7 things to know about wigs for cancer patients

According to the American Cancer Society, hair begins to fall out one to three weeks after starting chemotherapy and may become visible one to two months later. Some scalps become tender and extremely sensitive to the touch.

Some people cut their hair shorter before chemo to make hair loss less stressful. But if you’ve already started chemo, it might not be worth it. My sister paid for an Anne Hathaway pixie cut to attempt a transition. But within half a day, it already looked less like the Hathaway red carpet and more “Les Miserables” Hathaway, and we had to shave it off.

When you’re ready to shave, use electric clippers, not razors, and never cut the scalp, Hana says. Leave an inch in length, especially if you have straight or coarse hair like Asians. “If you attach them to the scalp, the stiff hair will grow back inside and make your sensitive scalp even more tender when you sleep on it or touch it,” says Hana. “Leaving a bit of length will let it fall flat into a forgiving ceiling.” You might find itchy hairs all over your pillow and clothes during hair loss. Wearing a mesh cap can help catch the wisps.

If your goal is to match your wig to your real hair color, keep a lock of it to show your stylist. Consult a stylist before losing all your hair, if you can. Or at least take pictures of your hairstyle for reference. “If it’s important to be able to look like you, I’d love to meet with you while you still have hair to better understand where your hairline is and how dense your hair is,” Watts says.

For a smoother transition, select your wig before you start chemo, then wait until your hair is just beginning to thin to start wearing it.

You may want to wear it even when your hair starts to grow back. According to this 2019 study, most people experience hair regrowth about three months after their cancer treatment ends and stop wearing wigs a year after chemotherapy. But some people continue to wear wigs until their hair grows longer or because their hair regrowth is initially different from their pre-chemo hair. Hana says her hair has grown back looking like a blue SOS steel wool pad.

During chemotherapy, it is important to take care of your scalp, which will dry out as your skin stops producing body oils. “Support the health of your hair follicles so that the day you stop all your treatment, your hair can begin to grow back prolifically without any deterrence,” says Hana. Dry skin, she explains, is a deterrent because these layers of dead skin cells block the openings and prevent new hair from breaking through the surface. Exfoliate your scalp often using a soft brush or exfoliating gloves in the shower. A cleanser with salicylic acid or a leave-in treatment, like Aveda’s Scalp Remedy, also helps clear up dry skin, Hana says. And finally, keep it hydrated with a mild conditioner. Some people also use castor oil to promote healthy hair regrowth.

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