Coping with hair loss

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People experiencing hair loss can have a range of different emotions ranging from anger to anxiety and feeling low or depressed. These reactions are common and quite natural. It can make you feel self-conscious about your appearance and act as a constant reminder that you ‘have cancer’. Some people find that it is not as bad as they expected.

Being prepared and talking about how you feel can help you adjust to this temporary change in your appearance. It may be difficult to cope with people’s reactions to your hair loss. If you are not comfortable talking about it, give a simple response that creates boundaries and people often follow your lead eg. “I have had to have some treatment for my health and this is the side effect.”

Some treatment centres offer Cold Caps which are said to help reduce the amount of hair loss. Not all treatment centres offer these as they can be expensive and not always successful. If you are interested, ask your treatment centre if they are available and the cost.

Taking back some control

It can help to plan ahead for how you might deal with the possibility of hair loss.

  • Consider cutting your hair before treatment starts to give yourself time to adjust. Some people cut their hair short before treatment starts, while others prefer to cut their hair in stages.
  • Prepare children for your hair loss to help reduce their feelings of fear or anxiety. Cancer Council’s Talking to Kids About Cancer includes tips on how to talk to children about the changes cancer treatment may cause.
Taking care of hair and scalp during and after treatment

If you have lost your hair:

  • gentle massage and moisturising of the scalp can be invigorating and reduce flaky areas
  • protect your scalp from the sun with sunscreen or a scarf or hat
  • use a pillow case made from satin, polyester or cotton
  • you may like to wear a soft cap or beanie to keep your head warm as having no hair or less hair can make you feel cold.

If your scalp is sensitive and your hair is thin:

  • use a gentle shampoo and conditioner
  • brush your hair gently with a soft bristle brush
  • dry your hair naturally or use a cool setting on the hair dryer
  • avoid heated rollers, curling wands or straightening irons
  • avoid harsh chemicals such as hair colouring, gel, mousse and perming agents
  • if you have lost hair under your arms avoid perfumed deodorants.

If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor or nurses and follow their specific advice on caring for your scalp during treatment.

Talking to someone else who has experienced hair loss may be helpful, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.

Acknowledgements: The information is based on the expertise of clinicians who work in the area and consumer experience and was reviewed by: Karen Hall, Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services Division, Flinders Medical Centre SA; Joy Hills, Support Officer Cancer Council Tasmania; Frank Hughes - 13 11 20 consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Christine Long, Team Leader, Health Professional & Education, Cancer Council Queensland; Sue Spencer, Clinical Manager Oncology, Breast Care Nurse, Western Hospital SA; Cancer Council 13 11 20 nurses; Nina Mastrangelo, Consumer SA; Clinical health professionals at Icon Cancer Care SA.

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