Our hair during and after cancer treatments
I lost my hair one Saturday morning while I was taking a shower. My oncologist had warned me that the hair loss would begin fourteen days after the first chemotherapy. He was not wrong.
This stage, which affected my femininity, was particularly difficult.
Through this article, I would like to help you to understand this dreaded hair loss but also and above all to consider the future.
Hair loss and cancer
Why is our hair falling out?
There are almost as many treatments as there are types of cancers. Some, such as surgery or radiation therapy, are topical treatments. Chemotherapy and hormone therapy, on the other hand, will work throughout your body.
Chemotherapy is based on the administration of drugs called “cytotoxic” drugs that will destroy tumour cells. They can act on different processes involved in the multiplication of cells, either by destroying them directly or by preventing them from multiplying.
Unfortunately, their actions are not selective; chemotherapy attacks all fast-growing cells such as those in the hair and hair system.
Because the process of cell division is abruptly stopped, the young cells stop being born and multiplying and hair begins to fall out, two to three weeks after the treatment starts.
Then, all the hair on the whole body gradually disappears (eyelashes, eyebrows, underarms, pubis…).
Feeling like a woman despite alopecia
Although not the most serious, hair loss is one of the most feared side effects of cancer treatments. Alopecia is a kind of “exposing of the disease” it exposes the fight we are all fighting. It is not easy to adjust to or accept this new self-image. We often find ourselves helpless in a medical world where femininity no longer seems to have a place because the priority is survival.
In order to avoid the stare of others, which is sometimes difficult to tolerate, many women resort to a hair prosthesis. After shaving my hair, the hair prosthesis specialist hastened to make me try several wigs, without success. I did not recognize myself. It was too brutal. I decided to buy some nice turbans to cover my naked head. These turbans were fashion accessories, a way to keep me busy and take care of myself.
Being sick is not a choice, but it is possible to choose how we want to live with the disease and decide to be in control of our femininity.
I created the Ozalys brand to help women regain pleasure in their bathroom, which has become a place of physical and moral suffering. Other young fighting sisters have also innovated by offering comfortable alternatives to hair prostheses.
Julie Meunier, founder Les Franjynes :
“I couldn’t stand the wigs and I missed the feeling of doing my hair. Therefore, I started to tie turbans on my head: better than a treatment, it had a real therapeutic effect! People didn’t look at me because I was sick or because I suffered from alopecia due to chemotherapy, but because I had an original look.”
Fanny Rosa Viegas, creator of the Entrenoue brand “Because thumbing your nose at illness, is getting better already.”
Wassila kaabi, founder of Vita Rose
“Femininity is in you, you just have to: express it, value it, and wear it.”
Scarf, turban, wig, or naked scalp, the choice depends on each of us, on our tastes, on our needs, the main thing is to feel good, beautiful and feminine.
Please note that since April 2nd, 2019 in France, some wigs are reimbursed better by health insurance. Synthetic fiber prostheses (class 1) are reimbursed up to 350 euros (previously 125 euros). For class 2 prostheses (at least 30% natural hair), the reimbursement is 250 euros. If, like me, you do not wish to wear a wig, hair accessories can be reimbursed up to 40 euros.
Hair loss, then what?
When will hair grow back?
Hair regrowth was the moment I had been looking forward to with impatience.
The activity of our cells resumes as soon as the chemotherapy treatment is finished. About 6 weeks after the last session, the long awaited moment of hair regrowth finally arrives.
Because we are all unique and our treatments are not all the same, the regrowth is different for each of us.
The first hairs are often shy and fragile and should be treated with great care. They can be different and change in appearance: colour, thickness, and softness. The cells of our roots need a little time to re- function normally, so the appearance of the first hair is not definitive. It is the same for hairs when they start to grow back, they are sometimes more abundant and/or form a kind of down, but this does not usually last.
In the case of hormone-sensitive cancers (80% of breast cancers), hormone therapy is prescribed. The objective is to neutralize female hormones that could stimulate the growth of new cancer cells. This treatment can lead to a loss of hair density in some women.
How to promote hair regrowth?
During the difficult period of chemotherapy, I was fortunate enough to have my daughter Cecile, a beautician, at my side. Every day, she massaged my scalp and laid her hands on my aching body. She taught me how to take care of my scalp as much as my face and hands.
The advice of Cecile, director of Aesthetic care:
“Hair loss and/or the wearing of wigs or caps can make your scalp sensitive and uncomfortable. I advise you to use our Reconciling Care (link site) which immediately moisturizes and soothes the scalp. In periods of alopecia, I recommend that you combine it with our Body and Scalp Shower Cream (link site), to gently wash your scalp and provide comfort after a shower.
During periods of regrowth and/or hormone therapy, you can use our shampoo (link site) to gently wash and detangle your hair. It also soothes and stimulates your scalp, which is sometimes irritated by regrowth.
I also invite you to massage your scalp regularly. Massage has many virtues. Beyond the well-being aspect, its effect on the vascular system allows oxygenation of the cells and thus improves the quality of hair and stimulates its regrowth“.
The opinion of Linda, R&D manager:
“Our laboratory has selected tailor-made and adapted ingredients that meet the needs of women affected by cancer. The Anacryn present in our Reconciling and Unique care is a natural hair growth activator that provides the elements necessary for the life of hair and prepares its regrowth. AquaCacteen, the flagship active ingredient in our care range, will soothe and moisturize the scalp“.
Because a woman affected by cancer needs softness, to learn how to take care of herself again, to reconnect with her body and her femininity, Ozalys offers a menu of six specific wellness treatments. Including our Reconciling Scalp Care: “I have created a specific scalp treatment, provided by beauticians in beauty salons, this care includes a scalp massage to bring you well-being, relieve tension and stimulate hair regrowth. In this treatment we use the soft reconciling milk, which soothes irritations, moisturizes and nourishes the skin of the scalp.” (Cecile- director of cosmetic affairs)
The cancer care journey is often synonymous with a loss of femininity. Hair loss is one of the most difficult. It is a traumatic stage that everyone apprehends and handles in her own way. I am pleased to see improvements in social security reimbursement of wigs and accessories, even if these advances do not go far enough and risk reinforcing inequalities related to the disease.
For example, why are natural hair prostheses, which are more comfortable and of higher quality, no longer supported at all?
The reimbursement of accessories is largely insufficient. This coverage excludes the possibility of reimbursement for a prosthesis, whereas many women use both, mainly for reasons of comfort.
Afterwards, so long…and so financially burdensome for too many women, the hair loss problems linked to taking hormone therapy are neither addressed nor reimbursed. Helping women to overcome their side effects would nevertheless contribute to a greater adherence to treatments…