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Wigs, scarves or bold & bare – what’s right for you?

Published: 28 Aug 2018

Despite general perceptions, hair loss is not an inevitable outcome of chemotherapy.  Not all chemo drugs affect hair in the same way. Some only cause gradual hair thinning, whereas others may cause partial or total alopecia, which is when your hair falls out in clumps. Before you start your treatment find out from your cancer team what to expect from your own drug regimen.

If you know that your drug regimen is likely to result in alopecia, there are a variety of ways you can deal with the potential hair loss – it’s completely up to you, but one thing we do advise, is to think about it before it happens so you are prepared.  

This blog looks at some of the ways chemo patients are positively managing their hair loss. 

Helping to stop hair loss

The cold cap treatment - Cold capping is a treatment that’s growing in popularity.  As the name suggests it’s a specially designed cap filled with either a gel or liquid that is cooled and fits snuggly onto the head before, during and for a time after chemo.  

This cools the scalp causing the hair follicles and surrounding cells to enter into a hibernated state, which can help to prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss.  Most people save between 60% and 90% of their hair – but because the hair loss is usually evenly spread, it’s unlikely to show.

For more information read our blog ‘What is cold cap therapy?’

Covering up hair loss

Wig or hairpiece - Wig technology has come on a long way in recent years, offering a choice of real or synthetic hair, depending on your budget.  If you decide to wear one, do your shopping at the beginning of your treatment so you can match the natural colour, texture, and style of your hair – or you may want to try something completely different.  Ever wondered what you’d look like with a different colour or long hair – well this is your chance to find out without the lengthy time of growing it out.

A good wig can be expensive.  But did you know a hairpiece is a tax-deductible expense, and many insurers will cover some of the cost if your doctor writes you a prescription for a “hair prosthesis.” Or you may be able to rent one – check with your treatment centre to see if they offer this service or can recommend anywhere locally.  

If you’re in the UK go to the NHS website to find out if you’re eligible for help towards the costs.

Chemotherapy Support Group member, Nikki, also suggested, “Check with American cancer society they have wigs and I think they are free. I donated mine when I was finished with them”.

For the first few days or weeks it might feel very strange – some people never get used to wearing a wig, but others say they forget they have it on. 

A few tips from wig wearing members of the Chemotherapy Support Group:

“Always check that you have the wig on the right way around as it is easy to put them on backwards”

Cindy says, “I always wear a wig to chemo, hot or not. Makes me feel better”

Irma comments, “The beauty of wigs and eye lashes lol Today blonde, tomorrow brunette lol”

Kelly rallies, “Embrace your journey!! Doll up with new make-up styles and earring, find wigs with different hair styles/colors you always loved but never dared to try and find nice soft scarfs! I loved the ones made from bamboo fabric”

Scarves, hats, bandanas and turban - There are a multitude of different head coverings to choose from – scarves, hats, bandanas, turbans….  they’re a great way to make a statement and show off your personal sense of style.

Make your own creations from sarongs or fabrics. Natural materials are best, so if you’re planning on wearing for any length of time, opt for cotton or silk so your scalp can breathe.  But if it’s for a quick jaunt out of the house, manmade fabrics are fine – and you’ll probably have a wider choice of designs!   

You can add hair accessories such as fringes, halo wigs and other hair pieces, attached to Velcro onto scarves and hats to create the effect of hair underneath.  Many people find this more comfortable than wearing a full head wig.

If you wear glasses it is recommended to place them over the top of head scarves and underneath hats.  Make sure you wash your headwear regularly to avoid scalp irritation and if you are used to having volume on your head (from a hair style) then try to create height and width with your headwear.

Some more comments from members of the Chemotherapy Support Group:

Liz says, “I personally wear a turban to chemo; it is a bright, cheerful color with a patterned scarf. I do that because it is more comfortable than the wig & I can adjust it without a mirror. I need to sit there for 5-6 hours so comfort to me is a priority. Good luck no matter what you wear!”  

Sara comments “I am having a blast with head scarfs and caps it's so much fun I've collected enough that I have something to match every outfit” 

Rachael suggests, “Baseball cap with ponytail built it. I didn’t like head scarves or wigs. This was perfect” 

Bold and bare

If hats, scarves or cold capping aren’t for you, dare to go bold and bare.   Many people choose to rock the bald look with great success.  

Some cancer patients find the process of waiting for their hair to fall out intolerable. Loose hairs fall into their eyes when they’re awake and tickle their faces while they sleep. During showers they feel awash with hair. At some point all the loose strands start to drive them crazy, and that’s often when patients decide to go the whole hog and shave it off.

It can be traumatic and scary at first, especially the first time your step outside with a bald head, but after a while it becomes normal and, in some ways, liberating.  After all there’s no need to worry about bad hair days!

Kristen says, “Bald and I don't care. Makeup and bling are my thing to get me thru the day”

Rachell shares her experience: “Losing our hair can be anxiety provoking. It was for me. I sobbed the day I donated 10” and I still had a full head of hair! But I knew what was coming and it was making me crazy. So I shaved in stages. Today I finally gave in and shaved it all off... To all you warriors who may need a little push to keep fighting, know you too can do it!!”

If you’re looking for inspiration or advice, join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and ask members what worked best for them – they are an incredibly welcoming bunch.  Or share a pic of your own best look to inspire others to try something new.