Many chemotherapy agents can cause your hair to fall out or thin. Exactly when this happens can vary depending on your treatment, but is generally around 2 weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment. Will it fall out overnight? Sometimes, but every person's experience is different given the different medications that can cause hair loss. While no one should tell you it will be easy to lose your hair, there are some steps you can take to make it easier.
There are a few types of wigs available and visiting a wig shop that works with people with cancer can be a great education on the topic. (The ACS can help you find a local wig boutique – 800-ACS-2345).
Wigs can be made of human hair or synthetic hair. A human hair wig tends to be heavier and can be quite costly, ranging from 1500-5000 dollars. A synthetic hair wig can range from 300-700 dollars.
The base of the wig is like a cap that is adjustable to conform to your head. The "wefts" of hair are tied to this cap and how it is tied affects the look and feel of the wig. Some methods of tying can result in a wig that irritates your scalp, others allow the hair to fall more naturally, or better hide the scalp. This is why it is so helpful to go to a boutique where someone can help find the best option for you.
It is recommended that you wash your wig every 21 days of wear. Use a special shampoo made especially for wigs or Woolite. To wash your wig:
Use a wig stand to dry and not a Styrofoam head. These have a tendency to lead to poor evaporation and cause stretching of the wig cap. If you do not have a stand, a tall can of hairspray can substitute.
Spray conditioner and detangling sprays are made to restore luster and shine to your synthetic wig. It is recommended to use products made especially for wig care, which contain ingredients friendlier to your wig. They help reduce normal wear and tear as the synthetic fibers break down over the normal life of a wig. To condition your wig:
Holding spray or curling glazes are specially formulated for wigs. They do not contain glue, which is found in regular hair products, so they will not leave a sticky residue on your wig. If you are going to use hair spray as a styling aid for your wig, it is recommended that you use one of these products.
Today's wigs have come a long way. We used to tell people to never use a curling iron, hair dryer or straightened on a wig, but things are not so straightforward anymore. When you purchase your wig, be sure to ask how these rules apply to your wig. You can style a human hair wig and some synthetic wigs are made of heat resistant materials able to tolerate styling tools.
It is a good idea to have a trusted hair stylist trim your wig to fit your face. A wig is "off-the-rack"; think of buying a nice dress or suit off the rack. Having a tailor take it in to fit you specifically makes it fit just right. A wig is no different; just a little trimming can make a big difference.
If you have not lost your hair completely, you may want to try adding hairpieces or "wiglets" to cover bald spots, be a fringe peeking out from under a scarf or bangs under a cap. A partial wig can be weaved into your remaining hair to add fullness.
Every insurance carrier is different, so you will want to check with your carrier to see if they pay for a wig. They may pay up front or require you to pay and be reimbursed. To pay, carriers require a prescription from your healthcare provider for a "cranial prosthesis", your diagnosis code and a sales receipt to be submitted. Some cancer boutiques offer reduced rates on wigs and, in some areas, the ACS has wig banks for those who cannot afford to buy a wig (call 800-ACS-2345 to find out more).
Losing your hair isn't all cosmetic. Your scalp may become sore or itchy. Your scalp needs protection from the sun and cold weather. Some tips for dealing with these concerns include:
Want to learn more about hair, skin and nail care during cancer treatment? Watch this panel discussion about this important topic!
Faith & Hope Boutique is a complete cancer care shop specializing in wigs and beautiful head coverings. With a wide assortment from fun to functional we are here to help you get through this challenging time with care and compassion. With two locations in the Philadelphia area that are fully staffed by survivors, we can offer advice and the true understanding of your needs during this time.