Our resident hairdresser, Charley gives us her advice for scalp and new hair care for chemo patients
Losing your hair after chemo treatment is extremely distressing but it is important not to lose sight of the fact that your hair will return once your body and immune system starts recovering. In the meantime, it is important to look after your scalp to ensure the skin stays healthy and free from irritation.
Scalp Care for Chemo Patients
Organic or PH neutral shampoo will help sooth irritated skin during chemotherapy treatment - avoid baby shampoo due to the pH balance being slightly high – also, it doesn’t contain a moisturising agent, which means it can dry the skin out and cause unnecessary sensitivity. Shampoo such as No Scent No Colour from philipkindsleys.co.uk or the Lush cinnamon bar have all had good writeups, as has the Aveeno Skin relief shampoo.
Wash your scalp twice a week with cool water, I personally would then recommend massaging a base oil such as coconut, almond or even a good quality olive oil into scalp rather than a hair conditioner. At this point it is all about scalp care and the aim is to promote healthy new hair to grow. If the scalp is soft and moisturised, you are making it easier for the fragile new hair to grow.
If you still have some hair left or you are using the cold cap during chemo, try not to rigorously towel dry your hair and brush your hair with a soft bristled brush – it can be tempting not to brush your hair because you feel you will be pulling the hair out. Brushing your hair takes the loose strands away and prevents them from matting with the hair that hasn’t fallen out.
After Chemo: New Hair Care
The return of hair growth is different for everybody, some people get “chemo curls” even if their hair was previously straight. This is because the hair usually grows up and around the follicle which causes it to curl. The curls do straighten once the hair gets a little longer and “weighty” – you will find that gravity gently eases the curl out. Following your chemo treatment, once new hair starts appearing it will be extremely delicate, and normally appears soft and a little fluffy so brush it with a soft bristled brush to keep it in good condition. It is very important that you keep your scalp care routine up at this point. Start using hair conditioner once the hair is about two inches in length, making sure you rinse well with cool to warm water and then apply oil once a week or when needed. You can add an essential oil to your base oil such as rosemary to stimulate hair regrowth, but always use it in a base/carrier oil and never neat.
Do not be tempted to use a hair dryer or any heat tools on your hair while it is growing back after treatment. The new hair will struggle to grow so treat it kindly. I would also avoid colouring your hair too - as a stylist I would recommend no hair colour or perm for about year after your treatment finishes. When you are ready for a colour, it is very important that your hairdresser does a skin test 48hrs before any colour application. Your body will still be recovering from chemo and changes in hormones can cause horrific allergic reactions, so it’s worth making sure you do the patch test.
If you do want to start colouring your hair, I would also recommend that you opt for a contained colour service such as foils, so the stylist can monitor how your hair is taking to the colour in a contained environment, if the colour is taking well, after a couple of sessions it should be safe to return to a full head colour if you choose to.
Hair cuts are very important to achieve strong hair and boosts hair growth. I would start trimming the new hair when it gets to about 3 to 4 inches in length, although this might seem early for some it will help the hair to grow faster. Aim to have a trim every 8 to 10 weeks.
If you look after yourself and your scalp, your hair will return but remember to take it easy,