Even if you’re a guy who usually gives little thought to your hairstyle — one of those shampoo-and-go types — you may become anxious about the possibility of partial or total hair loss with cancer treatments. You may be concerned especially about how to keep up appearances at work with this unplanned new look.
Men have similar negative feelings about hair loss as women do, according to researchers who polled both men and women who had experienced chemo-induced hair loss. (They reported the findings in the journal Psychooncology.)
One gender difference came up: While both men and women spoke about hair loss from the head, eyebrows and eyelashes, men also talked about hair loss from other body areas, such as their chests.
For help in how to keep up appearances at work and elsewhere, despite hair loss, we turned to the Mayo Clinic, the American Cancer Society, and four experts:
- Louanne Roark, executive director for the Personal Care Product Council Foundation, who works with the Look Good, Feel Better program in collaboration with the American Cancer Society and the Professional Beauty Association/National Cosmetology Association.
- Barb Quinn, a St. Paul hairstylist who has helped men and women cancer patients with hair issues. Her website is www.hairstyle-blog.com.
- William Goeren, a social worker and director of clinical services at CancerCare, an advocacy organization.
- Linda DiFronzo of the Hair For You Salon in Arlington Heights, IL. She participates in a pioneering American Cancer Society program called First Cut. The first hair cut after chemo is free.
Before Treatment Begins
- Ask your doctor to describe the likely course of hair loss. Not all chemotherapy treatments cause equal hair loss; some cause none. With radiation treatment, the hair loss occurs on the area treated. People respond in an individual manner, as well.
- Consider preparing for the anticipated hair loss by taking action. For instance, cut your hair shorter before any hair loss occurs. Psychology experts call this “anticipatory coping.” In plain language, you stop anticipating the hair loss and make a deliberate choice about it — in this case cutting it shorter. In the process, you gain a greater sense of control, which can reduce stress. Coworkers will get used to seeing you with this different style, so when your hair starts to disappear the change won’t be as dramatic.The impact may be less on you, as well. When hair loss begins during cancer treatments, it can fall out in clumps. If it’s shorter to begin with, there will be less to lose. Depending on the length of your hair, you might consider a buzz cut.
- Pick up up additional tips through the Look Good, Feel Better Program. Visit the men’s section of the site, www.lookgoodfeelbetterformen.org/hair.html. You can also call and request a brochure at 800-395-LOOK .
- Research free hair styling programs that might be available in your community for cancer patients in your area by entering the phrase “Free haircuts for cancer patients” in your search engine. Results typically include newspaper and magazine articles that talk about occasional programs, and websites of participating salons. One regional program is the American Cancer Society’s First Cut (now conducted only in the Chicago area; call 847-368-1166 for info).
When Hair Loss Starts
Hair loss often begins one to three weeks after treatment starts.
- As the hair loss begins, you may want to shave your head. It eliminates the trauma of watching your hair fall out, clump by clump. And you won’t awaken to hairs on your pillow. Allowing it to fall out on its own prolongs the agony.
- If you decide to take the clean-shaven approach, use an electric razor, not a hand razor. A hand razor may cut the scalp. With the immune system depressed due to the chemotherapy, a cut could raise the risk of an infection.
- Before you pick up the razor, prepare for the likely reactions. A guy with a shaved head is not likely to elicit questions or looks when out and about in public and among strangers, as so many men have adopted this look for its ease. However, within social, family and work circles, the look is likely to evoke questions. People might ask if you are sick, on medications and have cancer. So consider how much you want coworkers, friends and extended family to know about your diagnosis beforehand.
- While the focus with chemo-related hair loss is often the hair on your head, be aware that it may cause hair loss all over. That means not only your scalp but eyelashes, eyebrows, armpits, chest and arm hair, leg hair and pubic hair. If you've prided yourself on your hairy chest, for instance, you may have another unexpected image adjustment.
When Hair, Eyebrows and Lashes Disappear
Men don’t tend to take to wigs as readily as women with hair loss do.
- Hats, of course, can also hide the baldness. Many men wear baseball caps, but they are not likely to fly in a formal office environment. For that, you may want to consider a driver hat (also known as a golf cap) or perhaps a fedora. Pick a style that fits your own and fits with your office culture. Headcovers Unlimited has a wide selection of options specifically for men on their website (http://www.headcovers.com/men/caps-and-hats/)
- Consider a hair piece that could be attached to a cap or hat, so that it peeks out and gives the illusion of a head of hair. Bonus: It is likely to be more comfortable than a wig.
- You may want to simply embrace the shaved head as a fashion statement, changing your image around the workplace in the process.
- When eyebrows start to fall out, don’t redraw them in entirely with a pencil as a woman would. It will look too obvious. Instead, fill in a little bit with short strokes, just where the hairs are missing. Or, pick a stylish pair of eyeglasses, prescription or not, with frames big enough to hide the eyebrow area.
- As for sparse eyelashes, mascara can be used, but most men just opt to go without.
How to Coax the Regrowth
After treatment ends, it can take a few weeks for your hair to start growing again. The timeline varies from person to person. It’s not unusual to notice hair is a different texture than before, which may be temporary.
- When it starts to grow back, you can massage your head with your finger tips. It may not make the hair grow faster, but it provides more blood circulation to your scalp, which is always good for the hair.
- Ask your doctor about using Minoxidil, a topical remedy for regrowth sold over the counter, to coax a little more growth.
- Products for thinning hair and hair loss are also possibilities. One such product is the Nioxin Cleanser, meant for fine, thin hair that has not been chemically treated.
- Use a gentle shampoo. One example, sold at salons, is PureOlogy Hydrate. It's meant for color-treated hair but is extra moisturizing. The website www.pureology.com directs consumers to salons that sell it.
- Be patient. You may not recognize your hair as it was before until up to a year and a half after chemo ends.