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How can I relieve chemo scalp pain and sensitivity?

29 answers | Last updated: Jun 16, 2015
Elaine asked...

I just had my first chemotherapy for lung cancer. One side effect is scalp pain. It is so bad that I can barely lie on a pillow. Gentle washing hurts horribly. Is there ANYTHING I can do to relieve this or decrease the sensitivity? Please answer soon. This is really to the point that along with the nausea, I'm considering stopping all future sessions.


Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for Caring.com's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate...
86% helpful
Melanie Haiken answered...

Just as chemotherapy drugs cause hair lossby damaging the fast-growing cells of the hair follicles, they can also damage the skin cells of the scalp. And of course the See also:
Why do eyelashes grow in and fall out since chemotherapy?

See all 200 questions about Chemotherapy
scalp is now less protected thanks to the hair loss. Sensitivity is a common problem as a result; in addition many cancer patients report itching or flaking. It sounds like the symptoms you are experiencing are very severe, however, and I suggest you call your doctor to discuss them. It's possible you are having an allergic reaction to one of the medications you are on, such as a steroid, and your doctor needs to know.

If you haven't already, you might find it helps to shave your head. Many cancer patients find this more comfortable than dealing with dry, thinning hair and itchy stubble. Also, make sure you protect your scalp with a hat or sunscreen at all times.

Doctors generally advise that you continue to shampoo, but if this is causing you so much discomfort you could try washing less often. If you haven't already, you need to switch to a non-irritating shampoo free of perfumes or dyes. Pat dry gently rather than rubbing with a towel. If this isn't enough, try rubbing an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream on your scalp.

Doctors and nurses often recommend replacing your normal cotton or linen pillowcase with a satin one, or one made from smooth cotton sateen, as even the texture of regular cotton cloth can irritate a sensitive scalp. Read more suggestions here.


More Answers
44% helpful
k8eekatt answered...

I am getting chemo now too, and my skin has been sensitive in several areas. Surprisingly, Desitin has been such a relief. It is nearly impossible to remove with soap and water so I recommend you put a tiny bit on somewhere that is not too irritated before you slather it on. See how it feels after 24 hours. I have found it to be such a relief I am using it liberally at this point, but it would be a nightmare to get it lathered on there and find it irritating and then not be able to wash it off well.


33% helpful
stagefour answered...

I hope you got some helpful answers. this is my second time thru chemo and seriously if you are losing the hair anyway shave it. that was the only way of releif for me. each time I got to the end of a round and hair would start falling out I had pain. I shaved and it relieved the pain. God Bless you!


9% helpful
wopbaby answered...

Tumeric is known for helping significantly with the side effects of chemotherapy. Eastern India has the lowest rate of prostate cancer in the world because they take it every day. I found it on-line in pill form for my husband's prostate cancer which spread into his lymph nodes and bones. But I found a better type of tumeric in pill form at the local "veggie" store which sells upscale vitamines not found on-line or in drugstores. This tumeric is 4x more potent than the "regular" pill and you need at least 500mg or preferably more a day to combat the side-effects. The product is "Source Natural" "Meriva Turmeric Complex" I hope this helps and wish you all the best.


36% helpful
Roberta15 answered...

This is a dangerous piece of advice. TURMERIC is fine to try to prevent cancer and possibly AFTER chemo but it causes a block to apoptosis which means, it will interact with the chemo and SHOULD NOT BE TAKEN DURING CHEMO!!!!!!! You can look it up, my surgeon warned me not to.... and do not advise something which you know nothing about medically!


38% helpful
Eva Morais answered...

I started with the scalp pain. To get rid of the pain, my hair was white and short. so, I took the scissors and trimed my hair where it hurt the most voila...no more pain.


25% helpful
dustyroth answered...

Try putting organic aloe and emu oil in equal ratios into a bottle and apply that after showers and whenever you think of it.

If you need more moisturizing, get some pure organic shea or cocobutter (about 7 oz)from the healthfood store and melt it gently in warm water. Pour it into a mixer and slowly pour in 8 oz organic aloe and 2-3 oz pure emu oil.

