Chemotherapy and Your Hair

All too often a client has sat down in my chair only to give me the news that she has breast cancer. Breast cancer as well as any other cancers requiring chemotherapy and, or radiation can and often do result in hair loss. This is needless to say, very traumatic, coupled with a mastectomy it has a massive impact on a woman’s femininity and self esteem. Support from family and friends in essential.

Chemotherapy drugs attack rapid growing cancer cells. Unfortunately, these drugs also attack the other rapid growing cells in your body, your hair follicle cells being one of them. Chemotherapy can cause you to lose your hair all over your body, not just on your scalp. Your eyelashes, eyebrows and other body hair can also fall out.

Different types and doses of chemotherapy affect these growing cells differently, and can result in anything from your hair thinning out to complete baldness. Your doctor will know what you can expect.

Hair loss from chemotherapy is temporary and your hair will grow back. You can expect a regrowth of your hair three to ten months after your treatment ends. I have noticed with most clients that the hair sometimes grows back a different colour (often gray) or a different texture.

Treatments are being investigated to prevent or diminish hair loss, but unfortunately there are none that can guarantee your hair won’t fall out.

These treatments include

  • Scalp hypothermia (cryotherapy). This is a process in which ice packs are placed on your head to slow down the blood flow to your scalp while you are having the chemotherapy.
  • Minoxidil (Rogaine). This is a drug approved for pattern hair loss in men and women, it is applied to your scalp before and during chemotherapy.

Whether these treatments are options for you is something you would need to discuss with your doctor.

When you begin treatment you can expect your hair to start falling out after about one to three weeks. It can fall out very quickly, in clumps or more evenly and gradually. You will most likely loose hair throughout your treatment and up to a few weeks afterward.

You will notice many more hair strands on your pillow, in your hairbrush and in your bath or shower. This is why it is often better to cut your hair short before you start your treatment. The impact of finding short hair strands rather than longer stands of hair is psychologically less devastating. A short hair style will also look fuller while you are loosing hair and the thinning will be less noticeable. Going short will also allow the transition to total hair loss to be slightly easier.

Your scalp can become more sensitive during treatment. Using a soft brittle brush on your scalp and be gentle when toweling and blow drying your hair. Finger dying your hair is often a better option so when you cut your hair short choose a style that you can maintain with minimal effort.

Wearing a wig when you lose your hair is a personal choice. If you choose to go with this option be sure to buy a wig that is made of human hair as it will fall better and look more natural. Have your hairdresser cut or reshape your wig to suit your face after you have bought it. Also be sure to buy a wig that does not scratch or irritate your scalp. Often clients prefer to wear scarves as these can be cooler than a wig. If you choose not to cover your scalp remember to use sun block on your scalp as well as on your ears.

Doctor often recommend that clients stop colouring their hair. You might not want to put colour on your scalp during treatment and when your hair starts growing back but colouring your hair can make you feel and look better so consider highlights or lowlights, this allow you to colour your hair without having the colour applied to the scalp. Another option is to use an organic hair colour. Speak to your hairdresser and work with them, yes, losing your hair is very traumatic but with their help and support hopefully this trauma can be reduced.

pink ribbons by Carol Sutton is a website offering  free breast cancer web clip art and awareness graphics and is the site where I found the pink ribbon and  banner used in this blog


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  1. #1 by Leonie Van der Merwe on October 11, 2012 - 2:12 pm

    Hi amanda, did not know it was you until I saw the pic! What an informative post. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in July, had a mastectomy and is undergoing chemo now. Wish i knew about all of this a few weeks ago.

  2. #2 by Maria on October 30, 2012 - 6:59 pm

    Hello! I’m the girl on the photo you used.
    I was very mad to see that photo going around uncredited trough the web, and to be used by sites promoting anorexia (terrifying) but I’m happy to see that at least you used it for a beautiful post 🙂 you’re very kind! You can use it freely in your blog, for you I do not mind at all! I leave here my Flickr were the photo was original posted and unedited.

    Stay safe and

    • #3 by hairstylistsinsideinfo on October 30, 2012 - 7:47 pm

      Hi Maria – thank you for getting in touch and thank you for allowing me to continue to use your picture – I think the picture is beautiful, it portrays such gentleness and femininity, I am shock to hear that it has been used so inappropriately. I have updated the title to show the Flickr link. Keep well.

  1. Breast Cancer Awareness Month | whimsical adam

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