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    Can The Cold Cap Save My Hair from Falling Out During Chemo?

    Can The Cold Cap Save My Hair from Falling Out During Chemo?

    Whenever I take a call from a distressed woman about to lose her hair due to chemotherapy I am so very often asked the question

    “Can anything save my hair?…I’ve heard about the Cold Cap.”

    Media image from Paxman

    We are so desperate as women to do anything we can to save our hair – it’s our crown and glory, it’s our identity, and sometimes it’s what reveals us to others as having cancer or being unwell.

    As women, we want to keep our hair at all costs to protect our families (especially our young children from knowing what is happening to mummy). We want to stop the glares, the stares and the sympathy that can make things feel worse. We want to be in control of the awful situation we are forced into and losing our hair is yet another thing that feels beyond our realms of control.

    “Yes, we’re living with cancer, yes we are living with treatment and yes we’re keeping up a face for work and the school mums. So yes, it is understandable that our hair helps us feel like life is okay, things are normal, I am okay.

    NICOLA WOOD

    So the question “can anything save my hair from falling out during chemotherapy?” is not only valid but it is totally understandable. And honestly? Not only is this top of the list of questions that women have for me as a hairdresser and wig specialist, but it’s also the among the first few questions I asked during my own cancer diagnosis, aged 36.

    Keeping our hair becomes almost a fixation for many women. They spend hours and hours on the internet researching each and every woman who gives them hope and writes a blog saying she didn’t lose her hair.

    So today, I’d like to focus today on the one thing that some oncology teams will recommend for those women who will try anything to save their biological hair through treatment – the cold cap.

    Does the cold cap work?

    In short – the cold cap can work to help you keep your natural hair. However, the results of the cold cap and whether or not it can help you keep your natural hair during chemotherapy and cancer treatment really do vary from person to person.

    So, what is the cold cap?

    Well, the cold cap is a treatment which aims to reduce the hair loss on your scalp. It is also known as scalp cooling. It’s a treatment that is given alongside your chemo, so whilst you are on the ward with your chemo being delivered your head is having the scalp cooling treatment adjacently.

    In my experience of the cold cap and from seeing it done as well as the feedback from hundreds of women who have tried it, the truth is that its effects are extremely varied. Some women will keep most of their hair with it, while other women will still lose all of their hair despite trying it ,which is a big blow for women who have pinned their hopes on it and not made any other plans.

    Some oncologists will not recommend or even allow their patients to use it. Some hospitals don’t offer it and some women who decide to try it simply don’t cope with having it, or they find it uncomfortable. Others don’t continue with it as they feel it’s just another thing to endure or it adds time to the time spent in chemo as often it takes longer to have your chemo with the cold cap.

    How many people choose to have the cold cap?

    On average, I would say around 10% of the women who come to us at The Wonderful Wig Company have tried the cold cap out for themselves. Of that 10%, around half of them choose to continue with it at every session, while the other 50% percent don’t continue with it after one or two tries.

    Why do people give up cold capping?

    Some say that they stop with the cold cap treatment because they find it uncomfortable to wear or because it can add more hours onto their chemo session, and some women can’t cope with that or they find they can’t tolerate it. It is cooling the scalp, so that is difficult for some women to go through.

    Others give up on the cold cap because they still experience enough hair loss during their sessions that they want to wear a wig. So, these women fail to see the point of putting themselves through more than what’s needed if the hair loss still is enough to upset them.

    Who usually gets the best results with the cold cap?

    Media image from Paxman

    As a generalisation, those with naturally thicker hair tend to get the best results. Even with thick hair and the cold cap treatment, these women still find that their hair becomes thinner as a result of chemotherapy. However, in my personal experience those with very fine or fragile hair to begin with are more prone to a poor result from the cold cap.

    So many of us hope to be the exception to the hair-loss rule and, while it is completely understandable, the best thing that you can do for your mental health is come to terms with the most probable outcome. When it comes to the cold cap, some women are just luckier than others.

    The truth is, we have seen many distressed women who didn’t prepare themselves for the possibility of hair loss as soon as they began with their cold cap treatment. By putting all their eggs in one basket, so to speak, these hit-or-miss cold cap results can give some people a false sense of security.

    While I have seen some women save enough of their own biological hair by using the cold cap, many still wish to wear a wig or a hairpiece after the fact. The vast majority do end up delaying their own acceptance of hair loss.

    Remaining hair: limitations of a cold cap

    When cold capping, you are advised to not wash hair as often. You should steer clear of hair straighteners, avoid applying heat and colour your hair as well. So, another thing to ask yourself before trying the treatment is:

    Will I feel good about the hair that I may still have left if it has not been washed, styled or coloured and is thinner that my usual hair?

    It’s great if you get a good result with the cold cap. And, if the cold cap was a success for you then it can make you feel far more familiar in your own skin, especially around the house and with your loved ones. However, because of the thinning effects and the new hairstyling limitations, you may not feel as good about your remaining hair when it comes to going outside and functioning as normal at work or on a rare night out.

    Because of that, even those that the cold cap works well for, it still might not be a worthwhile enough result. If you’re thinking that you may prefer to accept your hair loss, and not have to endure extra hours on your chemo or experience thinning of your natural hair, then below we have explored some confidence-boosting alternatives to the cold cap.

    Alternatives to the cold cap

    There are no proven medical alternatives to the cold cap. But if the thought of wearing a full wig is so daunting and this is what’s prompting cold cap use, then you should know that there are many different alternatives to a full wig.

    In all honesty, in our salon our last resort is a full wig. For our ladies there are many different less intrusive options, and we would always cover all of these before recommending a full wig.

    Toppers / partial hair coverings

    We do some amazing partial coverings called toppers. Hair toppers blend seamlessly into your remaining hair and disguise roots and thinning on the top of the scalp. They are perfect for ladies using the cold cap who don’t lose all of their hair, but still have some thinning issues.

    Hair integration

    We also specialise in hair integration. This is again a way of blending your remaining hair into some new additional hair to disguise your hair-loss. Whatever the outcome after treatment, we have a solution.

    My advice

    It’s not my place to give advice or one way or another as I have no medical experience to offer – only my personal experience with cancer and the testimonies of the thousand plus women I’ve supported through their unique hair loss journey.

    Nicola knows hair loss all-too-well having been diagnosed with cancer herself, losing some of her hair due to stress. Check out her full story here.

    My advice to all of my ladies is to do some research and then decide for yourself what will be best for you personally. The results for cold capping may vary from hospital to hospital, so be sure to ask your chemo team about their own results with the cold cap. In my local area of the North East in England, I know one hospital here which has really, really good results with it so, if you are curious, it is worth an ask at your own hospital what their success rate is with it.

    Ask your oncologist about what he or she thinks of you cold capping? Ask them, if the roles were reversed, would he or she go ahead with that treatment?

    Final words

    Be prepared. By getting ahead of the hair loss you will be more in control of the situation and feel better equipped to cope. Try the cold cap treatment if you feel it’s right for you and if it is available to you, but don’t pin all of your hopes on it. Be prepared to definitely still lose a considerable amount of hair. Because of that, it’s always best to have a back-up plan and to discuss your options well before treatment starts. My experience tells me every time that it is more distressing if the hair loss is sudden and not expected than if you plan for it.

    We would love to hear from you if you have been through treatment and used the cold cap, please help us help more women by sharing your experiences with us?

    Alternatively, if you’re looking for specialist advice when it comes to the cold cap and hair loss from a hairdresser who has been there, then get in touch for a professional hair loss consultation.