For many, hair removal plays a significant role in their beauty regime. During cancer treatment or recovery, however, hair removal presents many challenges. The immune system and skin are severely impacted which leaves the skin in a fragile state. Many techniques used in hair removal is performed with friction or heat which can cause trauma or tear the skin which can lead to infections. It is important for a skin care therapist to be informed of any cancer-related treatments before considering hair removal (before, during and after).
Speak with your oncologist before surgery regarding safe methods of hair removal, especially if surgery will be in an area covered with hair. Waxing may cause irritation, rashes or sores on the skin.
- Depending on the type and amount of chemotherapy received, not everyone will lose hair. There may be thinning or even partial hair loss.
- Hair removal treatments are not recommended due to the possibility of upsetting an already compromised immune system.
- Waxing may be painful at this time. Skin tissue can become dry, thin, bruise, tear easily, and cause inflammation. Waxing may also disturb melanin production which can lead to hyperpigmentation or loss of pigment.
- Shaving is a great concern because it can cause irritation or nick the skin. Shaving can also lead to folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle). During chemotherapy, a client may not be receptive to certain fragrances in shaving cream and this, too, may cause irritation. Depilatories should not be used.
- Tweezing is relatively safe but remember to use a sterile instrument and do not break the skin.
- Hair loss does not usually occur or if it does, it may be localized. The hair loss can be temporary or permanent depending on the amount of radiation received and the number of sessions. When hair regrows, it may be thinner and of a different texture.
- Some individuals may develop fibrosis (excess fibrous connective tissue) which may enable hair to grow resulting in the death of the hair follicle.
- Waxing is ill-advised. A person may experience neuropathic pain and their threshold to pain may be intensified making waxing extremely painful. Nerve endings on some individuals are more sensitive while others experience a loss of sensation.
- Shaving may be done using an electric razor in the area of localized hair growth. Depilatories may be used as long as it does not irritate the skin.
Currin, M. (2017, February). Skin Inc., “Removing hair during cancer care”, pp. 44-49.