Hair after Cancer Treatment

Hair after Cancer Treatment
Hair after Cancer Treatment
Basic Facts about Hair
The cells that produce our hair have the fastest growth rate of all cells in
the human body. Each hair goes through an independent cycle of growth,
which lasts on average 5 years. Each day we shed approximately 100 hairs
as part of this cycle.

When new hair grows back
There are some differences between hair and growth rates across different
ethnic groups.

                       Caucasian           Asian            Afro-Caribbean
Hair Shaft             Oval                Round            Flat
Thickness              Mid-thickness       Thickest         Finest
Key Characteristics    Most variable       Straight. Most   Curly, tight
                       type. Can be        regular type     coiled. The

                                                                                 Hair after Cancer
                       straight, wavy or                    shape hinders

                       curly                                the spread of
                                                            natural sebum
                                                            across the hair,
                                                            leaving it fragile
                                                            and easily
Colour                 Blonde, brown,      Black            Black
Rate of Growth         1.2cm/month         1.3cm/month      0.9cm/month
Density of Follicles   Most dense          Least dense      Mid-density

Hair after Cancer Treatment
On average our hair grows around          Hair and Cancer
                    1 cm per month (dependent on
                    ethnicity). Healthy hair is actually      Cancer cells also reproduce
                    rather strong; each hair can              rapidly. Chemotherapy and
                    withstand up to 100gm. Made up of         radiotherapy are designed to
                    3 layers, the outer layer (the cuticle)   target these fast growing cells,
                    offers a protective function. The         which is why our hair can be
                    cuticle can be damaged by daily           affected. Radiotherapy causes hair
                    combing and brushing, as well as          loss only in the area being treated.
                    environmental influences, e.g. the
                    sun.                                      The hair that grows back following
                                                              treatment for cancer can be
                    Hair is composed partially from a         weak due to a lack of protein.
                    special protein called keratin. When      With chemotherapy, your hair may
                    we colour hair, it is the protein         start to grow back before the end
                    in hair that the colour pigments          of the treatment. You may have
                    attach to and so it is essential to       a full head of hair between 3-6
                    have the correct protein levels.          months following the end of your
                    The rest of our hair is made up of        chemotherapy. There may be a
                    water, fatty acids and other trace        number of differences between
                    elements.                                 your new hair and your hair before
                                                              treatment. For example, the hair
                                                              often grows back very fine at first
                                                              and may be a different texture,
                                                              colour and possibly curly, even if
                                                              it was previously straight. In most
                                                              cases, your hair will revert over time
Hair after Cancer

                                                              back to its pre-cancer treatment
                                                              condition and colour.

                                                              With radiotherapy, your hair re-
                                                              growth may be slower than with
                                                              chemotherapy; it usually takes 6-12
                                                              months before you have a full head
                                                              of hair and it may grow back finer
                                                              than before the treatment. Some
                                                              people’s hair never grows back
                                                              following radiotherapy or it may
                                                              grow back patchy. The process of
                                                              re-growth can be a lot slower if you
                                                              tend to wear your wig or cover your
                                                              scalp 24 hours a day. If your new
                                                              hair is exposed to daylight it tends
                                                              to speed up the growth of your hair
                                                              after treatment.

If you do not lose your                 Please note, due to the effect of
                                             the chemotherapy drugs on the
     hair through treatment                  hair, the end colour result may be
                                             affected. You may not end up
     Some people do not experience
                                             with the exact colour you were
     hair loss throughout their cancer

     We do not recommend that hair           Caring for Hair
     is coloured during treatment.
     However, we recognise that some         As we have discussed, hair growing
     people will want to colour their hair   back after chemotherapy or
     and therefore we offer the following    radiotherapy treatment is often
     advice:                                 weak and low in protein. Therefore
                                             it is recommended to avoid
     • Advise your hairdresser of your       strenuous or harsh brushing. Use the
       medical treatment so they can         hairdryer on a gentle heat setting,
       allow for any influence this might    rather than high heat.
       have on the colour result.
     • A strand test is also advised.        In addition, the condition of the hair
                                             may be improved through regular
     • A skin sensitivity test should        cutting by removing the damaged
       always be carried out,                hair and promoting positive hair
       according to the manufacturer’s       regrowth.
     • If there is any sign of a reaction    Thinning Hair
       – redness, soreness, itching,
       irritation, etc – the colour should   Thinning hair needs gentle

                                                                                      Hair after Cancer
       be immediately washed off the         treatment. Avoid vigorous or

       hair.                                 strenuous brushing and combing.
                                             Paddle brushes often include
     • Use foiling techniques to keep
                                             nodules on the bristles, which offer
       the colour from coming into
                                             gentle massage of the hair and
       contact with the scalp.
                                             scalp. This encourages sebum
     • Avoid colours containing harsh        production and stimulates blood
       chemicals, such as ammonia or         flow. There are also massage
       resorcinol.                           brushes available for use during
                                             shampooing. These offer a gentle
     • Choose a semi-permanent
                                             scalp massage, as well as helping
       colour and so avoid oxidative
                                             to distribute the product across the
       pigments (PPDs/PTDs).
     • If using permanent colours, avoid
       the darker shades, as these have
       higher percentages of PPDs/PTDs
       (subject to hair analysis results).

