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Tips & Guide on How To Shave Your Head During Chemo

shaving your head

Hair loss is one of the most visible side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatment. The timing and extent of hair loss can be unpredictable and this uncertainty can be unsettling. As a result, many patients choose to be proactive and shave their heads.  This Mend Together guide explains why some choose to shave their heads, how to shave your head, and ways to make this traumatic experience less stressful.

Should you shave your head before chemo?

You may find it easier to cope with hair loss if you skip over the stage where your hair begins to fall out in clumps.  Having a lack of control over when and where you lose hair adds to the ambiguity surrounding cancer. Shaving your head proactively allows you to take control of this process and can help reduce anxiety.  

Lisa’s experience

Mend Together’s Founder, Lisa Lefebvre, experienced hair loss both ways. She shaved her head during her first treatment and waited to see if she would experience hair loss during her second treatment. She recommends shaving your head proactively. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

“During my first chemo protocol, it was 100% certain that I would lose my hair. My partner bought a pair of cordless clippers and took us on a weekend trip to the shore. He shaved my hair off on the beach, and the long locks blew away into the ocean. It was a kind and loving gesture that made the event less harrowing. Ironically, when he took me to dinner at a local restaurant, the waiter balked at serving us because we were an interracial couple and I looked like a ‘skinhead.’

“During another chemo protocol, it was less certain — although likely — that I would lose my hair. I took a wait-and-see approach that time — a bad decision. My hair began falling out in the middle of a meeting at Mercedes-Benz; a clump fell out when I brushed my hair out of my face. I tried to rearrange my hair, and another large clump fell out. It was hard for me and it was hard for my colleagues, even though they were incredibly understanding. I personally would always choose to be proactive and shave my head at the place and time of my choosing.”

When to shave (or not)

If you decide to shave your head during chemo, you do not need to do so before treatment begins. You can shave your head after your first chemotherapy treatment, when your scalp begins tingling (a tell-tale sign hair loss is imminent), or when you first begin to notice hair falling out.

If you do not want to shave your head, you may want to cut your long hair short. Short hair falling out may be less jarring to witness and easier to disguise.

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How to shave your head during chemo

Borrow a pair of clippers and use a #2 attachment to get a “buzz cut,” which will leave just enough length to prevent ingrown hair. Patches and uneven regrowth will not be as obvious when your hair is this short as well.  If you don’t want to do this yourself, you can ask your stylist to shave your head.  

If your hair is long, you may want to save it and donate it to an organization that creates wigs for patients, like Hair We Share. You may find it meaningful that your hair will be worn as a wig by someone in need.  You may also want to turn your own hair into a wig.

After you shave your head, you may notice uneven skin tone due to sun exposure or damage.  

“After I lost my hair, my head literally looked like a globe with patches of water and land,” says Lisa. “I had dark brown spots where my scalp had been exposed. I even had a long stripe on the top of my head where I normally parted my hair.  Where it hadn’t been exposed, it was stark white — and I mean really white. I had to use tanning lotion to even things out. It actually worked out pretty well.”

Ideas for shaving your head during chemo

Some find it empowering to take control over some aspects of their bodies after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Turning shaving your head into a meaningful event is one way to do that.  Here are four ideas you can consider:

  • Involve friends and family. Ask friends and family to participate in the head-shaving process by helping you prepare to shave your head. Each person can take a turn cutting off a section of hair. This may be especially meaningful to children, creating a positive memory for them during a difficult occasion.
  • Hold a fundraiser. Use the moment to shine a light on your cancer diagnosis or showcase an organization dedicated to research or assisting others with cancer. Ask for donations as you count down to the day you plan to shave your head.
  • Throw a party. A head-shaving party can turn a comber event into a memorable one. This also gives loved ones who have expressed a desire to shave their heads in solidarity a chance to do so right alongside you. This can be done at home, or you can ask a salon to reserve its space, especially for you and your guests. 

How do you take care of a bald head during chemo?

“I never found a stylish hat I liked when I was bald,” says Lisa. “Instead, I walked around in a ski hat, which wasn’t my first choice, especially when I was at work. I wish I had known about these hats when I was in recovery.”

  • Moisturize your scalp. Cancer treatment can cause dry skin, which can feel uncomfortable, and your scalp is no exception. Apply moisturizer to your head just like you would apply it to your hands or arms. We recommend this ultra-hydrating moisturizer, which helps your skin stay hydrated and uses natural ingredients to introduce more moisture to your skin.

