Afro hair chemotherapy hair loss guide
We have written this ‘Afro chemotherapy hair loss guide’ because we recognise that afro hair has a unique texture, styling and care requirements that benefit from specialist guidance. You can read this alongside our other tips and recommendations within our full range of topics on this information website.
Chemotherapy treatments that cause hair loss as a side effect to cancer treatment will affect afro hair, causing it to fall out, in much the same way that it does any other hair type.
At Cancer Hair Care we are here to support you. Let’s start by taking a look at some key points relating to afro hair:
- CIA – Chemotherapy Induced Alopecia
- Scalp cooling, also known as cold cap treatment
- Cutting hair prior to or during hair loss is a choice for you to make
- Talking to young children about your hair loss
- FREE Hair Loss Dollies
- FREE Childrens Play Packs
- Wigs and NHS wig referral system
- Specialist hair loss friendly headwear and accessories are available for all skin colours.
- Scalp care and sun protection is important for everyone
- Weaves, hair extensions & braids
- Unique structure
- New hair growth – Afro hair guide
CIA – Chemotherapy Induced Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss resulting from chemotherapy treatment. This is the same term used for all hair types including afro hair which will be affected in the same way as all other hair types. Usually hair loss starts around 10 to 14 days after your first chemotherapy treatment.
Not all chemotherapies cause hair loss as a side effect to treatment. But the odds are if you are reading this information then you have been told that your form of chemotherapy causes hair loss.
The chemotherapy treatment causing a temporary disruption to the hair follicle which results in hair loss. Hair loss is usually temporary and usually grows back after treatment is complete and the hair growth system has rejuvenated.
There is a way to try and help reduce hair loss during chemotherapy called scalp cooling.
Scalp cooling, also known as cold cap treatment, is a method to try and reduce the amount of hair loss as a side effect to chemotherapy so that you can maintain as much of a regular hairstyle as possible. Scalp cooling is the only known way to reduce hair loss due to chemotherapy.
Scalp cooling is suitable for all hair types including afro hair. There are not many studies about the efficacy of scalp cooling for people of colour. One study suggests that scalp cooling was not so successful. However at Cancer Hair Care we have observed people of colour (mainly females) having success as well as failures with scalp cooling. It is our opinion that at present there is not enough evidence to suggest that scalp cooling is not suitable. With this in mind, as with people of all hair types we state that you need to try scalp cooling to see if it may be successful for you. global scalp cooling manufacturer Paxman are very dedicated to ensuring scalp cooling is effective for people with all hair types. They have specific guidance for people with afro hair so that preparing and managing afro hair is made clear and understandable.
Women and men can try scalp cooling if they are suitable for it (there are several requirements) and their hospital or home care provider offers it. If you are wearing a weave, any type of hair extensions or braids, you will need to remove these in order to have scalp cooling.
Scalp cooling means that you need to allow additional time before and after chemotherapy treatment – additionally some scalp cooling providers recommend that people with afro hair have additional cooling time. If scalp cooling is something you are considering, ask your nurse or take a look at the scalp cooling providers information.
Not all cancer professionals are aware that scalp cooling is suitable for afro hair. Raising awareness that scalp cooling is suitable for afro hair is something that, along with scalp cooling manufacturers, we are trying to change.
Additionally, if you are wearing a weave, hairpiece or wig as a styling preference, your nurse may not be aware what your ‘natural’ hair type is. If scalp cooling is something you are considering then it’s well worth explaining to your nurse what your natural hair type is like. This is so they can make the best recommendation for you.
Scalp cooling is an in-depth subject and so we cover this in greater detail in our dedicated Scalp cooling section.
Cutting hair prior to or during hair loss is a choice for you to make. Cutting afro hair, as with all other hair types, does not affect how the hair will grow back. Read our cutting guide.
Talking to young children about your hair loss – If you need to explain hair loss to young children we have some helpful FREE resources.
