Cancer treatments can lead to changes in our hair like hair loss, thinning, graying or dryness. Usually hair damage resolves itself when treatment is over. In the meantime, we have tips for hair loss and products for thinning hair to help you manage.
What to do before hair loss
- Be Proactive. Oncologists can predict your chances of losing hair. If it’s relatively certain you’ll lose all your hair, consider shaving your head before it happens. It can be empowering to be in charge of the timing and for some of us it’s easier than watching our hair fall out in clumps. You’ll know your hair is about to fall out when your scalp starts to tingle. That’s the time to be proactive.
- Consider a cooling cap. Some chemotherapy facilities offer “cooling caps” that are worn during treatment and thought to reduce hair loss. They can be effective, but you may need to be at the hospital for several extra hours during each treatment. You should be aware there’s some concern that cooling caps may prevent chemotherapy from effectively reaching cancer cells in our scalp area. Talk to your medical team about the pros and cons before trying a cooling cap.
- Go to a pro. If you opt for a wig, shop for one before your hair falls out so it’s easier to match your hair color. Most professional wig stores have an adhesive similar to double-sided tape to help the wig stay on. Follea, Raquel Welch and Helena are three brands we like. Insider tip: Ask your insurance company if they cover expenses for wigs.
- Prepare others. Talk to your children about possible hair loss before it happens so they’re not blindsided. Use honest, age-appropriate explanations. Reassure them that your hair will grow back. Including them in the process of choosing wigs, caps and scarves can make it seem less scary.
What to do after complete hair loss
- Make your wig more comfortable. If your wig feels uncomfortable, try a wig cap. It fits between the wig and your scalp and can help reduce scratchiness.
- Do what you like best. Not everyone wears a wig after hair loss. Do what works for you and don’t worry about what others think you should do.
- Accessorize. Treat yourself to a new scarf or a soft hat. Having a fashionable hat to wear in public can be a small daily treat.
- Try self-tanner. If you choose not to cover up, you may notice areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun throughout the years are darker than your virgin scalp. To even out your skin tone, apply self-tanner to previously unexposed areas.
- Protect yourself from the sun. Before you go outside, always put sunscreen (30 SPF or higher) on your newly-exposed scalp—or wear a hat.
- Try a sleeping cap. It can keep you warm at night, especially in colder months. Here is our favorite.
- Use haircare products to stimulate hair regrowth. Now isn’t the time to add toxins to your body so stick with organic options. An evening scalp massage with sesame oil is another way to encourage hair regrowth.
Try these tips for thin or thinning hair
- Cut it short. If your hair is thinning and you have long hair, consider cutting it short. Short haircuts camouflage thinning and tend to make hair look thicker. The closer the ends of your hair are to your scalp, the harder it is to see. The least flattering cut for thin or thinning hair is a blunt, one-length, straight cut.
- Go to an expert. Insider tip: Stylists who give great cuts for long hair aren’t always skilled at short hairstyles, which are less common and tougher to execute. Ask around for recommendations. Your regular stylist won’t be offended if you take a temporary hiatus.
- Go organic for volume and fullness. Some shampoos, conditioners and styling products can help create volume and fullness. We’re firm believers in turning towards organic products and away from brands that use chemicals. Here are the organic hair care products we recommend for thinning, fine or limp hair.
- Lighten up the consistency of your hair products. If your hair is starting to thin, it may be time to switch to new products. To keep hair from looking limp or greasy, try lighter, drier products for thinning hair like styling sprays and conditioners instead of heavier products that work better on thick hair.
- Take a break from tools. If you’re worried about breakage, avoid coloring, perming and chemically relaxing your hair during treatment and for 3-4 months after treatment. Cut back on or stop using flat irons, curlers, hair clips and other tools and accessories that my damage your hair. Try patting your hair dry instead of using a blow dryer. Minimize pulling by using a very wide-toothed comb or this follicle-stimulating paddle brush.
- Consider a hair loss supplement. A high quality nutritional supplement can assist your body’s ability to produce proteins and support healthy hair growth. Here is one we created that provides extra beauty proteins.
- Try a glaze or henna. A professional glaze or henna treatment is better for fragile hair because it doesn’t penetrate cuticles and damage the hair shaft. These treatments wrap your hair with a translucent color that closes the hair cuticle and make hair look thicker and shinier. If you want to do it yourself, many health food stores have all-natural hennas.
- Later, try color. Some of us will never get all our hair back after treatment ends. Coloring thin hair can make it look thicker by opening and roughing up the cuticle.
If your hair is dry or damaged, these tips may help
- Deep hydrate. Dry hair needs deeply-moisturizing products. Moisture adds a subtle amount of weight to help hair settle down and look less frizzy. Here are a few of our favorite products for dry hair.
- Try oil. To shorten drying time, try putting 1-2 drops of a lightweight, moisture-rich hair oil in your hair while it’s still wet. It’s counterintuitive, but this tip works!
- Use heat wisely. Heat can help, but only if you use it a certain way. With a flatiron, curling iron or hair dryer, work from the root to end. This closes the hair cuticle, which makes your hair look shinier and healthier. Use the lowest heat setting that still gets results. Don’t go from ends to root—that roughs up the hair shaft instead of closing it.
- Deep condition. If you have dry hair, use a deep overnight conditioning treatment. Apply the conditioner to wet hair, but don’t rinse it off. Then sleep overnight in a shower cap or towel—or simply let it air dry. Shampoo in the morning.
Cancer treatments can take their toll on our hair but there are steps you can take to minimize damage to your hair and stimulate regrowth. Treat yourself to gentle products for thinning hair or hair loss and handle your hair with care. For further reading on beauty emergency tips, check out our articles on skin care and nail care.