Hair, Skin and Hydroxyurea

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was first prescribed an oral chemotherapy the first thing that came to mind was severe nausea and hair loss.  My Hematologist/Oncologist quickly assured me that it is different with oral chemotherapy than with chemotherapy received by IV.  He told me that because it is a lower dose, and received daily, the effects are less severe.  (I still cried the first time I took an Hu dose…I felt like I was intentionally hurting my body)

Well, it may be so that the effects are less severe, but they are still present.  However, they can be addressed.

First of all, Hair.  “You will not lose your hair”, my Hematologist assured me.  After about 6 months, I told him, “I am losing my hair.”  “No, you’re not”, he assured me.  “But it feels so thin”, I protested.  He kept assuring me that No, my hair was not falling out.  I happened to have an appointment to have my hair done.  I have been seeing this particular hairdresser for about 21 years; she’s awesome.  This was the first time that I had seen her since my diagnosis, and I told her about the disease and also my medication.  What she told me was very interesting, and I would like to pass it along.  I told my hairdresser that I was convinced that I was losing my hair, despite the reassurances from my doctor.  She looked at my hair and said, “No, your hair is not thinner as a whole, the hairs themselves just aren’t as thick so it feels like you have less hair.”  Hmmm. Okay, so the number of hairs on my head is the same, just each individual strand of hair is thinner?  Yes.  So, when I pull it back into a ponytail, it feels like a lot less hair, but I haven’t actually lost hair.  No hair is actually falling out.  So the chemo was having an effect, just not the one I’d thought.

The next tidbit she gave me applies to any of you who may color your hair:  She told me that chemotherapy affects the way your hair handles hair coloring.  It’s important to let your hairdresser know if you are on chemotherapy.  Sure enough, my hair color came up much faster than it used to.  Had I not forewarned her, I could have ended up with an unintentional color, or damage to my hair.  Now, on the contrary, the toner that we put on my hair, to take some of the brassiness out of the blonde, shows darker at first than is normal.  It takes about a week to wash it to it’s final effect.  Before the chemo, it didn’t do that.  So, make sure you mention it to your hairdresser if you take chemo.

It does seem like my hair is a lot dryer than it used to be.  Do any of you feel that way?  And conditioner does not work as well as it used to.  Have any of you found a conditioner that works really well on your hair with the chemo?

Now, Skin.  My skin has always been pretty good.  The only issue I had, and it was not a big one, was my hands would get a little dry during the winter, mainly from a combination of the weather and hand washing.  Once I started the Hu, the dryness increased.  My hands got really dry, and my feet…well they got so dry during the winter that it was like I had hard plastic soles on my feet.  Regular moisturizers weren’t enough to help.  Then I bought a product made by Aveeno.  It was new last year, when I first bought it, and I love it.  It is their Intense Relief Repair Creme.  A 16 oz. jar cost me $13.99 at the grocery store and lasted all winter.  It worked wonderfully, and I didn’t even need to use it every day.  Every few days I would slather it on the soles of my feet, pretty thick, right before bed.  Then I would put on a pair of clean socks over the creme and let it soak in while I slept.  The next morning my feet would be baby soft and healthy looking.  Of course, it also helped my hands, because it got rubbed into them while rubbing it on my feet.  And another, unexpected benefit: My feet felt much better after the mini foot massage they received.  I didn’t seem to have as much of an issue with the ‘pins and needles’.  Once summer came, I didn’t need the creme as much, so I simply used a microplane foot file in the shower (also gotten inexpensively at the grocery store).  For my hands, I started purchasing a homemade goats milk soap at the local farmer’s market.  My feet did miss the mini massages during the summer though, and the ‘pins and needles’ increased again.

Now, my face was another matter altogether.  As I said, my skin was always pretty good.  No adult acne, no dryness.  But after taking the Hu for about 6 months, that started to change.  My skin got very dry and itchy on my face.  I tried the goats milk soap…didn’t help.  Other soaps didn’t help.  I tried different moisturizers, and not only did they not work, but they felt so heavy and greasy.  It was like they didn’t want to be absorbed into my skin.  Even the moisturizer I’d been using for about 10 years was suddenly not the same.  My skin kept getting worse.  It got to the point where I had solid scabs, from both blood and lymph, covering my forehead, down my nose, and onto both cheeks.  My skin itched so bad, but just gently rubbing my face would dislodge chunks (and they actually were small chunks, not flakes) of hard skin, leaving behind a small, raw hole which would then scab over.  I wish I had taken pictures so that you could see a ‘before’ image.  Of course, you couldn’t get me near a camera.  In fact, I didn’t even want to leave the house, I was so horrified by what my face was doing.  I finally went online and started looking for cremes for chemo patients, thinking that that was the cause, so maybe there was something made for it.  First, I learned that it is not uncommon for regular face creams to feel greasy and not soak in properly for chemo patients.  After looking at different products, I decided to try a brand called Lindi.  Now, these are specialty products, so yes, they are going to reflect that in the price.  So I was a little wary of just ordering a product and have it possibly not work.  I was happy to see that Lindi had a store locator on their website. My thought was that I could at least try to save on shipping.  After entering my zip code, I was surprised to see that the Cancer Center where I go to see my Hematologist carried the line of products in their boutique.  I had assumed (and we all know what that means) that they only carried wigs and prostheses, since that was all that was visible from the waiting area.  Silly me.  So, after my next blood draw, I stopped by.  The owner of the boutique was wonderful!  She told me that there are several different products that I might find useful, and gave me small samples of three of them: the Body Lotion, Face Serum and Soothing Balm.  For me (and this may be different for anyone else), the face serum did not help at all.  The body lotion seemed to halt the progression of my issue, but the Soothing Balm…well, it was a little miracle in a bottle!  Only two days of trying the product and I was amazed at the difference.  I hurried back and bought a bottle.  A 4 oz. pump bottle of Lindi Soothing Balm cost me $25.  But let me tell you, it is worth every penny!  At first, I was applying it about 4 times a day, being careful to wash my hands first because I had noticed that touching my face with unwashed hands had led to infection on some of the areas.  After about two weeks, I just started applying it before bed, and sometimes in the morning as well.  By the end of the first month, my skin was back to its old self!  No red areas, no scabs, very little itchiness.  There are two small areas that still feel a little hard, but they are getting smaller, and you do not notice them visually.  Plus, the product is very comfortable.  It does not feel greasy, and it soaks right in.  I also want to add that you use very little of the balm each time.  Not even a pea sized drop.  More like a pearl sized drop.  So this little bottle will go a long way.  You can find Lindi’s website Here.  They do have free shipping for orders over $65, but I would suggest using the store locator, and if there is a store near you that carries the line, see if they will give you samples to try.

