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Managing Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

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If your treatment team has told you that you’ll be receiving chemotherapy medicines that will cause hair loss, these steps can help you feel more prepared, possibly lessen hair loss, and protect your hair as it grows back.

Preparing for hair loss from chemotherapy

A good way to make hair loss from chemotherapy a little less stressful is knowing what to expect and getting prepared. Here are a few ways you can prepare for hair loss from chemotherapy.

In this video, women who’ve experienced chemotherapy-related hair loss share their stories and tips.

  • Look into cold caps and scalp cooling systems. Manual cold caps and scalp cooling systems are tightly fitting hat-like devices filled with a cold gel or liquid coolant that are worn during chemotherapy infusions. These devices have helped many people keep some or quite a bit of their hair during chemotherapy. Read more about preventing hair loss with Cold Caps and Scalp Cooling Systems.
  • Consider cutting your hair short before you begin chemotherapy. It will help you get used to having less hair and any shedding that occurs will be easier to manage. Also, if you decide to get a wig, it will fit better over shorter hair. You might choose to get a shorter hair cut before chemotherapy starts and then shave your hair off after it starts to fall out.

    Some hair salons offer free haircuts to people who are losing their hair due to chemotherapy or are in the process of growing it back. You can search online to see if there are hair salons in your area offering this service. Great Clips is one salon chain that offers complimentary clipper cuts to customers facing hair loss because of cancer treatment.
  • Get some head coverings, such as scarves, hats, and turbans, that will keep your head warm and protected from the sun, and will conceal your hair loss if you wish to do so. You may not know at first which head coverings will work best for you, but it can be helpful to have a few on hand when you start to lose your hair. Read more about Scarves, Hats, and Turbans.
  • Pick out a wig before you begin chemotherapy. If you think you may want a wig, there are some advantages to picking it out before you start chemotherapy. You’ll have more energy, may not feel as rushed, and can more easily match the wig to your natural hair color and style. Read more about Wigs, including where to buy them, how to get insurance to cover the cost, and how to put on and care for a wig.

Tips for managing hair loss from chemotherapy

Here are some practical tips for managing hair loss from chemotherapy after it occurs:

  • After you lose your hair, continue to wash your scalp with a mild shampoo and conditioner to remove excess oil and dry skin.
  • You might discover that you often prefer going without head coverings. But if you go out in the sun, protect your scalp by wearing a hat, scarf, or sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Treat remaining hair or new growth gently. During chemotherapy and for a few months afterwards, avoid hair dye, bleach, peroxide, relaxers, and other chemical treatments. It’s also best to avoid hair dryers, curling irons, hot rollers, and other heated styling tools.
  • Don’t expect your new hair to look exactly like your old hair when it first grows back. It may be a different color, texture, or thickness.
  • Keep in mind that although hair loss from chemotherapy is challenging, some people find that they can have fun and gain a sense of control by experimenting with new looks — whether it’s trying a wig that’s different from your usual hair style, layering a beanie and a scarf, or embracing the look of very short or no hair.
  • If you’ve finished chemotherapy treatment and your hair isn’t growing back or is thinner than it was in the past, consider seeing a dermatologist. He or she can evaluate whether other factors besides the chemotherapy may be contributing to your hair loss, such as thyroid disease, nutritional deficiency, stress, or a hair disorder such as alopecia areata or central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, and can recommend treatments. If possible, seek out a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss or an “onco-dermatologist” who focuses on problems with the hair, skin, and nails that can develop during cancer treatment.

This video explores ways of managing chemotherapy-related hair loss, such as cold caps and scalp cooling systems, wigs, halo hair pieces, and choosing not to conceal your hair loss.

Eyebrow and eyelash loss from chemotherapy

Here are some of the ways you can create the look of fuller eyebrows and eyelashes if chemotherapy caused yours to fall out or become thinner:

For eyebrows:

  • Use makeup products such as eyebrow pencils, eyebrow powders, tinted eyebrow gel, and eyebrow stencil kits to create a natural eyebrow shape or to help fill in sparse areas.
  • Try stick-on false eyebrows or temporary eyebrow tattoos, which are available in many shades and shapes. Typically, they’re applied to the skin with special adhesive. If you’re thinking of giving stick-on brows or temporary brow tattoos a try, check to see if your skin is sensitive to the adhesive and be careful when removing them since doing so can potentially rip out some of your remaining hair.
  • Semi-permanent eyebrow tattoos (created with a technique known as microblading) can look quite natural and last 12-18 months. Microblading is done at specialized salons by licensed technicians. If you’re considering microblading, check with your oncologist. He or she will probably recommend that you wait until you’re done with chemotherapy before getting microblading because of the risk of infection and of being sensitive to the pigment.

For eyelashes:

  • Use makeup techniques that can help better define your eyes and give the illusion of lashes — for instance, applying eyeliner or applying mascara with an angled brush along the lash line.
  • False eyelashes are available in tons of different styles, lengths, colors, and thicknesses. If you try them, check to see if your skin is sensitive to the adhesive and use caution when removing them since you can potentially rip out remaining natural lashes.

    The type of longer-lasting eyelash extensions that are applied at a salon are generally not recommended to people who have gone through chemo because of the potential risk of an allergic reaction, infection, or of permanent loss of your natural lashes if you keep getting new extensions.
  • Latisse (chemical name: bimatoprost) is an FDA-approved prescription medicine that can increase the growth of eyelashes. It’s a solution that you apply along the skin at the base of the upper lashes daily for at least 2 or more months. Latisse is typically prescribed by a dermatologist after you’ve completed chemo. If you’re interested in trying it, be sure to talk with your dermatologist about potential side effects, such as temporary darkening of the eyelid skin, an itchy rash on the eyelids, and a permanent increase in the brown pigmentation in the colored part of the eye (iris). This last side effect is rare but should be taken into consideration, especially if you have lighter colored eyes.

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