Going through any kind of illness or disease can be a difficult experience. Cancer, especially, can feel overwhelming and frightening. Thankfully, medical advancements have given us effective treatment options. Even if cancer has never affected anyone you know, you probably understand a bit about treatments. You’ll also understand that a dry and itchy scalp after chemotherapy is a common side effect.
Those who have had to experience it can understand that even mild symptoms don’t often feel so small. One such annoyance is an itchy and dry scalp after getting chemotherapy. You may not think of an itchy scalp as such a big deal. But, on top of everything else a chemo patient has to go through, it’s a ‘minor’ frustration that can feel like a big, uncomfortable issue.
If you, or someone you know, has gone through chemotherapy, there are important things to realize about an itchy scalp. First, it’s more common than you may think. Second, it’s treatable – or, at the very least, able to be soothed. But, it’s important to first know why an itchy scalp and chemotherapy go hand in hand.
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What Causes an Itchy Scalp After Chemotherapy?
An itchy and dry scalp following chemotherapy is usually caused by a few specific reasons. While just about anyone can experience an itchy scalp, even when they’re healthy, the reasons for chemo patients are typically different. It doesn’t often have much to do with dry air or cold weather. Or, what brand of shampoo or hair products they’re using.
Instead, an itchy scalp for a person who has just gone through chemotherapy likely has to do with that treatment, itself. So, what points are there to consider about chemotherapy and an itchy scalp?
Skin Cells are Affected
Chemotherapy is designed to affect the cells of your body, so it kills out the cancerous ones. However, as touched on above, it also can cause harm to healthy cells. Cancer may sometimes be localized in the body, but chemo cannot be. Once treatment starts, it goes throughout the whole body. This is to kill off any potential spreading. Or, if the cancer has already moved, the chemotherapy can work everywhere.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder chemotherapy affects your skin cells, as well. And, of course, this includes the skin cells on your scalp. Some people will experience a type of ‘burning’ sensation along with the itch. This can turn from uncomfortable to painful very quickly. Your scalp is more sensitive during this time. So, pain can come faster than before.
If you do experience pain on your head from chemo, and notice itching and flaking that wasn’t there before, try talking to your doctor about it. The pain may be able to be managed via some kind of medical treatment.
Changes to Your Hair
Many people who go through chemotherapy lose their hair. This is a direct result of damage to the cells in your body. Skin cells, nerve cells, and even hair follicles are affected by the treatment. While losing your hair isn’t necessarily a painful experience, it can cause some irritations. Hair falling out suddenly can absolutely contribute to an itchy scalp. It leaves your skin exposed in a way it wasn’t before. And, the damaged cells could be causing that ‘irritated’ feeling.
If hair does fall out after chemotherapy, your skin’s exposure could also be a factor. The skin on top of our scalp isn’t always used to experiencing changes in weather, temperature, sunlight, etc. It could be extremely sensitive, so any subtle changes could lead to itching and irritation.
Because hair loss is a common symptom of chemotherapy, many people choose to take matters into their own hands. If your hair begins to fall out, it will likely do so in clumps, over time. So, a lot of people choose to shave their heads. However, if you’ve never shaved your head before, taking care of it properly can feel like a foreign concept.
Shaving your head can sometimes lead to hair stubble, or even ingrown hairs if the chemo hasn’t caused it to all fall out naturally. If you’ve ever experienced this kind of stubble elsewhere on your body, you know it can be itchy/irritation. It’s no different on your head. Try to practice proper shaving techniques for your hair. This will lessen the risk of irritation, razor burn, stubble, and itching.
How to Soothe Your Itching Scalp
Just as an itchy scalp from chemotherapy is caused by different reasons, the treatment options are slightly different, too. It’s important to be aware of how you treat any type of discomfort or irritation when you have an illness. So, if you feel as though you may want to use a product or treatment that could be ‘harmful’ to your treatment process, consult your doctor first.
However, there are a few things you can do to alleviate an itchy scalp. First, it’s important to differentiate itching and flaking from pain. Some people experience such pain after chemo, that they aren’t even able to wash their hair, or lay on a pillow. Since your scalp is more sensitive, and more exposed than ever, taking the proper precautions to protect it can be a great first step in treatment.
Protect Your Head
If you shave your head after chemo, or you’re losing your hair, start by protecting your scalp. Wear hats as often as possible, especially in sunlight. Even with a hat, protect yourself by using a powerful sunscreen on your scalp before you go outside. Other subtle changes can also help.
- Changing your pillowcases from cotton to satin, for example, can make a difference.
- The way you dry your hair/scalp can matter, too. Instead of rubbing dry with a towel, gently pat it instead.
- Pull your clothes over your head by stretching out the neck a bit, etc.
Anything you can do to protect your scalp from abrasive material, or elements, is a great place to start. These are small changes that can really make a big difference in your comfort level.
Use the Right Products
If shampooing your hair/scalp is becoming painful, there are a few things you can do. First, try skipping a day or two between shampooing. It’s not usually advised to stop altogether. But, making alterations to fit your needs is okay. If frequency doesn’t seem to make a difference, there are other options to consider.
Try using a non-irritating shampoo, such as Christina Moss Naturals Organic Shampoo. The right formula will typically be labeled for sensitive skin/scalp. Non-irritating shampoos are usually all natural, and free of harmful chemicals. Even if you aren’t experiencing an itchy scalp, switching to an organic shampoo can be great for your skin. And, you can feel good about the ingredients.
Additionally, you can try using a hydrocortisone cream on your scalp. Any healing cream should work. Just be sure to read the ingredients, and understand how they might affect your skin. The more natural the ingredients the better, as they are less likely to cause irritation.
There are dozens of effective home remedies for dry/itchy scalp, such as aloe vera. Most of them use natural ingredients you can find in your pantry at any time. So, in most aspects, they are completely safe to use. Don’t be afraid to look up a few to try yourself. As long as you are comfortable with the ingredients and different processes, they could be very helpful. Just remember to look for the most soothing options possible. Things like apple cider vinegar may not work as well for your specific situation.
Healing a Dry & Itchy Scalp after Chemotherapy
Having an itchy scalp after chemo might seem like a small annoyance. But, comfort level can be a big deal for someone having to go through something so invasive. So, being able to heal and restore that comfort is a small way to make things a bit better. Chemotherapy affects the body in many different ways. This results in plenty of symptoms that most people would rather not deal with.
But, once you realize how it can affect your scalp, you can start to take the right precautions, and seek out helpful treatment options to deal with the itching. It may be a small relief, but it will be one less thing to ‘deal with’ after chemotherapy. With the right resources for treating an itchy scalp, you can get through chemo and focus on wellness, instead of an annoying, irritating itch.