FREE Hair Loss Dollies that explain hair loss to young children. Available in multiple skin colours.
FREE Children’s Play Packs – that explain the hair loss journey to young children. Available in multiple skin colours.
Email our team with your request and any skin colour/hair type preferences to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch our video Afro Hair Loss Guide – Talking to Children
Wigs and NHS wig referral system – If you are being treated by the NHS you will be offered a wig referral by your cancer nurse. Each NHS hospital outsources it’s wig supply to a wig provider. The wig supplier MUST ensure that a natural afro wig can be supplied or an appropriate textured wig. This referral is a ‘prescription’. You may have to pay a special prescription charge of around £70. But some people do qualify for help towards costs.
If you have problems with your supplier please let your cancer nurse know and contact us at Cancer Hair Care.
You can of course buy a wig from any supplier you wish. Read more in our Wig guide.
Specialist hair loss friendly headwear and accessories are available for all skin colours. Additionally, ethnic styles are also available such as batik fabrics and traditional African style wraps. The reason why specialist scarves are designed is to discreetly cover the hairline area. Often designs will create ‘bulk’ and shapes that look as if you might have hair underneath.
Scalp care and sun protection is important for everyone. People with darker skin types are likely to need hydrating oils and products that offer moisture and nourishment to their scalp, without being too oily to wear under wigs or headwear. This may mean choosing a lighter oil than you would usually use.
For example; coconut oil is commonly used on afro hair and darker skins. It’s an excellent source of natural moisture. However you may need to reduce the amount you use on a bare scalp as your hair won’t be absorbing the oil. This is because you don’t want too much oil as it might stain your headwear or cause your wig to slip.
Weaves, hair extensions & braids need special consideration before, during and after chemotherapy treatment for scalp cooling (cold cap). Here are two main considerations:
1. Scalp sensitivity during hair fall – some people say that their scalp feels more sensitive, sore or itchy especially just before and during the initial hair fall that usually starts 10 to 14 days after the first chemotherapy treatment. This is normal and usually subsides after a few days. With this in mind if you are wearing weaves and extensions or braids and your scalp is painful or sensitive, this additional ‘pulling’ tension may cause you additional discomfort. It can also make removing braids and weaves really uncomfortable and quite painful.
2. Afro hair is a naturally vulnerable hair type – traction alopecia; hair loss caused by regular ‘pulling’ on the hair follicle that braiding, hair weaves, extensions and some smoothing and styling techniques causes, can put additional strain on the hair follicle at this extra sensitive time.
With this in mind you are best recommended to remove weaves, extensions and braids prior to starting chemotherapy treatment.
Unique structure – The term ‘Afro hair’ is a widely used. However Afro hair is not just one texture. Often (as with many other hair types) there is a genetic mix that results in multiple variants of afro hair. When we refer to Afro hair we are always relating to these variants.
The unique structure of afro hair combined with regular styling and processing techniques means that afro hair is naturally more vulnerable than other hair types.
With this in mind extra special care and attention is well worth considering before, during and after chemotherapy treatment to ensure the best platform for stable new growth.
Let’s take a look at what the vulnerabilities are so we can offer you some insights and guidance for best care.
1. The hair shaft of Afro hair is flat with a twisted structure and a thin diameter. This structure creates the amazing afro hair texture. Sometimes a curl forms, sometimes a frizzy or fluffy texture emerges.
The twists in the internal structure have vulnerable ‘break’ points where the twist turns and causes a fragility within the hair. A good description is if you take a straw and bend it, you will see ‘breakpoints’ emerge and this is similar to what happens with afro hair and one reason why it is fragile.
2. Growth rate – it is reported that afro hair grows slower than other hair types. Additionally more sparsely. However, the texture and voluminous nature of afro hair can be a benefit as it can cover sparser areas.
