getting your hair back after chemotherapy loss is a journey - here are some tips...
This post is by Fusion stylist: Stephanie Johnson - a licensed cosmetologist, trained cosmetology educator and breast cancer survivor
First, let's talk about the "why"
The first thing to note is that: Not all chemotherapy drugs are the same, just as not all bodies or cancers are the same; so, not everyone you know who goes through chemotherapy loses their hair.
It is also true to state that not everyone loses all of the hair. Some lose it in patches while others lose every stitch, brows, lashes and all.
Some patients may have had success with cold cap treatments (using cold compresses and caps during chemo) to sustain scalp hair. This helps some because it causes circulatory constriction in those blood vessels, thus reducing the amount of chemo drugs making their way to those follicles. This doesn't work for everyone but it has had some success for some people.
Me? I had a typical experience with my chemotherapy and lost all of my hair - scalp, face, body - even nose hairs go away; which is, to this day, a blast in allergy season.
Why is the hair falling out? This happens because Chemotherapy affects all of the cells of the body and not just the cancer cells. The cells that make up the inside of the mouth and the stomach, as well as the follicles are cells that multiply rapidly. Do you know who else multiplies rapidly? Cancer cells. The medicines are designed to go right to these things.
Another factor that affects the scalp is that it is made up of mostly capillaries. Those tiny, fragile vessels that cells go single-file through.
The drugs are powerful and are especially rough on those babies. Fingers and toes, for example, because of the high concentration of capillaries, can lose skin or nails during chemotherapy, because of the medicines and their strength vs. the capillaries' weakness. The scalp has a disadvantage with both capillary concentration and cellular growth patterns.
The good news is the stomach and follicle cells can reproduce and repair.
Once the treatment is over, however, the return of the hair can be a new adventure...
The hair can grow back differently in texture (curly vs. straight hence the term "chemo curl") or in density. Not all of my hair grew back in areas which explains the allergy season reference. Some have that same issue on their scalp. I've seen ladies who have had permanent texture or color change. I've known others who have had different textures grow in on the same scalp.
I, for one, have new and different cowlicks. That is very common. I even have a little "divot" in the back of my scalp that never came back which is a hoot when I do one of my short 'do's. But it's my new normal - as you'll have yours - and they're all okay.
Post-chemo grow out tips:
Logically, if chilling the capillaries to prevent circulation can be helpful, the opposite is most, absolutely, true...
1. Circulation is now your friend. Encourage it.
Shampooing is your friend. If you were someone who lived by dry shampoo before, that is not how you live now. Circulation and encouraging the scalp to be active again takes participation and time. The massage and cleanse encourages the opening of the follicles and the circulation. Do a little scalp massage with conditioner, too, and rinse.
Regular cleansing keeps you from acquiring build-up. Contrary to some beliefs, build-up at this time doesn't help retain any moisture or nutrients. It's, actually, counter-productive as you're suffocating the vellus hair (that 'baby' hair that comes first) from making it's way out.
Some have asked about shampoo systems that have serums or are to be "growth" encouraging. Personally, I have my hesitations when it comes to adding more chemicals to an area that has already been overrun with them. I use and recommend ColorProof BioRepair 8. It's plant-based, highly concentrated, and made for the ladies and our own biological issues with DHT.
Another option - Try Castor Oil: It's a known "warming" oil meaning it encourages stimulation. You can put a couple of drops on your scalp while you binge another season of Unsolved Mysteries on Amazon Prime (or is that just me?) and do a self scalp massage. Be your scalp's friend.
4. Work with a stylist
A hairstylist that understands hair growth, biochemistry & cancer is a much-needed asset. They can keep your cuts managed and growing out. They can help you find new products that work for your new you. Regular visits help the hair to stay managed with shape - which can help manage growth frustrations along the way.
With texture and color changes, changes in needs and routine come, too. We're here to help.
At FUSION we offer consultation time with ladies to answer these questions and discuss what the potential new normal will be like - and how to have joy in it.