Steps to Follow to Handle Hair Loss During Chemotherapy
- Visit a wig specialist before hair loss begins.
- Choose a wig establishment that provides quality and advice.
- Consider a wig with tape tabs.
- Consider getting two wigs.
- Find out if insurance will cover the cost of a wig.
- Consider other hair loss accessories.
- Be aware that hair may re-grow slowly and differently after chemotherapy.
- Consider joining a support group.
- Additional Resources and References
Some women experience hair loss (alopecia) while undergoing chemotherapy. With recent advances in hair replacement technology, women have a variety of choices to help make themselves look and feel better during treatment. Some wigs are now made to allow a woman’s scalp to show through to give the impression that hair is growing from the scalp. This article offers tips to women who are considering wearing a wig during chemotherapy.
Most women do not experience hair loss until after their second chemotherapy treatment. Although, some women will start to lose their hair as soon as seven days after treatment has begun. Hair loss occurs because hair follicles are weakened by chemotherapy, causing hair to fall out at a much faster rate than normal. Some women also lose their eyelashes and eyebrows during chemotherapy.
Women should consider visiting a wig salon before they begin losing their hair so that the specialist may become familiar with her present hairstyle and color. Some wig salons specialize in hair loss from chemotherapy and are able to offer women specific advice. A wig specialist may also wish to measure the woman’s head size to make sure an average wig will fit. Custom-made wigs sometimes take several weeks to have made.
Most reputable wig establishments will provide women with advice about how to take care of their wigs. This advice includes what type of shampoos, conditioners, and brushes to use on the wig. Most wigs, regardless of whether they are synthetic or made from natural human hair, require shampoo and conditioning every one to two weeks. Quality wig establishments will clean and re-style wigs when needed. Wigs made from natural hair can be styled, curled, or treated with hairspray or mousse.
Note: Many hospitals and cancer support groups can provide women with a list of quality wig establishments in the area.
Many wigs have tape tab materials (also called "stickies") inside the cap of the wig. These tape tabs allow women to use double-sided tape that holds the wig cap to the scalp, keeping it in place for an extended period of time. Tape tabs allow women to comb and style the wig without worrying about it sliding. Most wig specialists recommend that after a woman loses 50% to 60% of her hair due to chemotherapy, she should cut off their remaining hair at the points where the tape tab materials within the wig cap touch their scalps so that she may begin using the tape tabs. Many women prefer to shave off their remaining hair after large portions begin to fall out.
After chemotherapy ends, it usually takes about a month for a woman’s hair to begin growing again. Hair typically grows one-fourth inch to one-half inch per month. Even after finishing chemotherapy, a woman will need to wear her wig for several months. Most wig specialists recommend getting two wigs to alternate with during and after chemotherapy. Since wigs need to be cleaned and re-styled from time to time, having two wigs will prevent a woman from having to go without a wig for any period of time.
Wig prices range from less than $100 to over $1000. Many insurance companies will cover 80% or more of the wig’s cost if it is needed for medical reasons. Companies usually require proof of a prescription for a hair prosthesis from a physician. Women should have the wig establishment include the statement, "Hair prosthesis as prescribed by doctor" on the wig invoice statement.(1) The purchase of a wig for a medical reason is tax deductible. Be sure to save all receipts from wig establishments.
- Many women who experience hair loss during chemotherapy prefer to wear hats or turbans while they are relaxing at home. Hats and turbans come in a variety of fashionable styles and are relatively inexpensive. (The American Cancer Society sells turbans that range from $10 to $12). Some women also like to sleep in cotton/polyester or cotton/lycra blend sleeping caps.
- In almost all cases, once chemotherapy has ended, a woman’s hair will re-grow when the hair follicles that are weakened from treatment regain their strength. However, it may take six to 12 months for hair to grow back completely. Therefore, most women continue to wear wigs for several months after chemotherapy has ended. When hair initially begins to grow again, it may have a different texture or color. For example, some women with straight hair notice that their hair grows back more curly after chemotherapy. These variations in texture and color are usually not permanent.
There are many organizations that help women cope with the side effects of breast cancer treatment. For example, Look Good...Feel Better (LGFB) is a free, national public service program that teaches female cancer patients about beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment. LGTB was created in 1989 by the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association (CTFA) Foundation, the National Cosmetology Association, and the American Cancer Society. Through LGFB sessions, women learn how to cope with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment such as hair loss or skin discoloration. To find a LGFB chapter in a specific area, women may call 1.800.395.LOOK or contact their local American Cancer Society office.
- For information on where to purchase hair loss accessories please visit http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/hair_loss.asp
- (1) Look of Love International provides information on hair loss alternatives at http://www.lookoflove.com/.
- Tender Loving Care, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, offers a variety of fashionable turbans, hats, and accessories for women who have experienced hair loss during cancer treatment. Women may browse product lines at http://www.cancer.org/
- Headcovers Unlimited offers hats, wigs, and turbans for women experiencing hair loss at http://www.headcovers.com/
Updated: September 10, 2007