All afflictions of cancer aside, chemo hair loss can add insult to injury. Regardless of the pain, the fatigue, the morning sickness, and all other side effects of chemo, the fact that the hair is loosening, can only cause more trouble.

Chemotherapy hair loss affects patients in different ways. Reportedly most patients tend to stay away from usual social activities and cancer is only one of the reasons why. The appearance of a face with no eyebrows or eyelashes or a bald scalp aligns with cancer and drives people more distant.

Fortunately in recent years with the help of medical knowledge advancement, this situation has mildly changed. Now not all cancer chemotherapy cases end up in hair loss. Besides, hair loss is not the end of the road for patients. There are multiple methods and different types of treatments that can help cancer patients regain their former look and consequently their self-confidence.

In the following article, you will find out various ways to prevent chemo hair loss and cosmetic methods for hair regrowth.

Why does chemo hair loss happen?

Within a few weeks after starting chemotherapy, the hairs start to fall. Its severity highly depends on the dosage of the chemo drugs. Some drugs only cause hair thinning, whereas taking some other drugs leads to complete baldness. Patches of hair start to loosen. Sometimes it is not scalp hair alone. Eyebrows, eyelashes even armpit or pubic hair fall out. All due to chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy treatment aims for dividing cells such as cancer cells. Unfortunately it can’t tell the difference between malicious dividing cells and healthy ones such as hair follicles. So it attacks hair cells as well. That is why not much long after chemotherapy has begun, body hair starts to fall rapidly.

There are different signs of chemotherapy hair loss. For the most part, clumps of hair in the bathroom drain, on a hairbrush, and the pillow can be a strong indication of losing hair. No matter how intense the hair loss is whatsoever, the process is frustrating and depressing. It can also affect mental health.

cancer chemotherapy hair loss
Chemotherapy hair loss is different in each case. Its severity depends on the medication and the intensity of the treatment.

Different chemo drugs have different side effects. For instance, medications such as Adriamycin and Taxol would lead to chemo hair loss. The difference is that Taxol causes hair loss in the entire body including brows, lashes, etc., while Adriamycin mostly affects scalp hair. Another chemo drug, Methotrexate, causes only hair thinning. The amount of hair loss is different in each case.

Is it possible to prevent chemo hair loss?

As it was mentioned before, not all cancer chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. They may thin the hair or leave the patient with mild hair loss, but not complete baldness. In most cases, with a proper hair care routine, the loss of hair is reversible. Avoiding hairdryers, coloring or bleaching can help too.

With other chemotherapy medications that the hair loss is inescapable, using cooling caps can reduce the hair loss speed, if not prevent it entirely. They are called scalp hypothermia and the patients wear it during chemo infusions.

Cooling caps can slow the blood flow underneath the scalp skin. This can protect the hair from chemotherapy. Though wearing the caps might be uncomfortable.

cooling caps (scalp hypothermia)
Scalp hypothermia protects the hair from chemotherapy. (Adopted from www.clarityfoundation.org)

Patients often use short haircuts as their new look. It has no effect on the hair loss process, but short haircuts can give anyone’s hair a fuller look. Some people consider shaving their heads entirely. To them, a clean shaved head is better than losing patches of hair.

But shaving might not be everybody’s option. Wigs and head coverings are a better substitute for chemo hair loss in some people. There is an extensive variety of wigs in different sizes, shapes, and colors. Wigs have especially improved so much over the years that they are no more different than the actual hair. Patients usually pick a wig identical to their former hairstyle so their head covering would not be obvious.

Will my hair regrow after chemotherapy?

The good news is the hair regrows after chemotherapy. Unlike what many might believe, chemo hair loss is not permanent. The lost hair would grow back after all traces of chemo drugs have been removed from the body. When the system is all clear of cell-dividing killing drugs, the hair starts to grow back again. So the process will not be immediate.

After passing a few weeks of the last chemotherapy session, patients might see some thin fuzzy sparse hair first. This could be a sign of hair growing back. The real and final hair grows back after a month or two, relying on some factors.

In some cases, patients with a hair loss background can be more affected by chemo. Some factors such as genetics, diet, hair care routine, or even lifestyle would lead to hair loss. Chemotherapy can act as the last blow and stop the regrowing process.

Taking some specific chemo medication can have similar results. Drugs such as docetaxel can cause permanent hair loss, whether there was any hair loss background.

What are possible treatments for chemo hair loss?

There are a few things patients can do to prepare themselves and their family for the impending chemo hair loss and hair regrowth after treatment is over. In any case, no matter if hair grows back or not, there are ways to cover that and ways to embrace the change. So they should stay positive and focus on their health and happiness.

different ways to face chemo hair loss for cancer patients
There are different ways to face cancer hair loss.

Before hair loss

Chemotherapy is not the only treatment that would leave patients with hair loss. Diseases like alopecia areata or treatments such as targeted therapy, hormonal therapy, radiational therapy, etc. can make anyone face hair loss. Therefore, losing hair is not uncommon. Here is what patients can do to prevent hair loss or accept what is happening.

  • Talking to a counselor: Multiple support groups can make patients feel better about their self-image. Hair loss happens to so many others and meeting them can give patients another perspective of how to accept it. If anything, it at least helps them realize they are not the only ones in these circumstances.
  • Talking to family members: Believe it or not, dealing with the new upcoming changes could be as hard for the family members as for the patient. So talking to them about chemotherapy hair loss can lift the psychological burden off everybody’s shoulders. They can think of different creative ways to face this condition. Some families tend to shave their heads along with the patients to show their support.
  • Short hairstyles: As it was said earlier, hair loss is less noticeable with short hair. Consulting with a hairstylist can help the patient choose the best haircut or hair color that best camouflages hair loss and makes him or her feel better.
  • Shaving completely: Some think that a clean shaved head can help them face the condition better. Especially for the cases where baldness is inevitable.

After the hair loss

  • Hair would not grow back until the treatment is over and the drugs have left the body. So meanwhile patients usually try different ways such as wigs, scarves, hats, and other head coverings. Some like to try different looks by putting on unusual hats and makeup, while others may rather wear a wig similar to their former look to make the chemotherapy hair loss less obvious.
  • Hair care routine: Dermatologists help patients with hair regrowth. There are various hair products for chemo hair loss. A dermatologist can suggest the one most suitable for the patient’s condition. The hair is frizzy and thin at first, but with proper care, it could regain its strength and grow back fully.
  • Accepting the change: The hair might never come back again. Preparing for it and facing the new person in the mirror might need some time and effort. While time is key in accepting the situation, getting friends and family support would help a lot.
  • Cosmetic treatments: There are some cosmetic treatments that can improve the circumstances. For instance, semi-permanent makeup such as microblading or eyeliner tattoo can fill up for the loss of eyebrows or eyelashes.

In some cases, scalp micropigmentation can also help the patient have a shaved head look rather than being bald. Also for patients that experience chemotherapy hair loss as patches, SMP can help cover up those spots without having to shave the remaining hair. This is particularly useful for women. Consulting with an expert can help pick the best treatment.

Summary

Cancer is hard enough that it makes hair loss almost unbearable. But no one should feel ashamed or embarrassed by chemo hair loss or go through it alone. It is normal and even a sign that the treatment is working. There are also multiple ways that can help patients with their new look.

If your chemo treatment has been over for quite some time, yet you don’t see any sign of hair regrowth, or if you are suffering partial hair loss, especially at the back of your head, scalp micropigmentation might be a good treatment for you. You can book a free consultation session with us to get the complete info.