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Hair Loss and Cancer: How To Feel More Like You

  • author name Lindy N. Loercher
hairdressers and mannequins with wigs

For many people who experience cancer, the prospect of losing their hair is second only to the devastation of receiving their diagnosis. Hair loss can be emotionally traumatic and sometimes leads to depression, anger, self-consciousness, and even isolation. Fortunately, there are many empowering options to reduce anxiety, increase your comfort, and make you feel more like yourself during cancer treatment and beyond.

Why Hair Loss Occurs

Chemotherapy kills both cancerous and normal cells in your body. Normal cells that grow at a fast rate, including those responsible for hair growth, are most at risk. Because of this, hair thinning, and in some cases, complete hair loss–on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes–may result.

How To Prepare for Hair Loss

Each person responds differently, and has different preferences in dealing with hair loss. It’s important to do what is right for you. That may mean wearing a wig, hats, scarves or hair pieces.

If you choose a wig, it’s good to make an appointment with a wig stylist soon after your diagnosis. This helps assure the best match of your hair color and texture. Although not always the case, when hair loss begins, it can progress rapidly. If you start to lose your hair prior to your appointment, take a sample with you. If your hair is longer, a shorter cut may help decrease the impact as you lose hair.

Choosing A Wig

There are countless styles of wigs available, but three basic types. A stylist can help you select what is best for you:

  • Synthetic–easy care, cannot use heat (blow dryers, curling irons)
  • Synthetic heat defiant–easy care, can use heat
  • Human hair–very natural, can use heat to style

Selecting Headwear

Scarves, hats and other headwear can be stylish ways to conceal hair loss. View your headwear as an extension of your wardrobe and a way to express your creativity and personality. Hat styles, fabrics and textures differ from outerwear and are designed to provide warmth and comfort.

Caring For Your Hair And Scalp

When you start to experience hair loss, following these tips can help make you more comfortable:

  • Consider conditioning your eyebrows and lashes with products designed for oncology patients. When your brows begin to fall out, use a cream pencil or powder to fill them in. Traditional pencils are hard and can pull out the hair that remains.
  • Use a gentle pH-balanced shampoo and soft bristle brush
  • Avoid blow dryers and heated appliances that can damage hair and make hair loss more severe
  • Don’t bleach, color or perm your hair. These processes can make hair brittle and cause it to fall out more quickly.
  • Use lotion or vitamin E cream on your head once you’ve shaved it. Chemo causes your scalp to produce fewer oils and makes it dry and itchy.
  • Sleep on a satin pillow case to decrease friction and make yourself more comfortable.

While the tips above are suggested with cancer patients in mind, others can also benefit from the information. Hair loss can also be caused by aging, alopecia (a condition in which occur the immune system attacks hair follicles), thyroid conditions, and genetics.

The Image Recovery Center at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute features wigs, salon services, massage, mastectomy products, and other offerings to help women and men feel more confident about their appearance. Schedule a free consultation by calling 717-544-9440.

author name

Lindy N. Loercher

Lindy N. Loercher is a clinical cosmetologist with the Image Recovery Center at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute.

Call: 717-544-9400

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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