Tips to help you care for your hair and skin during and after treatment

It’s important to look after your hair and skin during and after cancer treatment.

To look after your hair:

  • Wash it at least once every two days.
  • Use gentle hair products.
  • Check with your radiotherapy team if you can use products on the affected area.
  • Only use conditioner on the middle and ends of long hair.
  • Blot wet hair with a towel and use a wide toothed comb.
  • Wear a soft cap or turban at night.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Avoid using hairdryers, straighteners or hot rollers.
  • Avoid colouring, perming or relaxing.
  • Try not to tie your hair in a tight band.

If you lose your hair, it’s important to look after the skin on your head and in other places where you had hair. 

To look after your skin:

  • Avoid using deodorants, soaps, perfumes and lotions if you’re having radiotherapy. Check which products you can use with your radiotherapy team.
  • Shampoo your scalp every day.
  • Use an unperfumed moisturiser.
  • Use pillows made from natural fibres.
  • Protect your head from the sun and from the cold.

Practical tips to care for your hair

These tips are suitable for all hair types. They are especially important for Afro-Caribbean hair – all curly hair is naturally more susceptible to damage.

If your hair is dry or brittle during or after your cancer treatment, try to:

  • Wash your hair at least once every two days. Leaving longer between washes will not prevent hair loss. It may cause problems as hair loss can build up on your head and tangle.
  • Only use gentle hair products and non-medicated shampoo.
  • If you’re having radiotherapy to your head, check with the radiotherapy staff whether you can use shampoo on your hair and if so, which type of shampoo.
  • When washing your hair, only apply conditioner to the middle lengths and ends of the hair in small sections. Only apply conditioner if your hair is long enough.
  • When towel drying hair, blot your hair with the towel instead of rubbing it too hard.
  • Your hair will damage more when it is wet, so use a wide-toothed comb – combs cause less damage than brushes. Start combing from the ends to reduce tangles.
  • Try to use brushes that have wide spaced prongs. Full-bristle brushes will snag and pull on the hair.
  • Avoid using too much heat from hairdryers or heated rollers – this can dry the hair and make it break. Put hairdryers on a low heat and hold at least 15cm away from the hair.
  • Avoid using hair straighteners during treatment as these may cause a lot of damage to fragile hair.
  • Try to leave your hair a little damp – moisture is important for your hair’s health.
  • Avoid wearing your hair in a tight band, as this can damage and break it. If you plait your hair, plait it gently.
  • Avoid perming, colouring or chemically relaxing your hair as this can make it even more dry and brittle. We have tips on colouring, perming or relaxing your hair after treatment has finished.
  • At night, wear a soft cap or turban around your head to stop your hair becoming tangled and to collect any loose hair – women may find it easier to wear a hairnet.
  • Try to eat a well-balanced diet including protein and energy.


Practical tips to care for your skin

If your hair falls out, it’s important to take care of the skin on your head and other places where you had hair. It may be more sensitive than skin elsewhere and can feel very tender.

  • If you are having radiotherapy, you should avoid using any deodorants, soaps, perfumes and lotions on your skin other than those advised by the radiographers. If you develop a skin reaction, such as soreness or a change in skin colour, let the radiotherapy staff know as soon as possible. They will advise you on the best way to manage it.
  • Shampoo your scalp every day – even if you have lost all your hair. Scalp tissue still contains oil and sweat glands. This is especially important if you are wearing a wig. Use a perfume-free product.
  • Use a gentle unperfumed moisturiser on your scalp if it gets dry, flaky or itchy.
  • Use pillowcases made of 100% natural fibres, such as cotton or linen, as man-made fibres like nylon and polyester can irritate the scalp.
  • Cover your head with a hat to make sure your skin doesn’t get burnt on sunny days. If you don’t want to cover your head, use a suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp whenever you go out.
  • Cover your head when it is cold to protect your scalp and to prevent heat loss.
  • Avoid using perfumed deodorants if you have lost hair under your arms. Baby powder or deodorants made from natural mineral crystals can be used instead – these are available from chemists or health shops.
  • If you have chosen to wear a wig, leave it off whenever possible to let your scalp breathe.


Eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair and pubic hair

Losing your eyebrows and eyelashes can really change your appearance. However, you can learn to create new eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil if you wish, or you can use false eyebrows and eyelashes.

Eyebrows

If you lose your eyebrows or find that they are thinner, you can redraw them with an eyebrow pencil that matches your normal hair colour. Eyebrow pencils are available from any chemist or beauty shop. Beauty counters in department stores can show you how to redraw your eyebrows, as it can be daunting to try this at first if you’re not used to it.

To make the eyebrows as realistic and natural-looking as possible, follow the natural eyebrow arch and draw in short, feathery strokes that look like the normal eyebrow hair.

Make the brow thicker on the inner end of the eyebrow (nearest to the nose) and thinner at the outer edge.

Another natural-looking way to redraw the eyebrows is by using an eye shadow powder and applying it with a make-up brush. You can also use false eyebrows. They need to be fixed with special adhesive, which is available from false eyebrow suppliers. Special solvent is used to dissolve the adhesive and remove the eyebrows. Organisations such as Cancer Hair Care and Look Good Feel Better can offer more information and support.

Men may find that drawing eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil is not suitable for them. Some men find that wearing a pair of thick-rimmed glasses helps to add character to their face and hides the missing eyebrows.

Some people choose to have permanent tattooing to create new eyebrows. This can be done by some cosmetic salons, medical tattoo specialists and tattooing shops. It should only be carried out by tattooists registered with their local authority who hold an up-to-date health and safety certificate.

Eyelashes

False eyelashes can be used to give a natural appearance. These are available from many beauty departments along with the adhesive that’s used to attach them. Many department stores have private rooms where staff can show you how to apply the eyelashes. Wearing glasses can be another good option for men and women.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors have volunteered to be specially trained by Macmillan to help women manage the visible side-effects of cancer. Visit boots.com to find your nearest Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisor.

We also have a selection of videos that give practical tips on eyebrows, eyelashes and skin care.

Moustaches and beards

Losing a moustache or a beard can be very difficult to deal with. Facial hair can be an important part of a man’s identity. Some make-up shops or theatrical shops sell moustaches or beards. Some of these can be tailored specially, but this can be very expensive.

Pubic hair

Some people temporarily lose their pubic hair. This can be upsetting and you may worry about how you look. If you have a partner, you may also be concerned about what they think and worry that it could affect your sex life. Try to be open with your partner and talk about how you feel. Often by talking you’ll find that it’s not such a problem after all.

Nasal hair

If you lose the hair from inside your nose, you may be more likely to have a runny nose. Although this can be irritating, it’s only temporary and will stop when the hairs grow back. Try to take plenty of tissues with you when you go out.

‘I didn’t like getting up at night and catching sight of myself in the mirror. In the morning I’d always apply some eyebrows straight away.’ Adele

Adele

Back to Hair loss

Preventing hair loss

Scalp cooling may help to reduce hair loss from the head caused by some chemotherapy drugs. Treating thinning hair carefully can also prevent further hair loss.

After treatment

Your hair may grow back after treatment but it might have changed. It’s important to care for your new hair.