3. Traction from braiding, styling, smoothing and chemical processes all cause long term fragility to the hair follicle. For example, many women with afro hair are familiar with wearing wigs and hair weaves as they might have patches of hair loss. Commonly hair loss appears around the hairline and throughout their scalp, where over the years traction alopecia, which is hair loss due to ‘tension and pulling’ has resulted in a weakened hair follicle.
This is worth knowing so that when new hair returns after chemotherapy treatment you can be mindful to take extra care of the new growth. Allowing hair some time to rejuvenate and gain strength before adding weaves, extensions, braids or chemical treatments that may cause damage to the newly formed hair.
New hair growth – Afro hair guide
We have written an in-depth guide to new hair growth after chemotherapy treatment. Here in this section we will offer some insights that are specific to afro hair. You can then browse the New Hair Growth section for ideas and tips.
Afro hair – New hair growth tips:
Don’t over saturate new hair with oils – Many women are used to using oils to smooth and condition their hair. However, when it comes to new hair if you use too much oil, for example coconut oil, it can make the new hair look sparse by separating it too much. Using a little oil is ideal as this will help lubricate and condition new hair.
Weaves, braids , extensions and wigs – New hair needs growth and recovery time. Afro hair is a naturally more fragile and vulnerable hair type. Allowing the new hair time to grow and properly rejuvenate before braiding, adding extensions and weaves is really important.
We don’t recommend any chemical smoothers, weaves, braids or extensions until you have at least 2 to 3 inches of good quality hair growth. This may take some time as new hair is usually slower growing to begin with. You can wear a wig over new hair, this doesn’t slow down growth. If your wig has a ‘wig clip’ in or you are sewing a wig onto your new hair, be sure to take good care and don’t allow too much additional ‘pulling’ or tension on your fragile new hair.
Chemical smoothing and hair relaxers
Your new hair and scalp must be in a good enough condition to have a chemical smoothing treatment or hair relaxer.
Technically speaking, you would normally need at least two inches for relaxing or a smoothing. However, we recommend that you have at least four inches of very good quality hair growth before attempting these chemical processes.
This is because these processes use very strong chemicals that break down and reform the hair’s structure. Even when carried out with care, the process is aggressive to the hair and in our opinion, puts too much strain on the new hair.
Also remember to carry out a Sensitivity Test prior to any application.
It really is worth waiting for at least 4 inches of growth for the longevity of your hair.
Colouring new Afro hair
Afro hair is naturally made up of a combination of dominant dark (black and brown) colour pigments and sometimes a red pigment. This results in black, brown and auburn shades. As we get older less natural colour pigment is produced. Therefore some women find that their new hair grows back grey or white or takes some time to re-establish it’s depth of colour.
Colouring hair is a great way to add some individuality to shorter styles but many people are very nervous about any possible damage to the new hair. There are plenty of clever techniques and hair colours that contain natural and nourishing ingredients to use both at home and at the salon.
We have put together an advice section entirely about colouring new hair growth. Generally speaking, as long as your hair and scalp are healthy and you do a skin-sensitivity test prior to colour, there is no specific length required to apply all-over colour to the hair.
For new afro hair our guide would be that you allow at least an inch (for semi permanent colours) or two inches (for permanent colour) of good quality hair to grow before colouring it. Additionally, when it comes to afro hair do not use bleach as this causes too much damage on new hair. If you are also considering chemical smoothing and hair relaxers as well as hair colour you would need to ensure that you have at least 4 inches of good quality new hair growth. This is because the dual process will put additional strain on new hair so be sure to use products that are as gentle as possible.
To find out if your hair is in a suitable condition to colour and for lots of helpful tips take a look at Colouring new hair growth.
Also remember to carry out a Sensitivity Test prior to any application.
Your experiences matter
At Cancer Hair Care we are dedicated to inclusivity and are proud that we produced the first ever Afro Hair Chemotherapy Guide. We continue to explore this subject and are grateful to the many patients, experts, brands, NHS and hair loss specialists who join together with us to inform our information. Please do get in touch if you have any views to share.
Next planned review: September 2024