Seeking extra support

As you prepare for changes to your body during cancer treatment, Mend Together is there. Our Gift & Donation Registry allows you to customize the list of items you find most helpful during treatment, including warm beanies to protect your newly-bare scalp and hair regrowth products to try once chemotherapy ends. Our Community Journal lets you update friends and family in one place and is a great way to share your head-shaving experience with inquiring loved ones, while our Volunteer Calendar enables friends and family to step in and offer support when it’s needed most. Visit Mend Together to explore our resources and create an account for free. 

Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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What are the stages of hair growth after chemo?

Hair loss can be one of the most visually obvious – and devastating — side effects of chemotherapy. Once you begin losing your hair, you may want to know when precisely you can expect hair to grow back. This Mend Together guide explains why hair loss occurs during chemotherapy, when hair regrowth may occur, and the stages of hair growth after chemo you can expect.

Why does hair fall out during chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy targets all cells in your body that rapidly multiply, not just cancer. Your stomach lining, mouth tissues, and hair follicles all quickly regenerate, and are therefore a target for chemotherapy. As a result, you may experience nausea and vomiting, sores in your mouth, and yes, hair loss from your scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, and other areas of your body.

Hair loss typically begins around two weeks after chemotherapy treatment starts, and hair loss becomes more severe within one to two months of your treatment start date.

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When will my hair grow back after chemotherapy?

When your hair will grow back depends on the type of chemotherapy treatment, the degree of hair loss you experienced during chemo, and how chemotherapy affected your body. Some people begin to “sprout” new hair toward the end of treatment, while others do not see growth for several weeks after treatment ends.

According to a 2019 study published in PLOS One, just over 13 percent of breast cancer patients experienced hair regrowth before treatment ended. Many (80%) said the process took just over three months, while a few people reported that their hair took six months or longer to grow back, or that it did not come back at all.

The “average” hair regrowth experience may not apply to you. Your hair may grow back faster, slower, or not at all. It may grow back as a different color or texture, or it may grow back thinner. These changes may be brief, or they may be permanent. For specific questions about hair regrowth, speak with your medical team.

Hair growth stages you can expect after chemotherapy

The stages of hair growth after chemo will look different from person to person, depending on how chemotherapy impacted estrogen and other hormone levels. Here are some milestones you can expect as your hair returns:

  • 2-3 weeks after chemotherapy: You may notice light and fuzzy hair regrowth on your head. Expect some bald patches.
  • 1 to 2 months after chemotherapy: Thicker hair will grow instead of light and fuzzy hair. Expect some bald patches.
  • 2 to 3 months after chemotherapy: Expect about 1 inch of hair growth. Bald patches are still possible.
  • 6 months after chemotherapy: A few inches of hair will regrow by this point. Bald patches will either fill in or be covered by the new growth. 
  • 1 year after chemotherapy: Up to 6 inches of hair may have grown back by this point.

How to support and stimulate hair regrowth after chemotherapy

You may find that one or all these tips helpful:

Hair regrowth products

You may want to try products to help stimulate natural hair growth, but these products are not all the same. Many brands contain toxins that you should avoid introducing into your body. Look for organic formulas that do not use these chemicals and instead use natural ingredients to stimulate circulation, support continued hair regrowth, and minimize hair loss. 

Explore some of the options in the Mend Together shop, all of which have been tried and recommended by other cancer patients. Selections include a hair regrowth kit for women, a kit formulated for men, and hair regrowth tonic for men and women.

Careful styling

Try to avoid relaxants, hair dye, and other harsh chemicals as your hair fills in, as these products may cause additional hair loss. You may also want to consider being gentle while brushing and styling, as to not inadvertently yank out any hair. As your hair regrows, you may want to avoid blow dryers, curling irons, and straighteners as well, as excess heat can make fragile hair more brittle.

Healthy scalp care

Healthy hair begins at the root. Caring for a sensitive or newly-bare scalp post-chemotherapy can help support the right environment for hair to thrive. Read the Mend Together guide, Shampoos for Chemotherapy Patients, to learn more about options that are gentle on your scalp.

Understanding the stages of hair growth after chemo

Hair growth after chemotherapy is just one of the challenges you may experience once you have finished your course of treatment. Mend Together offers a wellspring of products and resources, including a Community Journal to share updates with loved ones, and a Gift & Donation Registry to which you can add healing gifts and cash funds that are most helpful to you. Our Volunteer Calendar helps take the mystery of practical, everyday help. Learn more about our offerings here.

Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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The 9 Best Shampoos for Chemotherapy Patients

shampoos for chemotherapy patients

Chemotherapy treatment targets all rapidly dividing cells in your body, including hair follicles, which divide anywhere from daily to every three days. This means that hair loss, thin or thinning hair, and a sensitive scalp are among the most common side effects of chemotherapy – and among the most dreaded.  As you undergo chemotherapy treatment, you may find that drugstore shampoos are irritating and uncomfortable. Organic — or at least fragrance-free — shampoos may be best for your hair and scalp during this time. Here, we share our recommendations for the best shampoos for chemotherapy patients, along with scalp care tips. 

The best shampoos for chemotherapy patients

The best shampoo for chemotherapy patients differs based on your hair and scalp situation. Explore these four categories to help you find the best options for your needs.

Shampoos for bald heads or new, fuzzy hair

Shampoos for thinning hair

  • Why we love it: Thinning hair shampoos support a properly moisturized scalp, which encourages healthy follicles and hair growth. It can also create the appearance of fuller hair.
  • What to look for: Check for an organic formula that does not contain chemicals that are damaging to your body or the environment.
  • Mend Together favorites:

Shampoos for sensitive scalps

  • Why we love it: Your skin, including your scalp, can be extra sensitive to fragrance during chemotherapy treatment. Products that eliminate or use natural fragrances can help avoid scalp irritation.
  • What to look for: Shop for formulas that do not contain artificial ingredients. If they do contain fragrance, ensure they are naturally sourced.
  • Mend Together favorites:

Dry shampoos for lazy days 

  • Why we love it: Dry shampoo minimizes the need to frequently wash your hair while still feeling clean and presentable between washes. It’s a great alternative to washing your hair on days you do not have the energy to shower. Plus, it can add volume to thinning hair.
  • What to look for: Try out a sulfate-free formula that uses natural ingredients instead of harmful chemicals to absorb excess oil and volumize your hair.
  • Mend Together favorites:

Shampoo for dry or damaged hair

  • Why we love it: Chemotherapy treatments can make your hair brittle and fragile. Shampoo formulated for dry or damaged hair can introduce much-needed moisture and supportive botanicals to your scalp and hair.
  • What to look for: Try a formula with ingredients and oils selected for their hydrating properties.
  • Mend Together favorites:

How can I take care of my scalp and hair during chemo?

A healthy scalp means healthy hair. In addition to using the best shampoos for chemotherapy patients, here are our tips for taking care of your scalp and hair.

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Avoid washing your hair every day

Shampoo strips your scalp of oils. Reduce how often you wash your hair to maintain this moisture shield.

Do as little as possible to your hair

In addition to infrequent shampooing and conditioning, try not to use styling tools, chemical relaxants, coloring, and other harsh products. Not only could this make your hair more brittle and fragile, but these processes can further irritate a sensitive scalp by yanking on it or unnecessarily introducing chemicals to it.

Cover your scalp

You can keep your head covered with an ultra-soft hat, a head wrap made of breathable cotton, or wear a wig to avoid sun damage.  

Consider a cooling cap

Chemotherapy affects hair growth by targeting all cells in your body that rapidly regenerate, including the hair follicles in your scalp and elsewhere. A cooling cap narrows blood vessels, reducing the amount of chemotherapy treatment that reaches your scalp. This may reduce the likelihood of or amount of hair loss during your treatment. Discuss the benefits of using a cooling cap with your medical team.

Nourish your scalp from the inside out

Fueling your body with a variety of unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods can help promote healthy hair and nurture your scalp from within. For example, there is some evidence that the B complex of vitamins, including folic acid, vitamin B5, and Vitamin B12, can support the nourishment of the hair follicles. You may want to incorporate B vitamin-rich foods like beans into your diet, or possibly consider a B complex vitamin. 

Whether you are just starting treatment or finishing your last round of chemotherapy, Mend Together offers a wide variety of products that help with challenging symptoms. Items in our shop have been hand-selected by our Founder and 2x cancer “endure-er”, Lisa Lefebvre, and vetted by oncologists, dietitians, and nurses. 

Learn more about our other free resources for people going through cancer and their loved ones. Our Community JournalVolunteer Calendar, and Gift & Donation Registry make it easy to give and receive support when it’s needed most.

Stella Morrison is an award-winning journalist who partners with mission-driven companies to share their stories. She is based in New York City.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.

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How to Navigate Cancer Hair Loss

cancer hair loss

Cancer treatments can lead to changes in our hair like hair loss, hair thinning, early graying, or dryness. Usually, cancer-related hair loss and damage resolve themselves when treatment is over. In the meantime, we have tips to help you prepare for and manage cancer hair loss.

Read on to learn what to expect from your hair during cancer treatment and useful products to help you manage.

What causes cancer hair loss?

