Hair and Beauty

Several cancer treatments can cause damage to hair, skin and nails in a number of different ways. The most obvious and severe damage is caused by chemotherapy.

Hair care during chemotherapy

Hair loss is a particularly upsetting side effect of chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapies used to treat cancer. While the amount of hair loss depends on the type of treatment, the majority of cancer patients notice at least some hair loss or thinning. Fortunately, most people experience hair regrowth after chemotherapy or radiation treatments end.

Why Hair Loss Occurs

Why do some chemotherapy patients lose their hair, not just on the scalp, but also on their eyebrows, eyelashes, and the rest of their bodies?

Many of the drugs work by attacking the rapidly dividing cells in the body, and tumour cells or cancer cells are rapidly dividing cells, but there are normal cells in the body that are also rapidly dividing, and the chemotherapy drugs affect those normal cells as well, which gives us side effects. Because hair follicles divide fast, they’re also susceptible.

Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely than others to cause hair loss. Ask your doctor about the likelihood of hair loss before you start your treatment, so you are prepared and know what you may expect. After chemotherapy begins, any hair loss usually progresses quickly.

Generally, patients notice it when they wake up in the morning and they look at their pillow. They’ll see hair on their pillow. Then you start brushing it and noticing that it comes out in clumps.

It’s emotionally challenging for someone who is losing their hair and once a person takes steps such as wearing a wig or cap to feel more attractive, self-esteem may improve,

These additional tips on dealing with chemotherapy-related hair loss:

If your doctor says that your hair is likely to fall out, decide before you begin chemotherapy whether you want to wear a wig. You may want to shop before treatment to match your hair colour.

Wigs are available from the NHS but patients will be charged for them unless they qualify for help with charges.

Hats, turbans, and scarves can also camouflage hair loss, although some people prefer to leave their heads uncovered. If you go bare-headed outdoors, be sure to use sunscreen on your scalp.

Cut your hair short. It eases the inconvenience of shedding lots of hair, but it also can reduce the emotional impact of watching your hair fall out.

Don’t perm or colour your hair during chemotherapy. Those chemical treatments are already damaging to hair and can enhance hair loss. Once your chemotherapy treatments are done and your hair has grown back, it’s OK to resume dyeing or perming hair.

With chemotherapy, hair loss is almost always temporary. But when it grows back, it may be a different colour or texture. In older adults who still had hair colour before chemotherapy, the new growth may be completely grey.  Often, new hair is very fine and soft.

Some patients also feel upset about losing eyebrows and eyelashes.

How about an alternative to wigs & head scarves?

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Maxine had her head artistically designed with Henna. doesn’t it look great – If you would like to know more please contact us.

Further reading:

Timing

When you receive chemotherapy can affect how much hair you lose. If you only undergo treatment once a month, you will be given a higher dosage of chemotherapy drugs and lose more hair than if you receive smaller doses more frequently. The dosage is also important in hair loss caused by radiation therapy.

Regrowth

In most cases, hair will start growing shortly after you finish chemotherapy treatment. After two or three weeks, you can expect to see a soft fuzz appear on your head, followed by some hair growth a few weeks after that. When two months have passed, you will probably have an inch or more of hair. The new hair may be a different color or texture than your old hair or it may now be curly or straight, but it will most likely eventually return to its original condition and color. The hair on your head will grow back faster before you see regrowth of your eyelashes or eyebrows. If you have had lower dosages of radiation treatment, you can expect hair to grow back in about 3 to 6 months.

Family Considerations

Your hair loss can be upsetting to your family members too, particularly children. If you expect to lose hair, it may be a good idea to prepare your children and other family members ahead of time. Psychologists recommend presenting an age-appropriate explanation to younger children, explaining that a medication you are taking to make you get better will make your hair fall out. Your children may like to help you select hats, scarves or wigs if you plan on using these items.

Skin care during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy often causes dry, irritated skin. Rather than waiting to deal with symptoms after treatment starts, patients can take steps to minimise skin problems about one week before beginning chemo. Then, they can continue the routine during treatment.

There are many things that you can do to prevent that dry skin. People tend to think of dry skin as just a cosmetic problem, but … dry skin can get so severely dry that it becomes inflamed and more susceptible to infections.

Read these tips to prevent skin problems during chemotherapy:

  • Avoid long, hot showers or baths.
  • Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergent.
  • Use moisturisers, preferably creams or ointments rather than lotions because the thicker consistency is better at preventing skin dehydration. Apply the cream or ointment within 15 minutes of showering. Reapply moisturiser at night, and moisturise your hands every time after you wash them.
  • Some chemotherapy drugs make skin more susceptible to sunburn. Use a sunblock with at least an SPF 30, and make sure that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Protection against UVA requires ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone.

Chemotherapy patients don’t need to avoid the sun. Just be smart about sun exposure. Use a broad-brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing, and an SPF of 30 reapplied every two hours if you’re outside, for example.

Itching is also common and can stem from multiple causes: the chemotherapy medication, a patient’s naturally dry skin (particularly in people over 50), or as a symptom of the cancer itself.

