Caring for Your Hair and Scalp During Chemotherapy

Soap and bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel
Use a mild shampoo when going through chemotherapy. Jennifer Boggs/Amy Paliwoda/Getty Images

Chemotherapy targets the fastest-growing cells in the body, including hair follicles. As a result, hair loss is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Treatment can result in hair that has become brittle, thin, and weak. Others may experience total hair loss. This is dependent on the type of chemotherapy drugs that are used in treatment.

Skin becomes fragile during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

The scalp may be even more sensitive because of hair loss. Choose a more caring approach to your scalp. Treat it as if it is baby’s skin.

Shampoos and Conditioners

If your hair is thinning because of chemotherapy, either skip the shampoo or use a mild shampoo that will be gentle on the scalp and on the hair. Doctors often recommend a baby shampoo for patients during chemotherapy-induced hair loss. It is gentle and cleans the hair well.

You may consider shampooing less frequently, such as every 3 to 5 days to prevent possible scalp irritation from the shampoo. In between washing, a dry shampoo can be used instead.

Styling Products

If your hair is thinning or has not fallen out, you are free to use styling products. You may want to consider using less heavy and sticky styling products in order to make shampooing easier. Products that are labeled as "light hold" may be easier to wash out than others.

Perming and Coloring Your Hair

Due to possible scalp irritation, you should stop coloring, perming or treat your hair during chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can still affect hair follicles without causing hair loss, making the hair unpredictable to coloring and perming. The end result may have sections of the hair resistant to the perming solution and other sections being receptive.

Cover Your Head

If hair is very thin or it has all fallen out, it is very important to cover the head with a hat or sunscreen when outdoors. The scalp is sensitive to the sun, and sunscreen protection is needed to protect against sunburns. If you choose to wear a wig, you may want to wear a cap liner to eliminate some of the itchiness.

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