By Kimberly Creekmore | Owner | HairLoveDesignLLC
Let’s face it, cancer sucks. And coping during the healing journey is hard. On top of that, many people face the added indignity of losing their hair. It is an extension of ourselves and I want to share some ways to help alleviate the sadness and stress in overcoming this traumatic side effect, so you can focus your energy on healing. After all, your stylist can be a blessing, someone to help you through one of the many terrible events along the way, and even though helping care for your hair during this time might be a small thing, it can make a tremendous difference in helping to find a little light in the dark.
Among the many challenges of going through treatment of any form of cancer, let alone having to face the disease to begin with, people are faced with something that in the grand scheme may seem small, but can have a big impact on wellbeing and healing.
Hair thinning and hair loss – what can you do?
If you cannot bear to go bare, wigs are one of the best options, as they allow you to have fun and they are very low maintenance. Before purchasing though, take a few moments to think about what you want to get out of your wig long term and research the various options available. You may want to consider purchasing the wig before your treatment, but make sure you think about how it will fit as you lose hair.
Also, call your stylist and enlist their help. Just because it isn’t your natural hair, doesn’t mean they can’t play a vital role in your everyday care and styling!
- Check to see if it is adjustable. As you lose hair, you may need a smaller size.
- When you purchase a wig prior to treatment, expert wig shops can help you to match the color and texture. You can also cut a swatch of hair for future matching. Of course, if you’re going to have fun with it, the world’s color and style palate is your oyster!
- Check with your insurance. Many times, wigs and cranial prosthesis may be fully or partially covered.
- Talk to your cancer treatment team and other patients for referrals. Find the right shop for you to help make the most out of your wig.
- Try different styles. If you want a match, make sure they know what you’re looking for. But, you might just find something totally different that will give you a new look, and possibly a healthy outlook while in treatment.
- Consider buying more than one and mix it up. Or maybe you want something for special occasions.
- Find out if synthetic or human hair is for you. Synthetic wigs cost less and are easier to maintain, but may not have the look and feel you want.
- Wigs can be hot and itchy. Consider going with scarves and/or turbans for a comfortable way to cover your hair loss while still having fun with style. Note: cotton fabrics are smoother and more breathable than heavier fabrics or polyester.
- If you think you may want to have your wig styled and/or cut, check with your hair stylist, or make sure to ask any prospective professionals, about their level of comfort and experience with this; not everyone is capable!
Hair care: During and after treatment
- Be gentle when washing your hair
- Wash your hair every two or three days, when possible
- Use a mild shampoo (ask your stylist which ones would be best for you).
- Allow your hair to air dry, only using a towel to pat the hair removing excess water
- Avoid heat: blow drying and hot irons, and/or curlers
- Do not use elastic hair ties. Try using soft fabric scarves to keep it out of your face or off your shoulders
- Avoid permanent or semi-permanent hair color, and do not use color treatments from the store!
- Avoid chemical treatments (chemical straighteners and coloring) without speaking with your doctor first, and doing a sensitivity test.
- Use sun protection such as sunscreen and hats or scarves when exposed to the sun
- Cover your head when cold to prevent loss of body heat
- Choose a soft pillow case-satin – works great
Cold cap therapy
Cold cap therapy is an innovative treatment that narrows the blood vessels in the scalp so the chemotherapy or radiation treatment doesn’t damage the hair follicles. Your head is covered with cold packs usually -15 to -40 Fahrenheit before, during, and after chemotherapy. This may help with limiting the amount of cancer treatment drugs that reach the hair follicles (which is one of the factors in hair loss) and can help to prevent major loss or thinning.
It is important to note that cold cap therapy is not for everyone, and is not a guaranteed solution. In multiple small studies, cold caps were considered highly effective in 50 to 60 percent of women who used them (according to BreastCancer.org). Women who got only anthracycline chemotherapy had slightly better results with cold caps than women who got only taxane chemotherapy. One study from 2000 found that 92 percent of women getting anthracycline chemotherapy only, had no hair loss compared with 88 percent of women getting taxane chemotherapy only.
If you’re interested in trying cold cap therapy, talk to your doctor about all factors involved and determine what treatments you will be part of and the health issues you need to be aware of.
Find a caring hair stylist!
This might go without saying, but if you will be enlisting the help of your current stylist, or are looking for someone new, you want to make they are comfortable with helping you on your journey and will help alleviate your fears and address your needs specifically.
- Book a consultation over the phone or in the salon
- Try to be prepared with dates you will be undergoing treatment and what kind of treatment you will be part of
- If you want to have color or any chemical service (perms, chemical straightener) please request a patch/sensitivity test (done 48 hours prior to service) and talk to your doctor first.
- Bring pictures, not only of immediate hair wishes, but what you may be looking to achieve long term
- Ask about prices
- Bring a friend for support! Getting your hair cared for, even by a professional, when going through chemotherapy is not your normal salon day.
When hair re-grows
When new hair begins to grow back, it’s texture and coloring can change. You may notice your hair grows back thinner, courser, and sometimes may grow in curly or straight when it was different before treatment. The color can also change when your hair begins to grow again. During treatment, new chemicals are introduced into your body and key nutrients are depleted. This can cause breakage, and any number of subtle differences in your natural hair. It can take time to notice your hair begins to return to your pre-treatment texture and color, so be patient. Talk to your stylist about ways to utilize the new changes for a style you will fall in love with.
Many people recommend to begin cutting your hair shorter before treatment to help cope with the changes to come. It will also help when your hair begins to grow back, as you can expect approximately ½ inch per moth of regrowth (note: everyone’s hair is different, but you can keep a hair journal to measure for your typical results).
Before after and during your treatment, take recommended vitamins (with doctor’s approval) and use quality products-this can make a big difference. When you’re ready to start thinking about new styles, treatments for your hair, and color, ensure your scalp and hair is in good condition.
Everyone’s experience with cancer treatments vary, so take the time to find out what will work best for your hair, but also for your healing. When your spirits are high, your healing journey may be easier. Just breathe and know that you are not alone, and when it comes to your hair, there are caring individuals who will give you a hug and do what they can to make you feel as good as you can.