? This is exactly like that but SPF 50, not 5. It's also lighter in both formulation and scent (which is vaguely citrus), and I actually LOVE putting this on. It's a joy! Really! Even the boys don't mind it. And while I know the recent sunscreen buzz has been all "NO SPRAY, SPRAY IS DEATH"….this is actually just…oil. So I spray it on my hands, then rub it onto my kids. (This is my current rationalization, anyway.)
The Good: The product goes on fairly sheer; color builds with additional coats. After a short drying period (a minute or two), even multiple coats will have a matte, non-sticky finish that won't kiss off. Because of the buildable color, this is a good product for anyone new to the bright lipstick game. Also formulated without parabens, sulfates or phthalates. It's only slightly drying (which is impressive for lip stains), and is the kind of thing I can throw on and then forget about. In terms of longevity (compared to other lip stains), this one falls somewhere in the middle.
The Bad: I don't love the smell (ever since pregnancy I have super-human smell) or the slightly chemical taste. And while the finish is decidedly non-sticky…there is a lingering….tackiness that remains and makes my lips feel weird. Lastly, it tends to wear off in the middle first, leaving a lip-liner-like stain that drives me nuts.
Would I buy it again?
While I think it's a perfect starter lip stain, because of the taste and lingering tackiness, I probably won't buy colors that I can easily find elsewhere (like the Red Essence I'm wearing in the pics). However, Sephora does a great job of formulating trendy colors that are sometimes hard to find elsewhere. For example, Magenta Ink has a subtle purple undertone that is really on-trend. (I also have Tangerine Ink which is a dark, orangy-pink coral.)
Well, now that I've blotted my lip stain on Raines' cheek, let's try that again on the other one.
The Good: Super-intense liquid color with an easy-to-apply wand. You can even get that nice defined edge (without using lip liner). This stuff is for serious color-lovers, however. It dries – quickly – to a completely matte finish, and won't kiss off (once you blot it – see above). Additionally, once it has dried, my lips feel pretty normal – I forget I'm wearing anything. (Until I look in a mirror and then BAM – all I see is lips.) This is one of the longest-lasting lipstains I've ever tried, and surprisingly non-drying. I once wore Lime Crime into the shower…and re-emerged with PERFECT LIPSTICK.
The Bad: You have to be prepared to blot it well and let it dry, otherwise it gets all over your teeth, clothes, etc. For this reason, I rarely take it out of the house. Lime Crime tends to be something that I put on in the morning and then touch-up with gloss later on. (I am horribly klutzy with lipstick and attempting to use something as pigmented as Lime Crime in a public bathroom far exceeds my abilities.) Also? I once wore Lime Crime into the shower…and re-emerged with PERFECT LIPSTICK.
Would I buy this again?
Oh heck yeah. I haven't found a lipstick with the intensity of Lime Crime, much less a lip stain. Truly a unique product. In addition to Suedeberry (a bright coral), it also comes in Pink Velvet (an intensely bright pink) or Red Velvet (sadly, now sold out everywhere).
More to come! (I'll be highlighting Tarte's next week….let me know if you've run into any other fabulous options….)
So. It's been three months since my last chemo treatment. I'm feeling completely back to normal. I still get tired (like, really tired) by the afternoon, but I can no longer remember if that's a chemo-recovery thing or a mom thing. Probably a bit of both. And I am making peace with my short hair. I even…like it? Mostly?
It's just a lot to get used to, you know? I never realized how much of my personal style was wrapped up in big, messy hair until it was gone. So many of my go-to outfits now look…strange. But I'm learning. And when I look back at what my hair (or lack thereof) looked like just a few short months ago?
I'll TAKE THE PIXIE, THANK YOU.
No wonder I always wore a wig. You forget, you know? You forget how bad it was. Ugh – especially when I lost my eyelashes and most of my brows (middle pic). That one just kills me.
Shortly after the third pic (above) was taken, I made an appointment to see Shannon at Salon Ziza. I was feeling slightly ridiculous – what could Shannon possibly do with so little hair? (If you recall, Shannon and Salon Ziza have been my saving grace through all of this chemo mess.) But I was desperate – I hated my hair, it felt mannish, not sassy, and it was looking like a helmet on my head. If nothing else, I just wanted her to tell me that it was, IDON'TKNOW, growing back fast or something (lie, if you need to, lie!).
As it turns out, Shannon had a ton of ideas. Here's what she ended up doing:
1. Warmed up the color overall. The ashy brown (aka my natural color) wasn't doing anything for my skin tone. Just by adding color, not only would it reflect more light, but the color would actually plump up the strands of hair, making it look thicker overall.
2. Once my color was done, she painted on a few highlights with a brush – just where the sun would naturally hit. Tonal variations (even in short, dark hair) help to keep the 'helmet head' look at bay.
3. Used a ton of product to "push" my hair forward. You know those cute little Mia Farrow-like points in a pixie? The ones that – and I'm reaching here – I'll refer to as "bangs"? Yeah. You have to make those. With boatloads of product.
I've actually started carrying around one of those little hockey-pucks of molding cream in my bag so I can refresh my 'do. The more I wear it like this, the more it cooperates, but we'll see. I've heard horror stories of insanely curly hair post-chemo….soooo…yeah. (Shannon assures me that we can relax it, if necessary.)
The other thing that really, really helps? Not washing my hair. I rinse it out in the shower, but it's been about a week since I used actual shampoo, and it looks so much better. Food for thought, I guess.
Anyway, here are the products I swear by for both growing out and styling a pixie. I'm shocked by how well these have worked. It's more than I dared to hope for.
