Coping with Hair Loss
How we feel about ourselves is often linked to how we look, so losing our hair can be pretty devastating.
It can make us feel exposed & lacking in confidence at a time when we already have enough stress to deal with fighting illness. For some, this can be the most distressing side effect of treatment. This page offers some guidance on what to expect & how to cope with hair loss.
In chemotherapy cancer cells are destroyed by anti-cancer drugs. These can also damage healthy cells including those in hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. Healthy cells repair themselves quickly so, once treatment is finished, your hair will eventually grow back. How much hair you lose will depend on the type of drugs used & the dose. Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, some lead the hair to thin, whilst others result in total hair loss. Whilst hair loss can occur suddenly, it generally happens gradually, beginning about 2-3 weeks after treatment begins.
Body hair, eyebrows & lashes may also disappear.The scalp can often feel tender as hair thins or falls out, so if looking for headwear it is best to choose a soft material such as a kerala bandana ; a headwrap that has a towelling strip inside for additional comfort ; or a buff that is both soft, seam & hem-free. As chemotherapy only causes temporary hair loss, hair will start to grow back once treatment is finished. In fact, it sometimes begins to come back even before it ends. You may find that the regrowth is softer, curlier or greyer than before, but within 3-6 months you are likely to have a full head of hair. Your eyebrows & eyelashes may grow back at a different rate, which could be quicker or slower. Read more
Radiotherapy treats cancer using high energy x-rays. It can also affect healthy cells but hair will only be lost in the area being directly treated. Hair usually grows back following radiotherapy although not always. It can take 6-12 months to come back and may be patchy. This will depend on the radiotherapy dose & the number of treatments.
Coping with Hair Loss
When you start to lose your hair, the first sign is often loose hairs on your pillow or more hair than usual in your hairbrush. This can be a blow even when you are expecting it. Other people may respond to your hair loss in different ways. Sometimes they simply won’t know what to say. It may help to put them at their ease by binging up the subject first. If your scalp is dry, flaky or itchy, unperfumed moisturiser or natural oils such as almond or olive oil may help.You might want to plan ahead for losing your hair by having your hair cut short before the treatment starts, especially if you have long hair.
Some people decide to have their head completely shaven before their hair begins to fall out. You may prefer to select some attractive headwear in preparation, perhaps colour coordinating with your outfits, rather than doing this under pressure when your hair is already falling out.There are several possible choices. With bandanas there are hundreds of different colours & patterns available The kerala ones are particularly soft and so especially suitable if you have hair loss Headwraps, are pre-shaped & can then be tied to fit. Several have a towelling strip at the forehead for added comfort, particularly the deluxe designs where this is extra deep. There are over 60 designs available.Buffs® are soft, hem-free & seam-free, so extremely comfortable to wear. They help to keep the wearer cool in hot weather & warm in cold weather.As well as looking good, headwear can help keep you warm in cold weather and, crucially, protect you from the sun. This is particularly important because the scalp will be particularly sensitive during this time. UV Buffs® are specially designed for sunny weather, offering high levels of ultra-violet protection.
If you normally have a fringe, and simply don’t feel right without it, you can attach a fringe on a headwrap or hat to make you feel more you. Similarly you can use hairpieces fixed to the back to give the impression of hair growing. You can obtain either from wig suppliers.
If you choose to wear a wig, it may be best to choose one before your hair actually falls out so that it can be matched to your own hair colour & style. Alternatively, you could of course choose a completely new look. If you have not lost your hair when choosing a wig, then it should feel a tight fit to ensure it will fit well when you do. It is advisable to take a friend or family member along to support you & help you choose. Even if you do wear a wig, there may be times when you want a change or a cooler & less itchy alternative. Bandanas, Headwraps or the various Buffs® available offer a wide & exciting range.
Losing your Eyebrows & Eyelashes
If you lose your eyebrows and lashes, your appearance may change quite a bit. You can use an eyebrow pencil (available from chemists and cosmetic counters) to match your normal hair colour to redraw your brows. If you are not used to eyebrow pencils, department store beauty advisors can show you how to do this. To get a natural look, follow your natural eyebrow arch & use short, feathery strokes to draw the brows. Make them thickest nearest to your nose & thinner towards your ears. Another option is to use false eyebrows that are fixed with a special adhesive available from specialist suppliers. False eyelashes fixed with a special adhesive can offer a natural appearance. Beauty counters in department stores often offer help in how to apply lashes.
As your hair grows back
Gently care for your hair as it grows back. Use a soft brush or a wide toothed comb & opt for mild hair products such as baby shampoo.It is best to avoid perming or colouring your hair for at least six months following the end of your treatment, as it may still be weak. If you are keen to colour it, however, natural products such as henna or vegetable-based colours are preferable. Gently massaging your scalp may improve the blood supply to the hair follicles. Eating plenty of fruit & vegetables may also help the condition.Talking to someone who understandsloosing your hair is just one possible element of cancer that you may have to deal with. It may help to have someone to talk to who understands what you are going through. Cancer Buddies Network is an online charity based support group designed to put you in touch with your cancer buddy so you can share the ups and downs, laughter and tears with someone who knows how it feels.Whether you have experienced cancer yourself, or you are family, friend or carer, you can search for your buddy simply and safely on their dedicated website at www.cancerbuddiesnetwork.org