10 questions about chemo and hair loss
Hairloss & Chemotherapy: everything you need to know
Why does chemotherapy make your hair fall out? How can you prepare for this? What is the best way to care for your hair during chemo? And what can you do after chemotherapy? How soon will your hair grow back? Most people find that it is less difficult to cope with hair loss if they know what to expect, which is why we have made a list for you here of ten frequently asked questions about hair loss after chemotherapy.
1/ Why does chemotherapy make my hair fall out?
Hair loss or alopecia is the best known and most visible side effect of chemotherapy. Actually chemotherapy is an umbrella term for any cancer treatment using what are known as cytostatics. Cancer cells tend to divide rapidly. Cytostatic drugs are drugs that aim to quickly destroy these rapidly dividing cells or to delay their growth. Unfortunately, they also kill other, healthy cells that also divide rapidly, such as the cells in our hair follicles that make our hair grow. This is why chemotherapy also causes hair loss.
2/ Why doesn’t every chemo patient lose his or her hair?
Chemotherapy uses a specific mix of cancer drugs. The mix you will receive depends on the type of cancer you have. Some drugs cause hair loss, others cause little to no hair loss whatsoever. Some chemo treatments do not make people’s hair fall out but it does become thinner or duller. Your doctor is the best person to inform you about how much hair loss you can expect.
3/ How do I care for my hair during my chemotherapy?
During chemo we recommend gentle care for your hair. Don’t wash it too often and always use a gentle, mild shampoo. If you need to use a hair dryer, make sure you always use the lowest temperature setting. Try not to let your hair dry out due to sun exposure, colour treatments or perms. Hard brushes and curlers are definitely to be avoided as well.
4/ When will my hair start to fall out?
Generally hair loss sets in 2 to 3 weeks after the first course of chemotherapy. Some people lose their hair gradually, while others immediately start to lose hair in large quantities. By their second course of chemotherapy, most people are already wearing a wig, scarf or hat. Tip! Don’t wait until your hair starts to fall out to find some chemotherapy headwear. It is a good idea to look for a wig or chemo scarves and hats before starting your chemo. Go to specialised hairdresser for a wig. You can buy chemo scarves, hats and headscarves in specialised shops, such as our Rosette la Vedette online store. Online shopping is easy because you can shop from the comfort of your own home. And during your chemo treatments you can easily order additional chemo hats and scarves in your favourite colours from your easy chair.
5/ Should I cut my hair short or shave it before chemotherapy?
Cutting or shaving your hair is not essential but it is often recommended. Some people find it makes the transition from long hair to a bald head less abrupt if they cut their hair short just before chemotherapy. This also has a practical advantage: when your hair starts to fall out, you won’t lose big, long chunks of hair but just short hair or stubble. Some people find this less confrontational. Others choose to cut their hair short because it makes them feel in control of the hair loss process themselves instead of being passively subjected to it. A tip: if you choose to shave off your hair, we recommend using an electric trimmer or clipper . Be careful to avoid cutting yourself. If you are not used to using these devices, go to the hairdresser or ask someone with experience.
6/ Does hair loss after chemo hurt?
Some people feel pain when their hair starts to fall out. This is often called “scalp pain”. But others only experience itching or an odd, tickly feeling. It generally only lasts a few days and experiences vary from person to person.
7/ Is it only the hair on my head that I will lose?
Besides the hair on your head, you can also lose the rest of your body hair, i.e., the hair on your arms and legs, your eyebrows, eyelashes, armpit and pubic hair. Again, this depends on the type of chemotherapy and it can also vary from person to person.
8/ Will my head get cold more quickly without hair?
Everyone who has had chemotherapy knows that a bald head cools off faster. You don’t just wear a wig or hats and scarves after chemo to conceal your hair loss, but also to keep your head warm. At night especially, you might feel cold, especially during the autumn and winter months. So consider wearing a nightcap and choose a model in a breathable fabric without irritating elastic or rough stitches. Chemo can make your scalp dry and sensitive and even the slightest friction can cause irritation.
9/ When will my hair start to grow back after chemotherapy?
Your hair will start to grow back after your chemotherapy treatment. Some people will notice immediate growth, and in other cases it might take a month or two. But it is equally possible for your hair to start growing back during your treatment. This usually happens just before or during your last chemo treatment. It’s also worth remembering that it is a myth that wearing a wig, hats or scarves after chemo prevents your hair from growing back. Your hair will grow back just as quickly with or without headwear. It’s up to you to decide when you feel your new hair is long enough to start walking around without a wig or a headscarf.
10/ Will my hair look the same when it grows back?
Hair that grows back after chemotherapy often looks different to begin with. The colour may be different to how it was in the past (often darker) but the texture often changes as well. People who had straight hair before chemo might find they have curly hair and vice versa. Sometimes this is just temporary and you will get your “own” hair back after a few months to a year. Sometimes the changes are permanent. Hair growth after chemo is a different experience for everyone. Some people’s hair grows back thicker and more difficult to manage, while others find it softer and finer. Other factors can also influence your hair texture, such as hormone therapy for the treatment of breast cancer.
Please note that we have limited ourselves to the most common questions. Our answers are based on hair growth as experienced by the majority of the people after chemotherapy. There are always exceptions to the rule. Do you have any more questions or concerns? Talk to your doctor, your oncology coach or your nurse.