This is the standard recommendation post-chemo. (It helps to strengthen your nails, too.) I suspect this is the biggest reason I'm seeing such massive growth. (Hair typically grows only 1/4 inch per month….I've had almost double that.) You can get fancier biotin, but I've just been using the Target brand.
Yup. I'm rubbing Target-brand Rogain on my head. Nothing about that sentence sounds like something I ever thought I'd say. Sigh. But this little tidbit is endorsed by breastcancer.org, so there you go. Apparently, it helps to 'spur' the regrowth after your last chemo treatment. I used it twice a day at first, and now I'm down to once a day.
Nice hold, not too crunchy. Helps to keep the hair pushed forward. Shannon told me to think of 'shampooing' my hair with the gel (aka rub it all over) after I got out of the shower. Slightly wet hair will help dilute it somewhat.
I've been trying a bunch of hair wax products, and I think this is my favorite. I apply it several times throughout the day, pushing the hair forward and sculpting my "bangs" into points. American Crew's Fiber has great hold (and is Mike's fav), but I have to add something shinier on top (I like a little shine).
My eyelashes (now) look amazing. I still have a few holes in my eyebrows, but they are coming along nicely. They didn't actually fall out until January, so this regrowth happened in just a little over a month. All thanks to Latisse (I've been using it on my eyebrows, too). Lovelovelove this product.
So that's what I've been up to lately. A little Rogaine, a little Latisse…you know. The usual. (snort)
Know what's funny? Mike's been after me – for months – to ditch the wig. He's always been a fan of the head scarf, and now the super-short pixie. Which is weird – I always thought my long hair was so sexy, you know?
The upside of chemo was the consistency. The first three days after each treatment I'd be manic from the steroids. This is when I would typically go shopping. (I could distract myself and keep moving – perfect, no?) And if I was going to get nauseous, the nausea would hit sometime during this period. But thanks to a drug called Emend, it never really did. Days Four through Seven I'd be in what I like to call "The Chemo Crush." It's like a really bad, seriously aching, awful bout of the flu. It sucked. Dark, dark days. Day Seven was the day I could expect a little bone pain from the Neulasta shot (used to keep your white blood cell count high). Oddly enough, Claritan helped prevent bone pain – and worked! So mine was never too bad.
And by Day Eight I would start to feel miraculously better. On Day Eight, I knew I would be…ok. I could even joke. Gosh, I loved that Day Eight.
But when I woke up on the morning of Day Nine – each of the four times I had chemo – my face would be covered in what looked like horrible, teenage acne.
Welcome to the Day Nine Chemo Rash.
The doctors think the rash may be caused by the steroids you take along with your chemo drugs. And the good news is that this is a rash, not acne, despite it's appearance. I say 'good news' because it means that roughly five days later…the rash is gone. Every. Time.
The chemo rash that popped out after my first treatment was the worst. It was the most red, the most widespread, and actually hurt – it felt like I had been slapped on both cheeks. Oh goody – I have a pic:
After that first treatment, I was able to reduce the severity somewhat by having my docs reduce the steroids and by giving my skincare routine an overhaul. The main thing when going through chemo? Hydration. Drink water* and slather on cream.
*With the taste bud changes and fear of nausea, I found drinking water really hard. So I started getting an IV of fluids before each chemo and again when I'd go in the following day for a neulasta shot. It really, really helped.
Hopefully, no one you know will ever need this list. But sadly, I've received enough emails from mamas in the last few months to know that this won't be falling on deaf ears. And heck – some of these products are so fabulous for beating dry skin in general that I plan to keep using them.
If you do nothing else, get this mask. This mask is intended to be used for 10 minutes, then washed off. However, my esthetician recommended sleeping in this mask and rinsing it off in the morning. It made a world of difference. I still do this from time-to-time when my skin is dry. One of my new favs.
This is the only cleanser that didn't further irritate my rash. It's perfect for when water feels too harsh. You just wet your fingertips, then massage this on to your dry face. I'd gently wipe off with cotton balls.
This is the impossibly creamy skin cream I'd use every night. Pevonia does have a cream that's formulated for sensitive skin, but I actually found this balancing cream to be more soothing. When I first showed up at the estician's office in tears – my stinging face covered in chemo rash – she spent 10 minutes gently massaging this product onto my cheeks. Sting gone.
This product is cheap and amazing. It even rivaled the Pevonia Balancing Skin Cream, above. However, it's much lighter. So on days I used this cream instead of the Pevonia, I would need to apply multiple layers before my thirsty, irritated skin would calm down. Also fantastic for my dry, cracked hands. I'm still using it whenever I feel a little irritated, and it's worked miracles on Raines' perpetually wind-burned cheeks.
Best. Lip Balm. Ever. My lips were epically chapped during chemo. I tried everything. EVERYTHING. Like, really seriously freaking everything. The only thing that worked was this unassuming little pot 'o gold from Korres. Nothing else was even close. Shocking, right? It was the pot that came for free in a set that I bought for the other color. Go figure.
These products were the only things that were able to successfully camouflage my chemo rash without causing more irritation. BUT: The first time I tried the BB Cream, I looked like a mime. Correct application is key (watch the video on proper technique). I managed to shortcut this whole thing by mixing a pea-sized amount of primer and BB cream together, which is what I'm still using for foundation now. This product is astonishing, actually. Here are a few un-retouched photos of the BB Cream/Primer in action:
10 days after my Second chemo treatment (right in the thick of the chemo rash period)
Now - With a wig and fake eyelashes but HEY my skin looks alright.
So there you have it. What doesn't kill you….right? You know the rest.
"Having had cancer, one important thing to know is you're still the same person at the end. You're stripped down to near zero. But most people come out the other end feeling more like themselves than ever before."