Head Covers for Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

Wigs, Scarves, or Bald is Beautiful - Which Fits My Style?

woman wearing Head scarf, one option for a head cover during chemotherapy

Holly Anissa Photography / Moment / Getty Images

There are now many options for head covers if you're coping with hair loss due to chemotherapy. Also referred to as alopecia, hair loss can be a stressful, heart-wrenching experience, and many people do not realize how much their image is tied to their hair until they face its loss. Thankfully, if you wish to cover your head before your own (often more delightful) head of hair grows back, there are many options available today. Some people even look back at the adventure of trying new head covers and styles fondly!

The best time to shop for head covers is before you start to lose your hair. Check with your cancer center to see what resources are available in your area. Many online companies offer wigs and caps as well. The American Cancer Society offers a non-profit service for women called Tender Loving Care, that offers a catalog featuring a variety of products. While many other resources are available, this may help you start thinking about what you want.

Head Cover Options

Many people initially think of a wig to disguise their hair loss, or at least to keep their head warm during chemotherapy, but there are many options.

Wigs and Hairpieces

Several types of wigs and hairpieces are available depending on your budget and individual preference. Options include:

  • Real hair wigs: Wigs made from real hair can look very natural, but are pricier and more difficult to care for. Real hair can be managed much as your own hair and allows for changes in style such as curling and even coloring.
  • Synthetic hair wigs: Synthetic hair is less expensive and is preferred by many, especially those who wish to have a few wigs on hand.

It is often recommended that you choose a wig in a similar or slightly lighter color than you are accustomed to, but this is also a time when you can express yourself in a unique way.

Hats, Caps, Scarves, and Turbans

Caps, scarves, and turbans are becoming more popular as a head covering during chemotherapy. A wide variety of products are available, and they are considerably less expensive than most wigs. These can be more comfortable, especially in the summer and warmer climates, and allow for more diversity day-to-day. They are also less itchy, easier to care for, and less expensive so that you can purchase a variety of products.

Bald Is Beautiful

Some people prefer to go natural and skip head covers altogether. This can be a very comfortable option, especially in warm weather. If you go this route, make sure to protect your head from the sun and cold weather, as significant heat loss occurs through the head.

Tips for Covering Your Head

Many survivors have shared tips on chemotherapy-induced hair loss and head covers that may reduce some of the sadness and add energy to your life at a time when cancer fatigue often reigns. Some of these include:

Make It fun

While cancer is a serious disease, and none of us would choose to have our hair fall out, there are times for humor and joy. Many people choose to shave their head when hair loss becomes steady, and doing so sometimes avoids clogged drains. One woman had her teenage son shave her head but leave a mohawk. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, there are many styles available online. Another woman had her daughter shave her head, but then apply temporary tattoos to most of her scalp. They went to a nearby mall and her daughter videotaped people's reactions to her mother.

In contrast, some people prefer to watch their hair fall out piece by piece, visualizing the chemotherapy doing its job on cancer with each strand. There are many more ideas, and brainstorming options with a good friend can be a joyful experience as well.

Try Funky

Going bald and selecting wigs or other head coverings can be freeing. Not only can you be free of bad hair days (since you can leave your wig on a wig rack where it won't get "bed head"), but you are free to try whatever style you may have simply imagined in the past. Have you always wanted to be a redhead? One very conservative (but with an underlying wicked sense of humor) woman opted for a cap and dreadlocks. Again, there are many ideas online that might get you started, but find a way to make your experience unique, especially if you've always hesitated to lean towards the funky side of things.

Don't Go It Alone

From choosing head coverings to shaving your head if you do so, sharing the experience with another not only reduces the distress, but can also turn a sad and frightening time into a moment of joy. When choosing people to share the experience, think of friends who are comfortable with change and illness. You don't want to find yourself supporting your friend's distress over your hair loss. Often times, people who have experienced cancer themselves or through another loved one can recognize the need for joy and humor, and understand that a person can be joyful and sad at the same time. In fact, learning to live in contradiction in this way may have longstanding benefits to your life after your infusions are done.

Cost and Insurance Coverage

The costs of head covers can vary tremendously, depending on whether you go for an inexpensive scarf, or would rather have a natural wig (or both).

Insurance

Insurance companies often cover a portion or all the cost of a wig (but not other types of hair covers). In order for a wig to be covered, however, you will need to have your oncologist write out a prescription for a “hair prosthesis” rather than a wig.

Options for Free Head Covers

From wigs to scarves, there are many organizations that provide free or lost cost head covers. Many cancer centers and chemotherapy infusion centers offer freebies as well.

Don't be afraid to accept these offerings. After all, cancer is expensive. When you are through with chemotherapy, you may wish to donate your hair covers to someone else. When your beautiful hair grows back, you may even wish to donate hair!

Tips on Coping with Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

Cancer survivors have found several creative ways to cope with chemotherapy-induced hair that go beyond using head covers. One tip that's frequently been shared is to look at the "silver linings" or "good" things that can be found while living with cancer. For women, some people have reframed their distress at losing hair on their head by enjoying the fact they won't need to shave their legs for many months. Others have joked about how losing their hair has saved them money with regard to purchasing shampoo or heading to the stylist.

Most importantly, it's an important reminder that everyone with cancer responds to the various side effects in different ways. For one person, the fear of having nausea is the worst adverse effect, while for others, losing their hair is considered the greatest downfall. It may be of some comfort to you to hear that while cancer leaves us with many side effects, researchers are learning that people who must cope with cancer experience positive changes as well. In other words, living with cancer can change people for the better!

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