Cancer-related hair loss typically occurs as a result of cancer treatments. Chemotherapy treatment, radiation therapy, hormonal therapies, and other forms of anticancer therapy attack can have this affect. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment are designed to attack rapidly-growing cells. While the goal is to eliminate cancer cells, some normal cells are also impacted. As the cells that nourish hair follicles fall under the umbrella of rapidly growing cells, they’re sometimes destroyed during the process.

Cancer treatments can impact all types of hair cells. You find that your pubic hair, body hair, eyebrow hairs, eyelashes, and facial hair are affected.

When will I begin to lose my hair?

Everyone’s cancer journey looks a little different. Some cancer patients start losing their hair after a single dose of radiation and others don’t lose their hair at all. Some people with cancer experience partial hair loss while others experience complete hair loss.

Your experience will depend on several factors, from the type of treatment to the dose, to your unique physical makeup. Your cancer care team will be able to give you a better idea of the potential side effects you may experience during treatment.

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The emotional impact of hair loss

The emotional impact of losing your hair may catch you off guard. Many cancer patients experience negative emotional effects from chemotherapy-induced hair loss. Studies have shown that chemo-induced hair loss (also known as chemotherapy-induced alopecia or CIA), can lead to anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and a reduced sense of well-being. 

You might approach this experience with a positive attitude, then find it to be one of the most distressing side effects. Know that no feelings are wrong, even if someone tells you “it’s just hair.” Your emotions are valid. Seek out supportive care to help you process these feelings.

Explore Mend Together’s amazing Support Communities here.  

How to prepare for hair loss

There’s no proven way to prevent radiation therapy or chemotherapy-induced hair loss. However, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and nourish your scalp for hair regrowth. Here are some practical steps to help you prepare.

1. Be Proactive

Oncologists can predict your chances of losing your hair. If it’s relatively certain you’ll lose all your hair, consider shaving your head before it happens. It can be empowering to be in charge of the timing. For some of us, it’s easier than watching our hair fall out in clumps. You’ll know your hair is about to fall out when your scalp starts to tingle. That’s the time to be proactive.

2. Consider a cooling cap

Some chemotherapy facilities offer scalp cooling caps. Scalp cooling systems are worn during treatment and thought to reduce chemotherapy-induced hair loss. They can be effective, but you may need to be at the hospital for several extra hours during each treatment. You should be aware there’s some concern that scalp cooling may prevent chemotherapy from effectively reaching cancer cells in our scalp area. Talk to your cancer care team about the pros and cons before trying a cooling cap.

3. Go to a pro

If you opt for a wig, shop for one before your hair falls out so it’s easier to match your natural hair color. Most professional wig stores have an adhesive similar to double-sided tape to help the wig stay on. FolleaRaquel Welch, and Helena are three brands we like.

Insider tip: Ask your insurance company if they cover expenses for wigs.

4. Prepare others

Talk to your children about possible hair loss before it happens so they’re not blindsided. Use honest, age-appropriate explanations. Reassure them that your hair will grow back. Including them in the process of choosing wigs, caps, and scarves can make it seem less scary.

What to do after complete hair loss

While some people experience partial hair loss or mild thinning during treatment, others lose all of their hair. Here are some helpful ideas to manage hair loss from cancer treatment.

1. Make your wig more comfortable

If your wig feels uncomfortable, try a wig cap. It fits between the wig and your scalp and can help reduce scratchiness.

2. Do what you like best

Not everyone wears a wig after hair loss. Do what works for you and don’t worry about what others think you should do.

3. Accessorize

Get creative with your head coverings. Treat yourself to a colorful scarf or a soft hat. Having a comfortable scarf or fashionable hat to wear in public can be a small daily treat. 

4. Try self-tanner

If you choose not to cover up, you may notice areas of skin that have been exposed to the sun throughout the years are darker than your virgin scalp. To even out your skin tone, apply self-tanner to previously unexposed areas.  

5. Protect yourself from the sun

Before you go outside, always put sunscreen (30 SPF or higher) on your newly-exposed scalp—or wear a hat. It’s crucial to protect your scalp during hair loss and prioritize sun protection. 

6. Try a sleeping cap

Wearing a sleeping cap can keep your head warm at night, especially in colder months.

7. Use haircare products to stimulate hair regrowth

Now isn’t the time to add toxins to your body so stick with organic options. An evening scalp massage with sesame oil is another way to encourage hair regrowth, by improving blood flow to the scalp.

Try these tips for thin or thinning hair

If you experience hair thinning rather than loss during your treatment, you can take these steps to minimize the effects.

