Basically, cancer cells grow really fast. In order to kill them, or stop them from spreading, drugs need to inhibit cell growth. So while chemo is running around your body killing off anything that grows too quickly, your hair will get caught in the crossfire. Hair loss tends to begin within one to three weeks after treatment begins, and can continue to happen for several weeks after it ends. It may be complete, or only patchy; it may occur very gradually, or very quickly. Either way, chemo hair loss is temporary, and it will start to grow back soon – although it may seem to be a different color or texture.
For many women, hair loss is the most demoralizing aspect of cancer treatment; it drastically changes what they see in the mirror, and it seems to destroy a piece of their femininity. If you have a friend going through this, she may need some extra support and love; if you’re experiencing it yourself, it’s ok to feel depressed. It may help to seek the support and friendship of others who have had similar experiences, and know firsthand how you feel. Look Good, Feel Better is an organization that support women experiencing cancer-related hair loss and teaches beauty techniques tailored to their needs; see if there is a workshop going on in your area.
You can’t really prevent the hair loss associated with chemotherapy, but there are some things you can do to prepare for and manage while it’s taking place.
- Start treating your hair with extra TLC beforehand. Use gentle shampoo and a soft brush, cut back on the coloring and heat-styling, use a satin pillowcase.
- Transition to a shorter hairstyle. In the event that your hair things, rather than completely falling out, it will be less obvious with a short style (they tend to look fuller). Plus you’ll get used to having less hair. Or, if your initial hair loss is patchy, just shave it all before it starts to look strange.
- Sunscreen and/or a headcovering is a MUST when going outside – chemo often makes skin extra-sensitive, and you aren’t used to thinking of your scalp as being exposed.
- If you’re considering wearing a wig to cover up, at least some of the time, see if you can get a prescription for one from your doctor; insurance may cover the cost.
- Plan ahead if you want to use scarves or hats or other coverings; start trying out styles and colors and ways of tying or securing them, so you’re prepared for when you actually need them.
Tichels, hats, bandanas – there are lots of ways to cover your head, and there are colors and styles to suit every taste and occasion. If you’re feeling in the mood, indulge and find items to coordinate with all your favorite outfits.