Receiving a cancer diagnosis may be one of the most upsetting events in a person’s life. The disease, so distressing in itself, is often made even more so by the possibility of losing your hair during chemotherapy. In fact, many women and men report that hair loss is the side effect they dread most about undergoing cancer treatment.
At Philip Kingsley, we understand how traumatic the experience of losing your hair can be. We understand that it can act as a signal to the world (and a constant reminder to yourself) that you have cancer. And we know how important hair can be to your sense of identity: it is not just a style, but a part of who you are.
Rest assured that hair you lose as a result of chemotherapy will almost always grow back. This may take time, and your hair and scalp will likely be sensitive for a few months, but you will hopefully end up with a full, healthy head of hair again. Our expert Trichologists are here to help advise you through the process.
Why does Chemotherapy Cause Hair Loss?
Chemotherapy works by targeting and destroying rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells. Often, these drugs cannot distinguish between cancer cells and other rapidly dividing cells in your body. Therefore, because hair cells are some of our most active, fastest-growing cells, they are often attacked and killed by chemotherapy drugs.
What Will Happen to Your Hair and Scalp During Chemotherapy?
Some chemotherapy drugs do not cause hair loss. Others almost always do. We suggest you ask your doctor if the type of drug you are taking is known to result in alopecia.
Hair loss from chemotherapy usually begins 2-4 weeks after starting treatment. Your scalp may feel sensitive, and your hair may fall out rapidly or gradually, depending on what drug you are taking, your dosage, and your sensitivity to it.
Hair fall will usually stop about 1-2 weeks after your chemotherapy cycle has ended. In most cases, it will then start to grow back.
At first, your hair may grow back a different texture from before: it may be fluffier, curlier, or a different colour. However, these changes are most often temporary.
Can You Prevent Hair Loss from Chemotherapy?
There are many different chemotherapy drugs. Some never cause loss of hair, and some almost always do. The drug you are treated with is determined by the type of cancer you have, and what your doctors believe will give you the best medical results.
Currently the only way to reduce hair fall caused by chemotherapy is by using a cold cap.
Cold caps are special hats worn during treatment. They cool down your scalp, either using a cold gel or a refrigerated cooling machine. They are thought to inhibit the flow of the chemical therapy around your hair follicles.
Some people find that cold caps significantly reduce hair loss, while others report little benefit. Unfortunately, cold caps can be very heavy and uncomfortable, and they often cause headaches.
How effective a cold cap is will depend on the drug you are being given, and on your sensitivity to it.
Coping with Hair Loss During Chemotherapy
It is never easy to face losing your hair during chemotherapy, but some people find that one or more of the below options may help manage the stress it can cause.
- If you have long hair, you may prefer to adopt a shorter style before beginning chemotherapy. This will reduce the length and volume of shed hairs that you may see in the shower or on your pillow. (It will not, however, reduce the number of hairs that you lose.)
- You may decide to shave your head before beginning chemotherapy, in order to help gain a sense of control. Some of our Clients find it less distressing when they cannot see the progression of their hair fall.
- Wearing a scarf, hat, hairpiece or wig may help boost your morale. Modern wigs can look very natural, and there are a wide range of colours and textures to choose from. Wearing wigs will not inhibit hair growth. However, we do advise you to leave them off whenever possible, to let your scalp breathe.
Caring for Your Hair and Scalp During Chemotherapy
Like all skin, your scalp contains oil and sweat glands, so even if you lose your hair or shave it off, we recommend daily shampooing with a mild shampoo (for example, our No Scent No Colour range). Please do not worry — gentle shampooing with a good product will not make your hair fall out any faster.
If you do not lose all your hair during chemotherapy, your skin may still be sensitive. We recommend using mild products, such as our No Scent No Colour range.
Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy
In 99% of cases, your hair will grow back after chemotherapy. You may find it grows back a different colour, shape and/or texture. However, these changes are most often temporary and should settle within about 6 months.
Initially, your hair is likely to grow back fine and fluffy. This is also temporary. Once your follicles are working at full steam again, they will eventually produce mature hairs.
Caring for Your Hair After Chemotherapy
As soon as your hair grows back, you can start using shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Having your hair styled by a professional hairdresser who knows you and understands your situation can also be helpful and reassuring.
However, during the first few months, we advise you to take care when styling, to avoid pulling out and breaking new, fluffy hairs. We advise you to avoid head massages during this period.
Hair colouring can also be continued once you are given the go-ahead by your doctor, and your follicles are once again producing mature (non-fluffy) hairs. But please make sure you do a skin patch test first, regardless of applications before chemotherapy, because your skin might have new sensitivities. This is particularly important with permanent hair dyes.
You can also begin to perm or highlight your hair once it has grown. While perms and highlights do not cause allergies, we strongly advise you to do a strand test on the first occasion after treatment. Your new hair may react differently than it did before.
What Do We Do at Philip Kingsley for Post-Chemotherapy Hair?
Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, Philip Kingsley Trichologist, New York:
‘After chemotherapy, your follicles are going to want to grow hair again. As soon as your oncologist clears you for topical treatments, you can start to stimulate and increase blood flow to your scalp. At Philip Kingsley, we can help encourage this with our specially designed scalp masks and stimulant drops. We may also suggest hair-healthy changes to your diet, along with nutritional supplements if needed. All of this will encourage your hair to grow back as strongly and as quickly as it can.’
For more information on treatments we offer at Philip Kingsley, please do not hesitate to contact us at either our London or New York Clinic.
Please note, if you are worried about any form of hair loss, our Clinics in London and New York specialise in all aspects of hair and scalp health, and will be pleased to welcome you.