Hair loss is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Of course, when it comes to saving lives and health, the condition of the hair fades into the background. But hair loss, while not affecting health in any way, greatly enhances the traumatic experience for people with cancer. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, this process is reversible.
Chemotherapy is carried out with different drugs, and their effects on the hair can vary from significant thinning to complete hair loss. Usually, doctors immediately warn patients about the likelihood of partial or complete hair loss, but it happens that very emotional people even refuse chemotherapy due to the alleged hair loss. After it becomes clear that the threat to life has passed, even the most psychologically stable people cannot help but remember the hair.
Before explaining why hair falls out during chemotherapy, we will briefly talk about the life cycle of the hair for a better understanding of all the processes. Hair on the head does not grow continuously throughout a person’s life, it is constantly changing. The hair cycle has 3 phases:
- Phase 1 – the growth phase (lasts 2 years for men, 4-6 years for women), the hair appears from the hair follicle and grows in length and thickness at a rate of about 1 cm per month. After the time allotted by the genetic program, phase 2 begins.
- Phase 2 (transitional) is short, lasts about 2 weeks, at this moment the hair follicle cells stop dividing and prepare for a hair change. Then phase 3 begins.
- Phase 3 – the resting phase (this phase lasts about 3-4 months), at this moment the hair does not grow, the cells of the hair follicle change and the old hair falls out.
This is the hair that remains on the comb, in the bathroom when washing your hair or when sipping – this is old hair that has already gone through its life cycle. After cell renewal, the follicle goes back to phase 1 and begins the growth of a new hair, and so on throughout a person’s life. Since all hairs are in different phases, the loss of a certain amount of hair daily (normally up to 100) is not noticeable.
So why does chemotherapy make hair fall out?
As you know, during chemotherapy, the most actively dividing cells suffer first of all. Chemotherapy drugs are cytostatic, they stop cell division (and not only in tumors), and the hair follicles in which hair is formed contain some of the most actively dividing cells.
Therefore, chemotherapy drugs, acting on the follicles, transfer all the hair that grows into phase 2 , thereby stopping growth and triggering loss.
How fast does hair fall out with chemotherapy?
Hair usually begins to fall out 2 to 3 weeks after the start of chemotherapy.
In many ways, this process depends on individual characteristics: the age of the patient, the drugs used for treatment and their dosage, the duration of the course, the general condition of the patient, additional procedures that the patient undergoes.
Do hair fall out on the legs, on the pubis, in the armpits?
Hair falls out on any part of the body. Most often, the scalp suffers, less often hair falls out in the armpits, on the pubis and on the legs. Often there is not complete hair loss in these areas, but partial.
Do the beard, mustache, eyelashes and eyebrows fall out?
Yes, but not always. This is due to a greater extent with the individual characteristics and structure of the hair follicle, they are somewhat different from the hair on the head.
Are there ways to prevent hair loss?
Yes, it is partially possible. The most effective is the method of cooling the hair follicles. With the help of the apparatus (a kind of cold helmet), the scalp is cooled at the time of chemotherapy. Lowering the temperature in the area of the hair follicles leads to a lesser effect of chemotherapy drugs. The effectiveness of the technique is not too high, but in 10-30% of cases it can help to stay with the hair. However, it should be understood that even in these 10-30% of cases, partial hair loss develops.
There are recommendations for hair care during chemotherapy to reduce trauma and loss rate:
- Comb your hair gently, without strong hair tension and sudden movements.
- Use a comb with rare teeth or for newborns (brush).
- Use shampoo for brittle hair.
- At night, you can wear a hair net or a cap that keeps your hair in place.
- Do not use a hot hair dryer, curling irons and curlers.
- Do not use pressure hairpins or pulling elastic bands, do not make “tight” hairstyles.
- Try not to dye your hair.
- Regularly massage the scalp (light massaging movements with your fingertips) without pulling the hair.
Alternatively, given that the hair will fall out, a wig can be used for aesthetic purposes. Here’s what the hair experts recommend:
- Before starting chemotherapy, it makes sense to make a short haircut and go to the salon to select a wig.
- Take your loved ones with you to the salon. They will help you choose one or the other.
- Often, wearing a wig before hair loss allows you to mask the situation for others.
- It is better to choose wigs made from natural hair.
- The wig should fit snugly around the head.
- It is desirable if the volume of the hair of the wig will match your hairstyle.
- Ideally, the hair color of the wig should match the color of your hair.
- When trying on a wig, you need to shake your head to the sides, bend over. This will allow you to make sure that the wig fits well on your head. The displacement almost always betrays its presence.
- If necessary, you can use gel to fix the wig.
- Cotton pads can be used to prevent scalp irritation.
- Avoid getting close to fire or hot objects. Some wigs can change shape when heated.
- If you feel more or less comfortable in a wig, buy it.
Some choose not to wear a wig and use headscarves and bandanas. This is a rather “radical” way, but often it is perceived by others better than wearing a wig. Confidence and good mood often make a person more attractive in the eyes of others than the most beautiful wig.
When will hair start growing again?
Considering that the period when the bulb is restored (phase 3 of hair growth is 3-4 months), the hair begins to grow after the end of chemotherapy after this time.
After 3-4 months, the first hair will appear on the head: they will be very thin, “translucent”, similar to fluff, the growth rate will be close to the usual, but the color and structure of the hair may change, they may begin to curl or, on the contrary, become straight. Fully hair is restored by 10-12 months.
During this period, it is possible to use drugs and carry out procedures aimed at stimulating growth and improving the quality of hair. This therapy will help you choose a trichologist.