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Avoid shampoos containing harsh          They can also help to repair and
                    sulphates. Instead look for ones         moisturise your scalp, reducing
                    with natural plant oils (eg; Jojoba      irritation and inflammation.
                    and Sweet Almond Oil), which work
                    in a similar way to the naturally        Some ingredients used in such scalp
                    occurring oils from our scalp and        treatments include:
                    condition the hair. Other key
                    ingredients are UV filters, to protect   Biotin, Folic Acid, Niacin, Thiamine
                    the hair from harmful environmental      HCL, Pantothenic Acid (Panthenol):
                    influences and anti-oxidants, (eg;       B vitamins, required for healthy skin,
                    green tea and fennel), which help        hair and nails.
                    to prevent damage. Remember
                    to advise your hairdresser of your       Chamomile, Aloe Vera,
                    treatment, so they can recommend         Geranium, Rosemary extracts:
                    the most suitable products for you       anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and
                    to use.                                  soothing agents.

                    When using hairdryers, use a low         Fennel, green tea and tocopherol
                    heat setting and minimise use of         (vitamin E): anti-oxidants, which
                    hair straighteners and other styling     help to prevent damage caused
                    appliances, as these operate at          by unstable molecules.
                    high temperatures. Regular trims
                    may help to stimulate positive hair      Until such time that your hair is
                    regrowth. Also, avoid tight hair-up      long enough to shampoo, an
                    styles, to prevent stress on the hair.   aqueous cream may be suitable for
                                                             cleansing and moisturising the hair
                    The Scalp and Hair                       and scalp. Once your hair is long
Hair after Cancer

                                                             enough, you can begin to use a
                    Re-Growth                                gentle shampoo and conditioner.

                                                             Selected ingredients that can have
                    Healthy hair requires a healthy          a positive influence on hair and
                    scalp. Hair needs the correct            scalp include the following:
                    amount of nutrients which are
                    supplied through the network of          Proteins, for example, Hydrolysed
                    vessels and nerves in the scalp and      Wheat Protein, Hydrolysed
                    which stimulate growth. Your scalp       Keratin and Wheat Amino Acids
                    can be very dry, sensitive and scaly     are ingredients in some hair
                    following chemotherapy. There            conditioners. They help to build up
                    are special treatments available         the strength and stability of the hair.
                    for scalps. These treatments deliver     The structure of these proteins is
                    nutrients to the scalp and protect       similar to that of naturally occurring
                    it from harmful environmental            keratin in our hair.

Plant oils, such as Jojoba and Sweet     Surfactants are the cleansing agent
Almond Oil, are popular ingredients.     in a shampoo. They are partly
They work in a similar way to the        water soluble, partly oil soluble and
natural occurring oils from our scalp    increase the spreading and wetting
(sebum), form a thin film over the       properties of a liquid. They are often
hair’s cuticle and condition and         the foaming agent in shampoos.
soften the hair. This can improve        Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate is
the feel, suppleness and shine of        an example of an extremely mild
the hair. Dry hair lacks sebum and       surfactant made from coconut
can be helped by using products          derivatives.
which contain Pantothenic Acid
(also called Panthenol). This is used    (The above information is endorsed
in both rinse off and leave in hair      by the Institute of Trichologists)
                                         Colouring Hair Post-
Sunflower Seed Oil contains a high
content of Vitamin E and may give        Cancer Treatment
other beneficial properties when
applied to skin and hair. It can         Although there is little evidence-
also protect from UV light. UV filters   based research in this area, current
are important to help protect the        medical guidance suggests waiting
hair from harmful environmental          six months before permanently
influences, such as damage from          colouring your hair. This is due to
the sun, pollution, etc.                 scalp sensitivity and the fragility of
                                         the new hair growth. Even after
Anti-inflammatory, anti-septic           a suitable period of time, a hair
and soothing agents are useful           professional should always do a
                                         skin sensitivity test to highlight any

                                                                                  Hair after Cancer
for sensitive scalps, for example
Aloe Vera, Geranium, Rosemary,           potential allergic reaction to the

Bergamot and Chamomile extracts.         colour, as well as doing a wet
                                         stretch test on your hair to check
Conditioning and moisturising            strength and elasticity before
agents include Panthenol (Vitamin        colouring. Finally, a strand test to
B12) and Comfrey extract.                check the colour result should be

