Tops tips for managing your hair when using cold caps

Published: April 16, 2021

One of the main things people are concerned with when they are about to embark on chemotherapy is what impact it will have on their hair. While this may feel like a shallow emotion on the surface, how you feel about your appearance is intrinsically linked to how you feel inside – and you need to bring your A game when it comes to battling cancer.

Many people choose to use Cold Cap Therapy throughout chemo treatment to save their hair. It works by cooling the hair capillaries and follicles, which reduces the metabolic rate of your hair bulbs. It effectively sends the bulbs into a state of ‘hibernation’, reducing the up-take of the chemotherapy drug regimens during and, for a period-of-time, after chemotherapy. But even when using cold caps the hair still becomes far more fragile than normal – and therefore needs to be treated with care during and after treatment. Here are some of the common questions we’re often asked:

My hair is shedding – should I be worried?

When using cold cap therapy, some shedding is expected. This is generally the older hair follicles falling out – the younger, stronger follicles will remain. Although you may notice that your hair is thinner, as long as the thinning is evenly spread no one else will. But there are additional steps you can take to limit unnecessary hair-loss – for example, using baby shampoo or organic hair products, which do not contain any strong chemicals that can be tough on your hair and scalp.

What happens if I develop a bald spot?

Make sure that the caps you are using are in contact with every part of your scalp. If not, you may find you develop bald patches which is why it’s really is important to fit them properly. Don’t tie your hair back when using the cold caps – again this will lead to a bald patch where the hair is tied because the cap won’t be resting directly on your hair bulbs and scalp.

Ideally cold caps should continue to be worn for several hours after treatment. This is because the chemo drugs are still coursing through your body, so it’s important to keep your scalp cool until they dissipate.

How can my sleeping habits impact hair loss during chemotherapy?

When follicles are damaged during chemo, it makes hair much more sensitive – strong products, heat and friction can all increase or speed-up alopecia. One common hair loss trigger is sleeping, as tossing and turning in the night can result in your head rubbing against the pillow.

To reduce the friction placed on hair during sleep time, many cold cap users have found that using silk or satin pillow cases rather than cotton or linen bedding helps.

What about my grey?

The thought of exposing grey hair is one of the regular discussions in the Penguin Cold Caps Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group. If you are going grey and usually dye your hair, the thought of ‘styling out’ grey roots can be as distressing as losing your hair.

Although your instinct is to banish the grey, generally speaking, it is not advised to dye your hair when going through chemotherapy, as the chemicals used in the dye can irritate your already fragile hair bulbs. There are organic hair dye brands, and brands that use natural ingredients, and therefore don’t contain harmful chemicals, however it’s always best to check with your doctor before proceeding.

Some users of the cold cap therapy system use a coloured hair product that adds fibres to thinning hair and is designed to hide bald spots. However, these fibres can also help disguise grey hair. Take a look at the video for more information on how it works (Penguin Cold Caps is not recommending or endorsing these types of product or any individual brand but merely passing on suggestions made by members of the Facebook group).

Even when your hair starts to grow back following chemotherapy, take care when it comes to colour. Regrowth hair can often be fine and fragile, and therefore more easily damaged.

Less is more

Ultimately, the more you mess with your hair, the more likely it is to fall out when undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Where possible, take a break from the everyday strains you put your hair through – whether that’s daily washing, over-brushing, tying it back, or using heated styling products such as hairdryers, straighteners and curling tongs.

To find out more about using cold caps during chemo, visit our Facebook page.

If you have any questions about cold capping, or anything else related to your chemo treatment, why not join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group – with thousands of members reaching out to each other, someone will no doubt be able to offer you first hand advice.