Both formulas also help with radiation after-care, especially if the site is kept damp with a cotton hat (for head) or a similar cotton that fits the area afftected by treatment.


43% helpful
robemi answered...

Your scalp is hurting because the roots have died and your hair is about to fall out (I found it starts hurting about 4 days before it starts falling out). Simple solution, go to a hairdresser and get them to clip it off. It doesn't hurt after that, except if you have stubble left, you get a velcro effect with some materials pulling on it such as your pillow case.


40% helpful
MsDebi answered...

I actually had some "chemo burn" on my scalp along with very sensitive scalp. My home health nurse suggested Silvadine ointment and it is very soothing. You need a prescription, but it works really well.

Hope this helps.


60% helpful
alvacado answered...

I too, have a very sensitive scalp, and I have shaved my head to the skull. Feels like any contact "against the grain" of hair growth is like tiny splinters or being abraded by a scouring pad. Hats hurt, scarves rubbing on it hurts, tried the satin pillow case, and still feel discomfort, but then I can take meds to relax and go to sleep. The best thing is fleece--soft enough to have a buffer when the material doesn't quite touch the skin. But it's still tender to pressure of any kind. Truly, the only thing is not wearing anything that touches my scalp and taking motrin or something stronger.


40% helpful
myhair answered...

I had the painful hair folicles after my first or second treatment (super painful). I shaved myself bald and the rest of the Chemo sessions were fine-->until it was all over and my hair grew back. My hair folicles are painfull again and it has been about two years now. Nothing I do will releave the pain. I am not optimistic for you.


rc111 answered...

I had painful scalph after I shampooed my hair 10-12 hrs later when trying to sleep (like my hair was being pulled by someone). I used just a creme renise/conditioner with warm water in the shower and let it remain there for @ 15min then rinsed it with cool water. Then I patted my hair to dry-off excess water then put on a style gel (Spike It) and just let it set in my hair as usual. One hour later I was able to sleep and had little to no pain.


17% helpful
hannah127 answered...

You might have what I have: folliculitis. Two of the chemo nurses at the center where I have treatment suggested that I try Benedryl (pill form) and corizone cream. They also suggested vinegar and a satin pillowcase for the pillow that I rest my head on at night. I cut my hair as short as I could and plan to shave my head later this week because, according to one of the chemo nurses, my remaining hair (which isn't much) also might cause additional itching. BTW, I also wash my hair every day with diluted baby shampoo and rub my scalp gently with my finger pads, which seems to help a lot with the inflammation. (Make sure you pat dry your hair and scalp.) My scalp still itches, but it isn't nearly as bad as it was prior to following the nurses' advice.


29% helpful
Hairless Crotonite answered...

I'm in chemo now too. It's unglamorous, but the best thing I have found is putting ice cubes and a little water in a gallon-size baggie and putting it on my head, with a tea towel directly on my scalp to protect my scalp from the cold. It may look funny and I don't wear it outdoors but in the house it gives me great relief. This is a difficult and painful but temporary side-effect. Discontinuing your treatment because of this may be a life-threatening mistake. Discuss your distress with your doctor. Best of luck.


14% helpful
Thorny Rose answered...

After 3 weeks of Taxol, I am losing my hair. I was advised not to shave my head, because the stubble can be even more irritating. I cut my hair very short and found the following to really help with the painful scalp. Each day, wash you short hair with a stimulating shampoo to sooth the scalp. I found terax-Bosco with eucalyptus & peppermint to sooth. Use a sink with a strainer to collect hair. Gently pat with towel. Put tissue over sink and comb scalp gently over sink with a fine tooth comb. This helps to stimulate and collect hair. I do this everyday before putting on my wig. It really helps.


20% helpful
Phoebe47 answered...

I read the post that suggested using Desitin on the scalp, and as I have always preferred A&D Ointment with my children when they were babies, that's what I tried. The cream doesn't leave much residue on my scalp, and it soothes for about 2 hours. Thank you so much kBeekatt for the suggestion!


