Even if you’re a guy who usually gives little thought to his hairstyle — one of those shampoo-and-go types — you may become anxious about the possibility of partial or total hair loss due to cancer treatment. You may be especially concerned about how to keep up appearances at work with this unplanned new look.
Men and women have similar negative feelings about losing their hair, according to researchers who polled both men and women who had experienced chemotherapy-induced hair loss. (The findings were reported in the journal Psychooncology.) However, one gender difference came up: While both men and women spoke about losing hair from their head, eyebrows and eyelashes, men also talked about hair loss from other areas of the body, such as their chest.
Below are some guidelines for dealing with hair loss and maintaining an appearance you’re comfortable with — at work and elsewhere.
Before Treatment Begins
- Ask your doctor to describe the likely course of hair loss. Not all chemotherapy treatments cause equal amounts of hair loss; some cause none. With radiation treatment, the hair loss occurs on the specific area being treated. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that everyone responds differently to treatment and therefore may lose hair to varying degrees in different places.
- Consider preparing for the anticipated hair loss by taking a proactive approach. For example, cut your hair shorter before any hair loss occurs. Psychologists call this “anticipatory coping.” Basically it means you stop anticipating the hair loss and make a deliberate choice about it — in this case, to cut 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 treatment, 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 even consider a buzz cut.
- Search online for free hairstyling programs for cancer patients in your area (simply type in “free haircuts for cancer patients”). Results typically include newspaper and magazine articles that reference occasional programs, and websites of participating salons.
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’ll avoid waking up and finding hair on your pillow.
- If you decide to take the clean-shaven approach, use an electric razor, not a hand razor. A hand razor may cut the scalp. If your immune system is compromised as a result of chemotherapy, a cut could increase your risk of infection.
- Before you pick up the razor, prepare for the potential reactions of others. A newly shaved head is unlikely to elicit questions or looks when you’re out in public, since so many men have adopted this look for its ease. However, within your social, family and work circles, the look is likely to evoke questions. People might ask if you are sick, on medication or, more specifically, if you have cancer. So be sure to consider ahead of time how much you want to share about your diagnosis with coworkers, friends and extended family.
- 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 your body. That means not only your scalp, but also your eyelashes, eyebrows and the hair on your arms (including your armpits), chest, legs and pubic area.
When Hair, Eyebrows and Lashes Disappear
Men who experience hair loss don’t typically opt for wigs as readily as do women who lose their hair.
- Hats are one way to hide baldness, but it’s important to choose a style that fits both your personality and your office culture. While a lot of men wear baseball caps, that look isn’t deemed appropriate in most office environments. For that, you may want to consider a driver hat (also known as a golf cap) or perhaps a fedora. Headcovers Unlimited has a wide selection of men’s hats (www.headcovers.com/men/caps-and-hats/).
- Consider a hairpiece 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 workplace image in the process.
- When eyebrows start to fall out, don’t redraw and fill them in entirely with a pencil, as women often do. It will look too obvious. Instead, fill in a little bit with short strokes, just where the hairs are missing. Or choose a stylish pair of eyeglasses (with or without a prescription) with frames big enough to hide the eyebrow area.
- As for sparse eyelashes, you can use mascara — although most men go without it.
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 also not unusual for hair to be a different texture than it was before, which may be temporary.
- When it starts to grow back, you can massage your head with your fingertips. It may not make the hair grow faster, but it increases blood circulation to your scalp, which is always good for the hair.
- Ask your doctor about possibly using an over-the-counter topical remedy for regrowth, to help the process along.
- Products for thinning hair and hair loss are also possibilities.
- Use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo.
- Be patient. Your hair may not look or feel the same as it was prior to chemotherapy, until up to a year and a half after treatment ends.