Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?
Chemotherapy is an umbrella term for any cancer treatment using what are known as cytostatics. Cancerous cells divide rapidly and cytostatic drugs are drugs that set out to destroy these rapidly dividing cells or to delay their growth. Unfortunately, they also destroy other rapidly dividing cells such as the cells in our follicles that make our hair grow. This is why chemotherapy can also cause hair loss.
Why don’t all people experience hair loss during treatment?
Many cancer treatments differ, and all chemotherapy regimens use different combinations of drugs depending on what cancer you have . Some chemo regimens will cause hair loss and others cause very little to no hair loss whatsoever. Some people experience their hair thinning or notice it becomes a lot duller or drier during treatment. Your medical team will know the likelihood of you losing your hair based on the type of chemotherapy treatment you have been prescribed.
If I don’t experience total hair loss what should I do to look after my hair during treatment?
During chemo it’s best to be gentle on your hair and scalp, your skin can dry out and become more sensitive during chemo. Don’t wash your hair too vigorously and if you can it’s best to use a more gentle hair care range. If you use a hair dryer or styling tools it’s best to keep it at the lowest temperature setting, oh and best to go easy on the brushing, try source a softer bristled brush.
Can I dye my hair during chemotherapy treatment?
Dyes can dry your hair out even more, BUT you know your hair best and will have a better insight into how your hair is coping; you can always seek out the opinion of a reputable hair salon who can advise you, it’s good to note that there are less chemical heavy products out there that are kinder to your more fragile locks and there are lots of great salons who are using and promoting these.
When will my hair start falling out?
This usually begins to happen 2 to 3 weeks after your first chemo. Some people lose their hair gradually, and others begin to lose hair immediately. By the second round of chemo the majority of head hair will have fallen.
Should I cut or shave my hair before I start chemo?
Cutting or shaving your hair prior is a personal choice. Some people find that it helped them with the transition from having hair to going bald, that it felt less abrupt and they had some power or control over the loss of it. When your hair starts to fall it is often easier to deal with if it is shorter locks falling rather than losing long strands, if its shaved you will only notice the stubble, if its short you will only have to deal with shorter hair strands falling and this can be pretty handy when it comes to the shower, a lot of people find this less confrontational. If you choose to shave off your hair we recommend using electric clippers and having someone help you as it can be an emotional time for some. Please note if you are not used to using electric clippers , go to the hairdresser or ask someone with experience to help you out.
Is chemo hair loss painful?
Some people feel some scalp pain when hair loss occurs, others feel an itching or a prickly feeling. It usually only lasts a few days when hair loss first starts and symptoms will vary from person to person.
Will I lose body hair?
Yes you may also lose your body hair, i.e., the hair on your legs, arms, armpits, pubic hair and your eyebrows and eyelashes.
Please note that this depends on the type of chemotherapy regimen you are on and it can also vary from person to person.
Will my head get cold more quickly without hair?
Wigs, scarves and hats also are key items to a chemo hair loss sufferer to keep their heads warm. At night you will feel the cold a lot more especially during the colder months of the year. It’s good to get hold of a nice soft cotton hat for wearing in bed at night time too.
Will my hair look different when it grows back?
Hot topic! “chemo curls”.
Many people report that the colour and texture of their hair grows back different to what it was prior to chemotherapy. It may come back super curly or if it was curly it can end up growing back straight, people also note that their hair grows back thicker or more wiry, your hair colour can also change and come back lighter or darker, some people report hair coming back alot greyer than before. New hair growth usually appears after 3 to 6 weeks. How it grows back varies from person to person, and may change over the months it grows back in. For some the changes are permanent and for others only temporary. Chemo drugs attack the follicles and it takes some time for these to get back to how they were pre chemo.
Will I lose my eyelashes and brows?
This depends on the type of chemotherapy treatment you receive. Speak to your medical team about this, but generally if the chemo regimen you are on is likely to cause extensive or total hair loss, then there is a very high chance that you will lose your eyelashes and brows too. In some cases, they become a little bit thinner, other people lose the majority of hair and others temporarily lose all of their brow and eyelash hair. Eyebrows and lashes tend to take longer to fall out than head hair.
Will my eyelashes and eyebrows grow back?
YES they will almost always grow back. It may take a little longer because you probably lost them at a relatively later stage in your treatment than your head hair. They may also grow back thinner or more sparse, however some people report bushier brows. There are amazing treatments for speeding up the hair growth process and ensuring thick strong hair growth too.
How to donate your hair
If you would like to donate your hair, the company Freedom Wigs in Dunedin will give a donation to a charity of your choice. Your hair must be at least 14 inches (35.5 cm) long and cannot have been bleached, dyed or permed. This is a wonderful programme, as your hair will improve the life of another New Zealander with alopecia, cancer-related baldness orother hair loss.
For further information:
Freedom Wigs Ltd, Dunedin