Some cancer treatments can cause hair loss or alopecia and it can be very scary and traumatic. Managing side effects such as hair loss is an important part of cancer care and treatment. Talking about your feelings related to losing hair with a family member or a friend may provide comfort to you. It may also be helpful to talk about potential hair loss with your children, if you have any, before it occurs. Preparing them for changes in your physical appearance can help lower their fear and anxiety. You should also talk with your health care team about managing or coping with hair loss from cancer treatment. Thankfully, nowadays there are a wide range of wigs and hair accessories for people experiencing hair loss due to cancer and other treatments.
What causes hair loss-
Unfortunately, hair loss can be a common side effect to some cancer treatments. Treatments can damage the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out while also preventing new hairs from growing in its place. This kind of hair loss is usually temporary, and once treatment has ended, you will be able to see regrowth within a short space of time. By talking about it openly in your home, you can help them feel more secure.
Preparing people in your life for your hair loss-
Losing you hair due to cancer treatment can be a stressful, and upsetting time for you, but also for your loved ones. Preparing them for whats about to happen can help ease the blow and also help you come to terms with losing your hair.
- Children: It can be difficult to decide when to tell your children you are going to loose your hair. In general, children will be less frightened if they know whats coming. As with everyone, every child will have a different reaction and some may find it upsetting to see you without you hair. For more information on how to talk to your children about cancer, visit Macmillan Cancer Support.
- Family members and friends: People will react to your hair loss in different ways, and sometimes their reaction can be difficult to deal with. Most people will be helpful but some may be unintentionally unsympathetic or hurtful. It can be beneficial to prepare yourself for that kind of reaction. Have a think about what you will say and who you want to tell. That way you reduce the risk of rambling and actually tell people how you feel and what you need from them once your appearance changes.
Tips for choosing and wearing your wig:
- Have your wig fitted before you lose all your hair so the person fitting you with the wig can see the texture, colour, style and density of your hair. This will help they find a wig that suits you best.
- Breaking up the wig hair can help make it look more natural or textured.
- Style your wig into your own shape can make it feel more personal and unique to you.
- Always put the front rim of the wig on your original hairline or further back so that it looks more natural and doesn’t look like its growing out of your forehead.
You can find resources on wear to buy wigs in our Look Good, Feel Good section.
Financial help for buying your hairpiece-
- Medical card– medical card holders will be given an allowance to contribute to the cost of buying a hair piece. Before purchasing, you will need a letter from your doctor or nurse stating that you need the wig for medical purposes. Your local health offeicer or an HSE-registered wig supplier will be able to give you more information about the subsidy available and how to claim.
- Tax– if you dont have a medical card or private health insurance, you can claim tax back on any hairpiece you buy. Because wigs are classified as a medical expense, you can fill in the MED1 form when claiming. Contact your local revenue officer for more details.
- Medical insurance- Each insurer is different so you would need to contact your own individual provider for full details on how you can claim. If your insurer doesn’t cover hair pieces, you can still fill out a MED1 form and claim back the cost of the wig as a medical expense
Care for your regrowing hair:
- Do not colour your hair for the first 6 months as this could damage the hair and make it harder for it to grow. Colour that has no peroxide or ammonia can be used because these colours wash out.
- Wearing a wig will not stop the growth of your hair.
- Try a volumising shampoo and conditioner.
- If it regrows fine and downy it is advisable to have the tips trimmed off.
Tips for hair and scalp care during treatment:
- Use mild shampoo and conditioner.
- Use low heat hairdryers.
- Do not colour your hair with permanent colour.
- Style your hair.
- Try limit the amount you wash.
- Use a soft brush.
- If you have lost your hair and your scalp is dry us a good moisturiser for sensitive skin.
If your hair loss is more permanent-
For a very small number, the effects of cancer treatment result in a much slower regeneration or hair. If you are having issues with your hair growth after treatment, you can contact a trichologist for more advice. A trichologist specialises in hair and scalp disorders. See a list of trichologists below for more advice on how they can help you.
Deborah Whelan – Dublin and Galway
- Free consultation for chemo patients
Kevin Ryan – Cork
- Kevin Ryan Hairdressing and Trichology, Curraheen Road, Bishopstown, Co. Cork
Gerrard Hynes -Kildare
Liam Byrne – Meath
- Robert Byrne Hairdressing, 5 Belfry View, Church Hill, Navan Co. Meath.
Hair and wig tips and advice were taken from the book Look Good Feel Good written by award winning make up artist Rhona Cullinan and The Irish Academy of Beauty. Look Good Feel Good is a useful resource for people going though cancer treatment as it is full of tips and advice on skin, nail and hair care. Two of the women featured in the book are cancer survivors who get confidence boosting makeovers.
Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Marie Keating Foundation. You can order your copy here.
Back to Coping Physically.