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Alopecia AKA Hair Loss From Cancer Drugs 

by Morag Currin

Dealing With Hair Loss From Cancer Drugs

Psychosocial issues resulting from hair loss from cancer drugs must not be underestimated. Alopecia is the most traumatic side effect from drug treatment.  Some women report that losing a breast due to a mastectomy would be less traumatic than losing their hair. What is interesting is that women are much more concerned about scalp alopecia, whereas men tend to be more concerned about body alopecia.

Chemotherapy Related Hair Loss From Cancer Drugs 

Many chemotherapy drugs target proliferating cells, which reside in the bulb, sparing the quiescent stem cells in the bulge that are responsible for reinitiating follicle growth.  Alopecia resulting from chemotherapy is usually, but not always, completely reversible.

The hair follicle resumes its normal cycling within a few weeks after chemotherapy has been completed and visible regrowth becomes apparent within three to six months. The new hair frequently has different characteristics from the original; 65 percent of people experience a graying, curling, or straightening effect, which is likely due to differential effects of chemotherapy on hair follicle melanocytes and inner root sheath epithelia, and these effects often resolve over time.

Loss of eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as axillary and pubic hair, varies and loss may not occur during active treatment but may occur after the last dose of chemotherapy has been administered. Recovery is generally more rapid for lash, brow, axillary and pubic hair than for hair on the scalp.

The timing of alopecia depends on the type(s) of chemotherapy agents, dose, and schedule. Most cycles are given every two to three weeks, and alopecia starts around two weeks and is completely lost by the end of the second cycle of chemotherapy. Weekly chemotherapy generally results in slower and occasionally incomplete alopecia, and hair may actually start to grow back while continuing with treatment. High-dose chemotherapy used in the setting of stem cell transplant leads to rapid and complete alopecia.

Read More Oncology Aesthetics®

Morag Currin is a monthly featured guest blogger.  She has an entire library of content on Oncology Aesthetics® here at Lipgloss + Aftershave.

Hair Loss From Cancer Drugs for Targeted Therapy

There is a lesser severity of alopecia with the use of targeted therapies. It is important to note that people exposed to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors can develop numerous skin related issues including infection.  Alopecia can occur due to an infection on the scalp and this is very upsetting as it leaves a scar, and therefore permanent hair loss. Any crusting on the scalp need to address this issue with their health care professional as a culture would be necessary to determine treatment, usually an antibiotic.

From a psychosocial perspective alopecia reminds people of their disease; it can affect their social interactions negatively, and it can lead to decreased self-esteem, sexuality, and sensuality in many.  According to some studies, in people who develop complete alopecia, shaving the head is less traumatic than seeing clumps of hair falling out.

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Recommendations To Treat Hair Loss From Cancer Drugs

Estheticians offering services for hair loss from cancer drugs such as, micropigmentation for the scalp, brow and lash line can provide consistent results with micropigmentation, however, many factors need to be considered if this can be done during active treatment, or post treatment.

Sleep caps can be recommended as they provide comfort and warmth especially if they have no seams that put pressure on the scalp. These caps can also be worn under a hat for added comfort.  Turbans are popular and so many styles can be adopted to create a very personal look.

Temporary alternatives for brows are brow wigs; lash strips for missing or sparse lashes (adhesive and magnetic – both have pros and cons) or to apply corrective makeup techniques.  Over the counter Minoxidil (Rogaine) is effective for regrowth of eyebrows but must be carefully applied to avoid stimulating hair grown in other areas on the skin; and prescription Bimatoprost (Latisse) can be recommended for eyelash growth.

Many people do attempt to cover their hair loss from cancer drugs by utilizing a hairpiece or a wig. Wigs and hair pieces can cause some people significant anxiety over the possibility of their hair piece falling off or moving unexpectedly but can certainly give the appearance of normalcy.

If your client chooses to not use any scalp coverings, ensure they have sun protection and use it if they are going to be outside a lot.

Camouflaging hair powders and thickeners that are made of tiny, microfiber “hairs” blend with a person’s own hair. They are applied to the skin in areas of hair loss.

Scalp cooling has been shown to be safe for alopecia prevention.  It works by constricting the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of drug reaching hair follicles therefore the hair may be less likely to fall out.

To summarise: knowledge of recommendations for a positive outcome that you can offer your client will  make you a salon/spa professional worth your weight in gold to the cancer survivor.

  • The tumor cell mass adheres to endothelial lining
  • The tumor cell mass invades the wall to pass through the basement membrane surrounding tissue or organ.
Morag Currin

About Morag

As a leader in our industry, Morag has spent over 27 years in the aesthetic/skin care industry, researching and constantly updating her knowledge on cancer and other diseases and how treatment affects the services we offer; plus she still offers services such as reflexology, aromatherapy and electrodessication. Morag pioneered Oncology Esthetics® training back in 2007. It was her concept that has driven change to our industry that others have followed. She consults globally with industry leaders by educating them how to include the cancer community. Besides making time for written articles and webinars she offers equine facilitated learning and activity sessions for the cancer community and veterans since there is a prevalence of significant psychological distress within these communities.

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