When I started chemotherapy, I was excited at the thought of losing my hair because it gave me the opportunity to try different styles and colors with my wigs and experiment with hats and scarves. But not everyone feels that way. Losing your hair during chemotherapy is often very traumatic; an unwelcome reminder of an awful illness we would rather forget. Seeing clumps of your hair come out in the comb or brush or waking up with it all over your pillow often drives home the reality of what we hope is really just a bad dream. But there is good news. There may be a way to save your hair.
Scalp cooling is a technique that has been around for years but underutilized in the United States due to concerns over cost and potential scalp metastasis. It works by using either a cold cap that is chilled to -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooling system that keeps the scalp just above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The cap/system is placed on your head about 30 minutes before treatment, during treatments and, after chemotherapy treatments. They work by narrowing the blood vessels beneath the skin in the scalp and reduces the amount of chemotherapy medicine that can get to the hair follicles. The cold also decreases the activity of the hair follicle which makes it less likely to fall out as well.
Scalp Cooling: A Technique to Keep Your Hair After Chemotherapy
When using the system is important to be very gentle with your hair. Limit shampooing to every three to four days with lukewarm water. Do not apply heat to the hair; let it dry naturally. Avoid harsh chemicals such as coloring or bleaching agents, perms for straightening, parabens, silicone, and products with sodium lauryl sulfate.
It is important to note that scalp cooling is not 100% effective. It prevents complete hair loss in 50 to 65% of patients who use them and most patients still have some hair thinning despite using the device. Some women complain of headaches and being cold during the scalp cooling procedures. So it’s best to dress warmly or bring a blanket if you are using this treatment.
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This technique is not free. The price varies, depending on whether you rent a cold cap or use a cooling system provided by the cancer center. It also depends on how many cycles of chemotherapy you will receive. Prices range from $500 per month to several thousand dollars. Most insurance companies do not cover the cost of scalp cooling since it is considered to be cosmetic. There are a few nonprofits who can help cover the cost of the treatment. Check out The Rapunzel Project and Hair to Stay Foundation.
Scalp cooling is not recommended for patients who have blood cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
Talk to your doctor if you are interested in using scalp cooling during your treatment. They can help you decide what is right for you.
If you do lose your hair from chemotherapy, most of the time it grows back healthy and it is often a different texture or color than before therapy.
: Hair loss is a small price to pay for saving your life. Don’t sweat the small stuff.