                                         If you are distressed by the colour
                                         of your new hair, professionals
                                         advise that temporary or semi-
                                         permanent hair colours be used
                                         until the hair becomes stronger. If
                                         using permanent colours, avoid the
                                         darker shades, as these have higher
                                         percentages of pigments (PPDs and

It is recommended to use off-                any discomfort. It is very difficult
                    the-scalp (foiling) techniques to            to achieve a satisfactory colour
                    begin with, to stop the colour from          result on hair which is not in good
                    coming into contact with the scalp.          condition and different results
                    Also, avoid aggressive chemicals             achieved can be due to hair in
                    in hair colours, such as ammonia or          different condition. It is important
                    resorcinol.                                  that you seek expert stylist advice
                                                                 prior to any attempts to colour your
                    Before you begin to colour your              hair.
                    hair, consult a hair professional, who
                    will be able to assess the strength          In the initial period following
                    and condition of your hair and               chemotherapy, hair may not
                    advise any specific products you             respond to colour in the normal
                    should use. It is essential to note that     way and a trained hair professional
                    colouring should not take place              will draw this to your attention.
                    if your hair and scalp are brittle,          The final colour result can be
                    excessively dry or flaky, irritated or       affected by many things such as
                    breaking. Colouring must only be             medication, condition of hair and
                    carried out once your scalp and              previous colouring. A professional
                    hair are both healthy and able to            colourist, who is familiar with these
                    go through the colouring process             considerations, will be able to
                    without damage or causing you                advise you.

                                                Types of Hair Colour
Hair after Cancer

                     Technique            Pigment Type         Effect on Hair       Example

                     Temporary            Direct Pigment Coats the hair and Colour mousse
                                                         lasts 1 wash
                     Semi-permanent       Direct Pigment Coats the hair and Semi-permanent
                                                         lasts 6-8 washes   colour
                     Demi-permanent       Oxidative            Penerates the        Permanent
                                          Pigment              cuticle and lasts    colour with a
                                                               more than 8          low level of
                                                               washes               peroxide
                     Permanent            Oxidative            Changes the          Permanent
                                          Pigment              existing colour in   colour with
                                                               the hair             medium to high
                                                                                    level of peroxide

Hair colour has been extensively          Relaxing/Straightening
tested to ensure it is safe to use
under the conditions stated by            Hair Post-Cancer
the manufacturer. However, it is          Treatment
possible to be or become allergic
to one or more of the ingredients         The relaxing and straightening of
used in hair colour. Other factors        hair is only recommended for hair
which can cause an adverse                that is in good condition and of
reaction to hair colour include           a suitable length. The repeated
tattoos, permanent make-up and            combing of the hair during the
medication.                               process can put it under a lot of
                                          stress and particularly hair that is
If any of these apply to you or           weak in protein can be prone to
you have experienced a previous           breaking under these conditions.
reaction to hair colour or have           Damaged hair should be treated
other allergies, always advise your       according to the results of the wet
stylist. A skin sensitivity test should   stretch test until it is in a suitable
always be carried out before              condition for relaxing/straightening.

                                                                                   Hair after Cancer

The straightening of Afro Caribbean        method you choose, hair extensions
                    hair is not advised at all until the       and weavings can also lead to
                    hair and scalp are fully recovered.        further hair loss or thinning. When
                    As with colouring, relaxing or             the weave is done too tightly it
                    straightening should not take place        can pull on existing hair and lead
                    if the hair and scalp are brittle,         to premature shedding. Weaving
                    excessively dry or flaky, irritated or     can also damage hair follicles
                    breaking.                                  causing breakage at the point of
                                                               attachment. To help reduce the
                                                               chance of damage or shedding,
                    Benefits and Side Effects                  professional stylists should only
                                                               apply extensions and proper care
                    of Hair Extensions and                     should be taken of existing hair
                    Weaving                                    and extensions as long as they are
                    Hair extensions and weaving can            As this technique can be damaging
                    offer some temporary benefits,             to existing hair strands, individuals
                    including giving hair more volume.         need to think about the risk of
                    For individuals with healthy hair,         this procedure. If you have very
                    extensions offer an alternative            little hair, or excessive thinning,
                    to thinning hair and hair loss.            extensions may increase the risk of
                    However, for damaged hair this is          further hair loss.
                    not generally encouraged. Many
                    individuals do not like the worry
                    that accompanies temporary hair
                    extensions. These extensions can
                    fall out easily, must be removed
Hair after Cancer

                    before bathing or swimming, and
                    can be blown off in the wind.

                    However, depending on the

                    We hope that you have found this information helpful. If you have further
                    queries regarding hair loss that you would like to discuss, please do
                    contact us.

                    Helpline: 01798 812547
                    Registered charity number 1130815
                    We rely solely on donations to continue our work

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