I hope this information is useful to anyone having similar issues.  If anyone has skin or hair products that they have found to be helpful with the chemo, please leave a comment and let us all know :).


~ by julie70 on February 11, 2010.

10 Responses to “Hair, Skin and Hydroxyurea”

  1. Hello,

    I have ET and have been looking for an ACTIVE blog that deals with this. I hope yours is…..

    • Hi Nina 🙂
      Yes, I am still ‘active’, I am just at a point where my counts have remained stable to I don’t have much new news to post about my experiences. I am trying to keep posting useful information that I find, and in fact I do have a new post that I need to get up. I am also trying to do some of my own research on a topic or two, for new posts, so please keep checking back ;).
      How has your experience been with ET?

  2. Julie, I forwarded you the email about the MPD Support group this Sunday at the Sheraton Novi (I think I said it was at the Hilton on Facebook). I sent it to your “juju” Hotmail account. 21111 Haggerty Rd., Novi – sunday 11:30-1. Ann would like an RSVP : – See ya!

  3. Hi, Julie. I’m working with WEGO Health to create patient videos around MPD & ET and was wondering if you might be interested. If you are and would like some more information, please email me at Cheers!

  4. I had been blogging with Kanetta; however, I’ve lost contact. Glad I found this site. I’m 3 years into by ET experience and I’ve had what I call my “yo-yo” bout with the medication. I began with Angrelide 3 times daily and after 16 months my counts begin a drastic climb. I was then switch to 500mg of Hydrea 2 times daily and that too worked for about 6 months. For the past 4 month is rising, sometimes as much as 172,000. On December 22, my oncologist and I will begin discussing increasing my Hydrea. It’s a very disappointing thought, but I try to remain positive about the situation. I was curious … do other bloggers have a similar “yo-yo” experience with count?

    • Hi, Susan.
      Personally, I haven’t had a yo-yo issue with my counts, except for the couple times my Hem/Onc has tried to lower my dosage. But I haven’t had a dosage work for a while, and then cease being effective. Please keep me, and other readers, updated on what your oncologist decides to do, and whether it works for you.

  5. This is so helpful – I’ve been on hydroxyurea for the last two months since I was diagnosed with ET and I’ve been noticing this itchiness on my shoulder blades, hands and face especially after showering. The upside is that my platelets are down from 2.23 million to 294,000 and I have no other symptoms (well, fatigue, but I’m hoping that I’ll adapt to that). I will be looking for these products as the winter goes on and my skin gets drier. Thanks!

    • Hi Ellen,
      I don’t know if you’ve read through my other posts, but I’ve learned that ET raises your histamine levels. It just so happened that my regular doctor prescribed me an antihistamine (prescription Zyrtec) for my hayfever, and I noticed a huge decrease in my itching. For once, it was bearable. So, I’ve opted to stay on the prescription Zyrtec, even though it doesn’t really help my hayfever, because it DOES help my ET-related itching.
      Now, a drawback to that is that I have read that the human body can build up resistance to specific antihistamines. And, sure enough, my itching has slowly been increasing over the last 6 months or so. But, this is after over a year on the Zyrtec. So, I am going to ask about simply switching antihistamines.
      I have also heard from other ET patients, recently, that some have tried UV light treatments to deal with the itching. They have told me that it has been successful for them. I have not yet tried it, but have discussed it with my doctor and he said we can look into it. He also wondered out loud if a UV light system was something insurance may cover for treatment in the home? Something to look into, perhaps.
      Funny, (or not, I suppose ;)) but I’ve noticed that the lower my dosage, the less dry my skin is, but the more I itch.
      I am also still using – successfully – the Lindi lotion for my face. I love it!

  6. hi there
    my name is john and my wife is on hydrea
    her hair is thinning and falling out .i have seen it
    she is so sressed that i think its compounding the problem .has anyone got any help

    • Hi John,
      Stress can certainly make hair fall out. Has your wife talked to her doctor about this?

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