What causes hair loss during cancer treatment?
“Hair loss is a secondary effect of chemotherapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, or a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant,” says Nioxin trichologist Mark Blake. “however, hair loss is different for everyone, and they might only lose sections of it.”
Depending on the treatment, clients can experience differing changes to their hair.
• Chemotherapy“Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss, but some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss or thinning,” says Mark.
• Radiation therapyRadiation therapy only affects the hair where the radiation is aimed. “hair loss with this type of treatment depends on the strength of the dose and the method of radiation therapy,” says Mark. “when very high doses of radiation therapy are used, the hair may never grow back.”
• Targeted therapy“Cancer medications called targeted therapy do not cause complete hair loss. But some targeted therapies may cause hair to become thinner, curlier, or drier than usual,” explains Mark.
• Hormonal therapy“Hormonal therapy doesn’t always cause complete hair loss,” says Mark. “sometimes it may cause a patient’s hair just to get thinner over a period of months to years after starting treatment.”
When can hair loss be expected?
“Hair loss usually begins 10 to 14 days after the first treatment and it is common for the scalp to feel sore and tender around the time of initial hair loss,” says Jasmin Julia Gupta, founder of the charity service Cancer Hair Care. Cutting hair short can alleviate discomfort and some clients may prefer to cut their hair shorter as their treatment commences. “advise on a shorter hairstyle as any hair loss will look less dramatic, also when the hair starts to regrow it will take less time to get the client’s hairstyle back,” advises Mark. “if your client wants their hair shaved when their hair starts to fall out, offer to do this as I don’t think their partner should do this as it’s just too emotional for a loved one,” he adds.
It can also be beneficial if the client can have scalp cooling during their treatment, which can help keep around 50% of their hair, says Mark. “scalp cooling is not always appropriate so the client’s oncologist will advise on its suitability. However, it isn’t always offered even when it can be used,” he says.
How long does it take for hair to grow back?
“On average, hair begins to grow back post-chemotherapy treatment between 0-3 months,” says Jasmin.
“A lot of people notice that their new hair grows back curly – or in 'chemo curls'. This is thought to be because the hair follicle can slightly collapse during hair loss so, when it reforms, the hair follicle can take on a new shape, becoming a different hair texture,” she says. “with external beam radiotherapy to the scalp area, it can take up to three times as long for the hair follicle to recover, so clients are looking at between 0-9 month for new hair growth and there could be permanent hair loss.” Hair can also grow back drier, thinner, coarser, curlier, or even a different colour and texture.
How you can offer compassionate support
“Remember hair loss from cancer treatment can be a very emotional time that affects the client’s quality of life and self-image,” says Mark.
Upskilling by taking a dedicated course can help you to feel more confident. Cancer Hair Care has launched its Independent Hairdressing Practitioner Course.
“We've combined our charity's expertise with these innate hairdressing skills to compassionately upskill attendees to become confidently caring to clients during their cancer treatment,” says Jasmin.
Keep communication open and try to be flexible of when and where you see your client, says Zoë Irwin, ghd brand ambassador. “they may not feel comfortable coming into the salon when it’s very busy, so think about using a private space or providing special appointments out of hours,” she says.
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1 RECOMMEND ACCESSORIES“Accessories are also a great way to dress up hair as it grows out, and they’re really on-trend. There are lots of fantastic hairbands available and I love silk scarves which are extremely gentle on the hair and very stylish,” says Zoë.
2 REDUCE HEAT“When it comes to styling, turn the heat of the hairdryer down to medium,” recommends Zoë. “warm the hair gently to style, then use the cold shot to set it. If you’re using a brush, make sure it’s a gentle bristle brush,” she says.
3 STYLE WITH CONDITIONERYour client may find serums or oils too heavy. “conditioner can be used as a styling product and a little bit of product can create texture and calm unruly hair – even if it is very short,” says Jasmin.
“A lightweight conditioner is a good option for new hair and especially for curls, dry and Afro hair. It provides a great extra protective layer for new hair as well as gentle moisture.”