In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and all the cancer warriors in our lives, we want to share some knowledge about what happens to hair during chemotherapy and how to pamper your scalp and hair during regrowth.
While overcoming cancer is the most important focus of anyone battling the disease, we hope our tips can help patients regain a sense of self-esteem and normalcy during this critical time.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, with more than 2 million new cases in 2018. And many treatments involve chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy works by launching powerful drugs into the body to seek out and destroy all rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, chemo can’t distinguish between fast growing cancer cells and other healthy cells that multiply quickly – like hair follicles.
That’s why hair loss is the most recognizable sign of chemo treatment. It’s also the most devastating side effect for women who feel losing their locks also means losing their femininity and beauty.
The good news is hair loss is just temporary for most people.
We asked Sylvia Gonzalez, our Leonor Greyl Global Educator, for her advice on improving well-being during and after chemotherapy treatment.
What Happens to Hair During Chemo? Can You Stop Hair Loss?
It’s actually a myth that chemotherapy always causes complete hair loss, Sylvia says. What happens to your hair depends on which chemicals the oncologist prescribes, length of treatment, and how you as an individual respond.
If and when it happens, hair thinning can begin within two and three weeks after the first treatment.
Sylvia recommends that patients consider wearing cold caps during treatment sessions. Research shows that these tightly fitting caps chilled to -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit work by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp and reducing the amount of drug that reaches hair follicles.
One recent study found that 66% of patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment for early-stage breast cancer who used cold caps experienced hair loss of 50% or less, according to the Mayo Clinic.
(Ask your healthcare provider if a cold cap is right for you, and do your own research into costs, insurance coverage, and where to rent a device near you.)
How to Treat Your Scalp and Hair During Chemo
People who experience hair loss due to chemo know it can fall out slowly in wisps or suddenly in clumps. In preparation, many women start with new short haircuts. Deeper into treatment, they might shave the remaining patches.
Sylvia’s No. 1 tip for people losing hair during this early stage: Be gentle.
Stop coloring your hair, minimize the styling, wash less frequently, and use hydrating products with natural and organic ingredients, like Leonor Greyl’s Crème Aux Fleurs. Crème Aux Fleurs is a two-in-one cleanser and deep conditioning treatment enriched with soothing chamomile and sage. Promising studies suggests sage can help promote new hair growth.
As you lose more hair, you might wear a wig or scarf or apply sunscreen if you aren’t covering up. By day’s end, Sylvia says, your sweaty or irritated scalp could benefit from a mild cleanser and pampering treatment.
She suggests Leonor Greyl’s Huile Apaisante, a soothing and rebalancing pre-shampoo oil created for sensitive scalps. Made from natural and organic ingredients, the formula includes mimosa tenuiflora barkextract, which is long valued for its ability to restore the damaged epidermis (Mayan healers used powdered bark on skin lesions); antioxidant-rich passionfruit seed oil; light-weight and hydrating camellia tea seed oil; aromatic apricot kernel oil; and mineral-rich algae extract to help unblock hair follicles.
For shampooing, Sylvia recommends Lait Lavant à la Banane, a gentle shampoo enriched with plant proteins and nourishing banana extracts.
At the First Signs of Regrowth
Two or three weeks after chemotherapy ends, you might spot the soft fuzz of new hair.
Sylvia’s No. 1 tip for people experiencing hair regrowth: Be gentle. (See a pattern here?)
She recommends Leonor Greyl’s Complexe Énergisant or Tonique Vivifiant, both stimulating leave-in treatments featuring natural extracts rich in trace elements to help energize the scalp and improve tissue regeneration. For Complexe Énergisant, apply one vial two to three times a week for three months. On alternate days, apply Tonique Vivifiant directly on the scalp, strip by strip. Softly massage either product into the scalp to keep the skin supple and boost blood circulation.
Your new hair might be a different texture or color. (Going from straight to “chemo curl” is common chemo after-effect.) Be patient. It can take at least a year for your hair to settle into its normal look.
During this time, reach for our other deeply nourishing formulas, such as the L’Huile de Leonor Greyl pre-shampoo oil treatment, featuring coconut oil to restore suppleness. Leave it on for 15 minutes or overnight. Bonus pro tip: L’Huile de Leonor Greyl contains natural UVA/B filters to protect your new hair from environmental damages. Use a few drops as a leave-in styling product.
For shampooing, the Leonor Greyl line includes Bain Vitalisant B, which was formulated for fine hair and includes vitamins B, E and F extracts to fortify and protect, and chamomile and jojoba to hydrate and soften.
Shampooing Reviviscence provides deep hydration for brittle hair. It’s packed with vitamin-rich conditioning amaranth extract and hydrating sea lavender.
And finally, to style frizzy new strands and in-between lengths, Sylvia suggests using a pea-sized amount of the Eclat Naturel. Not only does Eclat Naturel tame hair, but it also includes regenerative ingredients like shea butter and jojoba oil.
Although losing your hair to chemotherapy might feel like the universe is piling on insult to injury, your appearance does not define you. Your strength in the face of adversity does.
For more resources on this topic:
- HairToStay – Nonprofit organization dedicated to helping cancer patients afford scalp cooling.
- Look Good, Feel Better – Nonprofit organization that helps women with cancer manage the physical appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. Thousands of volunteer beauty professionals support the program.
- Best Breast Cancer Blogs – Top 20 reads, according to Healthline.