Losing your hair during cancer treatment can be difficult to conquer. For many, being bald feels like you’re wearing a neon sign over your head that says “I HAVE CANCER”. If rocking the bald look isn't for you, there are plenty of hair replacement options, from gorgeous wigs to cozy caps. Whether or not you choose to cover your head, taking proper care of your scalp is a must. What does this mean, you may ask? Well, just like your hair, your scalp will require care such as washing and conditioning. However, there are some important differences between your normal hair care routine and scalp care during cancer treatment. We’re here to highlight how best to keep your scalp healthy and comfortable while undergoing chemotherapy as well as after treatment to help prepare for your new locks to come in.
Hair loss may occur differently depending on which treatment you undergo - with radiation therapy, you may only see hair loss in the area of the scalp radiation treatment is applied. On the other hand, the strong chemotherapy used to attack cancer cells can cause total hair loss.
With both chemotherapy and radiation, you will notice your skin and scalp feeling extra sensitive to the touch, dry, and possibly itchy. Some people have also described a slight discomfort or pain when hair initially begins to fall out. Let your doctor know if you experience any pain or begin to see any sores on your scalp. Your doctor will give you cream/medication and instructions regarding how to care for any wounds you may have. For normal, everyday care, we’ve included some general instructions/helpful tips below:
#1 - Use Warm Water
While hot showers may be your go-to, this is asking for trouble when it comes to your sensitive scalp. Try taking a warm shower instead for a more comfortable feel.
#2 - Try to Use More Natural Products
Use the “Golden Rule” of natural products, meaning the less ingredients the better. Keep this in mind when you are looking for shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body wash, and laundry detergent. Look for products not containing preservatives or perfume.
#3 - Keep Your Natural Oils
As scalp drying is a common side effect of chemotherapy, you need to hold onto those natural oils for dear life! To do so, refrain from using products with alcohol. Instead, choose a gentle moisturizing shampoo and wash your scalp much less than you would wash your hair. If you still experience dryness, consider adding in baby oil or a mild lotion. Remember to pat head dry after your shower.
#4 - Use a Treatment System
Using a scalp treatment system such as Nioxin System No. 2 can be a game changer. This system is specially designed to cleanse, condition, and protect the scalp, and make the hair follicles healthy, which is very important during hair regrowth post-treatments.
#5 - The Sun is Bad!
Not all the time, but while your scalp is bare, consider it your arch nemesis. If you must venture out, it’s best to apply sunscreen with a high SPF and wear a hat or scarf.
#6 - Bedtime Blues
You may begin noticing your usually soft pillow case is not so soft and maybe even a little rough. Your head may even feel colder than normal, making sleep feel a million miles away. Consider wearing a sleep cap made from satin-y bamboo fabric or plush cotton to keep your head warm and add a layer of softness between you and your pillow. Sleep caps are specially made for slumbering as the seams are hidden for added comfort. A silk pillowcase may become another must-have, due the velvety-soft, sleek feel against your scalp.
#7 - Stay Hydrated
Drinking water all day, every day seems crazy impossible but it is a total must during chemo! Your body (and especially your scalp) may feel dry and depleted but water can easily help. Spruce up your water by adding some cucumber or any fruits like lime, strawberry, watermelon (you get the picture).
#8 - Watch Out for the Oven!
This may sound odd but it’s extremely important for the avid baker’s out there. Due to the sensitivity of your scalp, a blast of heat from the oven can actually burn your scalp. When using the oven, we recommend either donning a head covering or stepping back for just a moment when opening the door to let the initial blast of hot air out.
Within 2-3 weeks after chemotherapy is complete you will begin seeing fuzzy hairs coming in. Within 1-2 months, thicker hair will begin filling in. At this point, hair growth will continue going through periods of growth and rest. While you may wish to immediately launch back into your tried-and-true hair routine, it’s best to ease in gradually. After all, your body and scalp have been put through the ringer.
Continue incorporating the recommendations above. When beginning to brush your hair, choose a soft bristle hair brush or a wide tooth comb. Your hair may initially look darker and more curly but don’t worry; this is highly common after completing chemo. Some women have found their hair stays this way while others see their hair return to its original color and texture over time. As hair grows longer, continue using gentle products, get regular trims, and be tender with your new locks.
Have any tips for those starting chemo or sporting new locks? Share your experiences below!