While many patients aim for itch relief with over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, they’re often too weak to be effective. Instead, doctors can treat itching with steroids or anaesthetic medications applied to the skin. If itching interferes with sleep, oral medications might work.

Skin can also go through colour changes during chemotherapy, particularly with breast or bowel cancer treatment. Sometimes, the hands or face are affected, which can make a patient feel self-conscious. If this happens there are skin lighteners and exfoliants containing salicylic acid that can be tried. Some of the newer chemotherapy medications can also cause rashes.

Check with your doctor but, as long as there are no open sores on your skin, swimming is fine for chemotherapy patients, however, spas or hot tubs aren’t a good idea. They can cause more blood flow to the skin, which can lead to greater blood flow to areas of inflammation

Nail care during chemotherapy

During chemotherapy, nails become brittle and dry and may develop lines and ridges. Nails can also darken with certain chemotherapy medications. The effects are temporary, but can last for months.

Certain chemotherapy medications called taxanes, which are frequently used to treat breast, prostate, and lung cancer, are commonly associated with nail problems. The nail can actually separate from its bed, Lacouture says. To minimise the effect of taxanes on their nails and the flow of blood to their hands and feet, some patients cool their hands and feet with special cooling gloves during the infusion of the drugs.

Any nail inflammation — or for that matter, any skin rash — that becomes open or produces discharge should be a warning sign. It could be infected and should be seen by your doctor so that it can be treated, if necessary, with the appropriate antibiotics.

For home care, patients with signs of infection in separated nails can soak their fingers or toes in a solution of white vinegar and water for 15 minutes every night. It kills the bacteria and dries the areas out.

Skin care during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy often causes dry, irritated skin. Rather than waiting to deal with symptoms after treatment starts, patients can take steps to minimise skin problems about one week before beginning chemo. Then, they can continue the routine during treatment.

There are many things that you can do to prevent that dry skin. People tend to think of dry skin as just a cosmetic problem, but … dry skin can get so severely dry that it becomes inflamed and more susceptible to infections.

Read these tips to prevent skin problems during chemotherapy:

  • Avoid long, hot showers or baths.
  • Use gentle, fragrance-free soaps and laundry detergent.
  • Use moisturisers, preferably creams or ointments rather than lotions because the thicker consistency is better at preventing skin dehydration. Apply the cream or ointment within 15 minutes of showering. Reapply moisturiser at night, and moisturise your hands every time after you wash them.
  • Some chemotherapy drugs make skin more susceptible to sunburn. Use a sunblock with at least an SPF 30, and make sure that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Protection against UVA requires ingredients such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone.

Chemotherapy patients don’t need to avoid the sun. Just be smart about sun exposure. Use a broad-brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing, and an SPF of 30 reapplied every two hours if you’re outside, for example.

Itching is also common and can stem from multiple causes: the chemotherapy medication, a patient’s naturally dry skin (particularly in people over 50), or as a symptom of the cancer itself.

While many patients aim for itch relief with over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams, they’re often too weak to be effective. Instead, doctors can treat itching with steroids or anaesthetic medications applied to the skin. If itching interferes with sleep, oral medications might work.

Skin can also go through colour changes during chemotherapy, particularly with breast or bowel cancer treatment. Sometimes, the hands or face are affected, which can make a patient feel self-conscious. If this happens there are skin lighteners and exfoliants containing salicylic acid that can be tried. Some of the newer chemotherapy medications can also cause rashes.

Check with your doctor but, as long as there are no open sores on your skin, swimming is fine for chemotherapy patients, however, spas or hot tubs aren’t a good idea. They can cause more blood flow to the skin, which can lead to greater blood flow to areas of inflammation

Nail care during chemotherapy

The degree of nail damage depends on:

– The individual sensitivity to the drugs
– The dose received
– How many cycles are given
– How the nails are cared for during chemotherapy.

Types of nail damage:

During chemotherapy, nails become brittle and dry and may develop lines and ridges. Nails can also darken with certain chemotherapy medications. The effects are temporary, but can last for months

The earliest and mildest damage results in white lines across the nail which after a while look like the rings of a tree. These actually correspond to the cycles of chemotherapy. Next the nails can get weak, brittle, can crack and break easily. After several treatment cycles you may experience a change in the colour of your nails.

Certain chemotherapy medications called taxanes, which are frequently used to treat breast, prostate, and lung cancer, are commonly associated with nail problems. The nail can actually separate from its bed. To minimise the effect of taxanes on their nails and the flow of blood to their hands and feet, some patients cool their hands and feet with special cooling gloves during the infusion of the drugs.

Any nail inflammation — or for that matter, any skin rash — that becomes open or produces discharge should be a warning sign. It could be infected and should be seen by your doctor so that it can be treated, if necessary, with the appropriate antibiotics.

For home care, patients with signs of infection in separated nails can soak their fingers or toes in a solution of white vinegar and water for 15 minutes every night. It kills the bacteria and dries the areas out.