1. Cut it short

If your hair is thinning and you have long hair, consider cutting it short. Shorter hair camouflages thinning and lost hair, and tends to make hair look thicker. The closer the ends of your hair are to your scalp, the harder it is to see. The least flattering cut for thin or thinning hair is a blunt, one-length, straight cut. Work with a stylist to get a layered, texturized cut. 

2. Go to an expert

Insider tip: Stylists who give great cuts for long hair aren’t always skilled at short hairstyles, which are less common and tougher to execute. Ask around for recommendations. Your regular stylist won’t be offended if you take a temporary hiatus. Some stylists specifically work with cancer patients and have experience with this situation.

3. Go organic for volume and fullness

Some shampoos, conditioners, and styling products can help create volume and fullness. We’re firm believers in turning towards organic products and away from brands that use chemicals and strong fragrances. Here are the organic hair care products we recommend for thinning, fine, or limp hair. Or, try Weleda shampoo and body wash, which can be found at many health food stores.

4. Lighten up the consistency of your hair products

If your hair is starting to thin, it may be time to switch to new products. To keep hair from looking limp or greasy, try lighter, drier styling sprays and creams instead of heavier products that work better on thick hair. Look for a light shampoo and vitamin-rich conditioner.

5. Take a break from tools

If you’re worried about breakage, avoid coloring, perming, and chemically relaxing your hair during treatment and for 3-4 months after treatment. Cut back on or stop using hair straighteners, curlers, hair clips, and other tools and accessories that may damage your hair. Try patting your hair dry instead of using a blow dryer. Minimize pulling by using a very wide-tooth comb or follicle stimulating paddle brush

6. Consider a hair loss supplement

A high-quality nutritional supplement can assist your body’s ability to produce proteins and support healthy hair growth.

7. Try a glaze or henna

A professional glaze or henna treatment is better for fragile hair because it doesn’t penetrate cuticles and damage the hair shaft. These treatments wrap your hair with a translucent, natural color that closes the hair cuticle and make hair look thicker and shinier. If you want to do it yourself, many health food stores have all-natural hennas.

8. Later, try color

Some of us will never get all our hair back after treatment ends. If you experience incomplete hair regrowth, consider coloring with natural hair dyes. Coloring thin hair can make it look thicker by opening and roughing up the cuticle.

How to correct hair damage from cancer treatment

If you don’t lose your hair, you may still experience moderate side effects in the form of hair damage. Here are some practical tips for repairing your hair during and after treatment.

1. Deep hydrate

Dry hair needs deeply-moisturizing products. Moisture adds a subtle amount of weight to help hair settle down and look less frizzy.

2. Try oil

To shorten drying time, try putting 1-2 drops of a lightweight, moisture- rich hair oil in your hair while it’s still wet. Come it down through your ends with a wide-tooth comb. It’s counterintuitive, but this tip works! 

3. Use heat wisely

Heat can help, but only if you use it a certain way. With a flatiron, curling iron, or hairdryer, work from the root to the end. This closes the hair cuticle, which makes your hair look shinier and healthier. Use the lowest heat setting that still gets results. Don’t go from end to root—that roughs up the hair shaft instead of closing it.

4. Deep condition

If you have dry and thin hair, try a deep overnight conditioning treatment. Apply the conditioner to wet hair but don’t rinse it off. Then sleep overnight in a shower cap or towel—or simply let it air dry. Use a mild shampoo in the morning.  

When will my hair grow back?

Hair regrowth looks different for everyone. While some experience permanent hair loss, particularly after certain breast cancer treatments, it’s not common. Most people see hair regrowth within a few months after treatment ends. Sometimes, people report growth in a new hair texture or color.

When managing hair loss from chemotherapy or other treatments, focus on using gentle products, providing deep nourishment, and promoting the growth of stronger hair.

Explore your options

Cancer treatments can take their toll on our hair but there are steps you can take to minimize damage to your hair and stimulate regrowth. Treat yourself to gentle products for thinning hair or hair loss and handle your hair with care. For further reading on beauty emergency tips, check out our articles on skin care and nail care.

Tammy Schuler has a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Ohio State and is a former Clinical Research Psycho-Oncology Fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Paula Ivins is the owner of Lucid Salon in Lebanon, Ohio, a former Global Educator for Aveda Corporation and Director of a number of New York City salons. She has been featured in Allure’s ‘Best of New York’ stylists list, Real Simple and Martha Stewart Weddings.

Lisa Lefebvre is the Founder of Mend Together. She has experience recovering from 8 cancer-related surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, radiation protocols, and hormone suppression therapy.

Information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your healthcare team for advice tailored to your personal diagnosis and treatment.