Many women losing their hair to alopecia areata, or undergoing chemo report that their hair HURTS. Why is that?
Your wig salon and wig stylist knows all about this. Her chemo and alopecia patients tell her how much their scalp hurts when their hair is falling out. She’s heard it before. But why?
According to research, it's inflammation! Either your autoimmune disease or the chemo is causing inflammation coming in from the blood vessels in the scalp. It’s flooding the nerves in the hair follicles and the pain in the follicle feels like it’s the entire strand causing the pain. That’s why if you’re outside and the wind is blowing, it can cause real pain if you’re currently losing your hair! The condition is called trichodynia and can appear with overall hair shedding, with alopecia aerate (patchy hair loss) and chemotherapy-related hair loss.
What you can do:
If you’re undergoing chemo and are working with a wig salon or your cancer clinic, you might consider shaving your head down to ½” length. Don’t shave it all the way down, you could get an ingrown hair (and that would also be painful.) Your hair will grow back with cessation of chemo.
If you’re undergoing alopecia areata shedding, you have to wait this out – you might consider going to your dermatologist for injections (which ALSO hurt) to help arrest the inflammation, but you’ll trade dull ache for acute pain and dull ache. The pain should get better soon after the injections (and the injection pain lessens after a day.) You probably do NOT want to shave your head (since there’s no guarantee your hair will grow back).
“A theory behind the condition is that nerves innervating scalp hair follicles send pain messages back to the brain when the follicle no longer has a hair in it, in a similar way to phantom limb pain.”
Some things that have been reported to help:
- Allegra or Bendadryl (antihistamine). They may also make you drowsy
- Zinc Sulfate (50mg daily, take at night before bed to reduce nausea associated with it). You want to find zinc sulfate, not other forms of zinc.
- Magnesium (take a warm bath in Epsom salts - and add in some lavender or calming essential oils to the salts before you put them in the tub)
- Reducing stress/anxiety through yoga, meditation and mindfulness
- Eat an Autoimmune Protocol Diet with whole foods that are not inflammatory, with an emphasis on mostly plant-based sources of food.
In short, calming the body (and mind) helps calm the scalp and follicles. It may not reduce the hair loss, but at least the pain isn’t adding insult to the injury of hair loss.