20% helpful
Thorny Rose answered...

I know it feels like this pain on your scalp will never end, but please believe me, it will. Your doctor should try different medicines to stop the nausea. My hair is slowly growing back even though I'm still on adriamycin. My growth is shrinking. Shakes with protein powder is important right now, no spicy foods. It is so important to continue with your treatments and destroy the cancer.


33% helpful
csmith505 answered...

I am presently in preventative chemo treatments as a result of breast cancer. The surgeon was able to remove all of the cancer and there was no cancer in my lymph nodes; however, my MammaPrint test indicated that there is a 29% chance that I will get cancer again in the next 10 years. So my oncologist encouraged 4 chemo treatments in addition to radiation. About two weeks after my first chemo treatment, my hair started falling out. It got to the point where my scalp was extremely painful. Today I got my head shaved and it feels much better. I wanted to quit treatments too. I am a newlywed and it's hard to be bald and not feel like myself but feel I must try to catch any cancer cells that might be at work in my body.


100% helpful
pamshazaam answered...

I'm on chemo now and had that problem. I felt so much better after I shaved it. If you are going to lose your hair just take control and do it yourself! It is empowering :) I'm a 38 year old woman and never thought I could do this!


Cheryl's answered...

I have migraines 24/7. The quick stabbing variety that tend to leave me stunned at times with pain.
My scalp is so sensitive I use a hair pick to 'comb' my hair and even that movement can be horrible. Guess going really short and having the slick look from using hydrocortisone may be the best option. Any one got other ideas? Thanks


Linda2005 answered...

I also went thru chemo for lung cancer. I shaved my head as soon as my hair started dying and used Nioxin scalp therapy the entire time. It is medicated and helped ease the scalp pain and felt really good. I would put a thin amount on my head at night also and then cover with a cotton skull cap. That helped the pain trying to lay on the pillow. My hair grew back healthy and I know it was from using Nioxin. It is great! Good Luck - stick with the chemo - I am 9 years cancer free!


Nonnie 2014 answered...

I had my first chemo for breast cancer and within 2 weeks my scalp was on fire and my hair began to slowly fall out. I remembered that I had a small amount of Wen shampoo/conditioner with pomegranate which is made with all natural ingredients and doesn't lather. It was such a relief. It cooled my scalp immediately. The next day my scalp was starting to feel aggravated again so I used what was left and bought some more. There are other types of Wen more specific to calming the scalp.


Bed Rock Betties answered...

I had cancer 8 years ago and taking my hair off was the only answer. At this point ladies..who cares what people think about being bald. ITs about your comfort. My sister is now battling breast cancer and just did her 1st chemo treatment and the pain on her scalp has been bad. It feels very itchy and the caps have only irritated her head worse. Shaving is the best answer. This look is only temporary so show your head with pride. Congrats to all you strong women who have beaten your illness!


Eileenny1 answered...

I am in my 4rd of chemo for stage 4 breast cancer .and this is the second time my hair has fallen out It had started to grow back because of. a change i chemo drugs. the best thing I found was to shave the hair. off and use Gentle. Natural made by Disney for Cradle Cap. Care for infants Its about 7$ At Kinnys drugs comes in green tube and it is very soothing and heals the rash and flaking too.Good luck to you Dontvgive up


50% helpful
rfrakes answered...

You can get Lidocaine (Xylocaine) ointment that will put your pain receptors in your skin to sleep. This might feel odd, but better than the pain. Of course asking your oncologist for this would determine if it should be prescribed with your treatment therapy.


Peekay answered...

I liked the idea of lidocane. So, I sprayed solarcaine on my fingers and gently patted it in the sore areas. It felt so wonderful, that I parted my hair and went wild! Sprayed it directly on my scalp and it is so cool and refreshing. I got my hair pretty wet, so I wrapped it in a silk scarf. I'm so excited to put my head on my pillow!!


Jay you answered...

All these wonderful helpful hints for my scalp have been fantastic. I'm just about to have my second treatment & not a sole has informed me of these symptoms ???? wish me luck, I will post x