Do You Hate Losing Your Hair To Cancer?

by Jane Ashley

Hair loss – it’s the side effect most commonly associated with cancer.

Chemo At10am

Why? It is the single most visible sign that the person has cancer. This side effect has a far greater emotional impact on women than men. If we see a man with a bald head, we don’t automatically assume that they have cancer – we may just think that they are “making a statement” or “being hot.” Hollywood stars rock when they shave their heads. Many women even gravitate toward a man who shaves his head.

So why is being bald so difficult for a woman?

Ever since we were little girls, our hair has been our “crowning glory” – we are fussed over even as babies with headbands around our bald heads and bows on the tiny turf of hair we have when we are a year old. Our mothers curl our hair, braid our hair, let out hair grow longer and fix us ponytails. We grow up and style our hair – it’s part of who we are – we are recognized in part by our hair color and hairstyle.

A study by the National Institute of Health confirms that hair loss for women is traumatic. Some women feel that there is a stigma to losing their hair and being identified as a cancer patient. Hair loss forces women to make difficult decisions about to whom they reveal their diagnosis. Working women with early-stage breast cancer may feel forced to notify their employer about their cancer diagnosis because they know that they will be losing their hair. Hair loss equals loss of privacy because people wonder why. Hair loss draws attention from others. Hair loss is a constant reminder that you have cancer. You wake up to a bald head and see your reflection in every mirror and storefront. We can’t escape it.

Most women lose their hair everywhere – their eyebrows and their eyelashes … even their pubic hair.

Hair loss robs us of our confidence. It’s very difficult to dress up for an event and feel confident without no hair to fix, no eyebrows to enhance and no eyelashes for mascara.

We worry about being stared at – what are people thinking? Hair loss is that daily reminder that we have cancer even on days that we feel good.

Ironically, women who don’t lose their hair may feel distressed.

What are our options?

Given that most of us equate our hair as part of our identity, every patient will decide what’s right for them when they lose their hair. What feels right for one woman won’t feel right for another woman. There is no right or wrong way.

Embrace being bald. Some women decide to accept baldness as inevitable. We might shave or cut our hair as it starts to fall out and just be done with it. Living in a year-round warmer climate might help with this decision.

Wigs. Many women choose wigs . This solution might bring you the most self-confidence. The American Cancer Society has a free wig program for women who qualify financially. Each office of the American Cancer Society has a different procedure so call your local ACS office. Some insurance plans also reimburse for the purchase of a wig (ask your oncologist to write you a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis” – aka wig. Some women prefer a wig that is the same color and style as their own hair. Other women decide to “spice” up their life with a totally different style and color. It’s your choice. Do what makes you feel best.

Hats. Hats offer a stylish alternative to wigs . Many women find them cooler and more comfortable to wear. Styles vary from cute newsboy styles and baseball caps to dressier cloche styles. In warmer climates, you might like a scarf beneath a brimmed straw hat. In colder climates, a fleece turban or some knitted hats provide style and warmth. If you’re on a tight budget, Cancer Horizons created this directory for free head coverings.


Headscarf. This is a stylish alternative and also comfy. It’s affordable as you can use scarves you already own. Check out this instructional video from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on how to tie a headscarf.

YouTube Videos. When you’re fresh out of ideas or just frustrated about how you look and feel, turn to YouTube videos for inspiration. Here are some of the titles that I found:

The EASIEST Long Scarf Wrap
Cancer Be Glammed – 6 Headscarf Styles in 5 Steps
How to Create Eyelashes and Eyebrows if You Don’t Have Any

After we’ve watched a few of these how-to videos, we should be ready to try a headscarf. They are affordable, cool in the summer and warm in the winter and are easy to coordinate with any outfit that we are wearing.

How to care for your scalp after hair loss.

First and foremost, use sunscreen whenever you go outdoors. Your scalp isn’t used to being exposed to the sun and you might compound your problems with a nasty sunburn.

Patients either complain of itchiness, tenderness, sensitivity or dryness. These tips should lessen your discomfort:
Itchy – try baby oil or Moroccan oil for an itchy scalp
• Dry – use a good quality moisturizer in a cream or ointment formula
• Sensitive to the touch – try a satin or silk pillowcase and use spray-on sunscreen

Shampoo with baby shampoo .

And one final precaution – be careful when taking food out of the hot oven. Your tender scalp may be sensitive to the heat and develop a scorched feeling or redness.

Hair Loss Broke The Camels Back

Be kind to yourself. The diagnosis of cancer is one of the most devastating diseases that we can experience. We’re asked to submit to surgeries that may steal significant body parts from us. We submit to radiation is beyond scary, and we endure chemotherapy to zap out those last cancer cells. Of course, we want to survive to experience what life has in store. Losing our hair seems like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

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