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Protect your Hair

After cancer, hair can be weak, lacking in protein-feeding nutrients. It needs nurturing back to health like a poorly owl. The ideas in this strategy go some way to explaining the science of hair care, but I’ve not seen the research behind these proud claims. Through the analytical gaze of my science monocle, I’m a little dubious about some of them. There’s certainly evidence to suggest that particular vitamins can have a positive effect on the hair and skin, but I wonder if the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners are at a necessary concentration to actually deliver this. And what evidence is there that the skin and hair can absorb these lotions and potions to use them appropriately?

A better solution may be to consult your GP, who can do blood tests to identify if you are deficient in any particular vitamins. They can provide you with more powerful supplements. And a balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and a variety of vegetables has been shown to be far more beneficial that trying to administer the nutrients artificially.

Nevertheless, these strategies have been found to help other cancer survivors, so see what you think. Before using anything unusual – make sure you consult your doctor.

  • Wash and condition your hair every 2 to 4 days with a baby shampoo.
  • All shampoos have cleansing agents – called surfactants – that increase the spreading and wetting properties of the shampoo, often making them foam. The trick is to find an extremely mild version. Particularly, avoid shampoos containing harsh sulphates. Natural plant oils are good alternatives, try sweet almond oil or jojoba. They condition the hair and operate like the naturally occurring oils from our scalp. Forming a thin layer over the hair cuticle, they condition and soften the hair, making it as smooth and supple as a well-kept cat (I hope). You could also look for disodium docoamphodiacetate, made from coconut derivatives, another milder option.
  • Target dry hair with products containing Panthenol (Vitamin B5). Found in both rinse off and leave in hair conditioner, it binds to the hair, sealing the follicle and lubricating the shaft. You’ve got to take kicks where you can.
  • Leave-in conditioner provides an extra protective layer for dry hair.
  • UV filters in shampoos are also worth looking out for – protecting the hair from harsh sun rays. Sunflower seed oil for example, resists 30% of UV rays.
  • Your hair routine might benefit from coconut oil which can add a further layer of protection.
  • Some conditioners hold hydrolysed wheat protein, hydrolysed keratin and wheat amino acids, which are said to help to build strength and stability. They are similar to the naturally occurring keratin in our hair.
  • Massage brushes can be used in the shower to distribute shampoo across the head, while giving a gentle scalp massage. This encourages sebum production (the body’s natural oil) and stimulates blood flow.
  • Avoid strenuous or harsh brushing as this can damage the hair cuticle. Paddle brushes are a good option as the nodules on the bristles offer a kinder alternative for the scalp.
  • It seems counter intuitive, but the experts say you should have regular trims. Removing damaged hair is supposed to boost growth. I am the split-end ambassador and can assure you that with my split ends, hair growth ground to a miserable stop. Also, the stylist might be able to recommend some particular treatments for post-chemo. My New Hair offer a list of stylists trained in post-treatment regrowth and wigs.
  • Use a low heat setting for hairdryers and avoid styling appliances that work at high temperatures
  • Tight hairstyles can stress the hair, so watch out for these.
  • Drink plenty of water a day. A hydrated body = hydrated hair.
  • The process of regrowth can be a slower if you wear a wig and cover your scalp daily. There’s the suggestion that exposing new hair to sunlight speeds up growth.
  • Anaemia can cause nutrient-depleted hair and skin. Check your red blood count with your GP to make sure this isn’t causing you any problems. They’ll suggest appropriate treatments, if so. 
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