Side Effects

Chemo Side Effect: Red, Painful Welts On My Scalp-What Can I Do?

+ CV Skinlabs Team

“I am halfway through my chemo treatments,” says fighter Magister. “I’ve had lots of unpleasant side effects, but the most recent one is that my scalp is covered with these red, bumpy welts that really hurt! I can’t wear a wig and can just tolerate a scarf. Is this normal?”

If you have symptoms like these, you may have what is called “folliculitis,” an infection and inflammation of the hair follicles. The follicles can become red and irritated, and form pus-filled lesions that resemble pimples. And yes, cancer patients and other people with depressed immune systems (such as those with AIDS and organ transplants) are more at risk.

Folliculitis is actually caused by bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus. Fungal and viral infections, or even chemical-based irritation, can also cause it. Cancer patients often experience it on the scalp, but it can also appear elsewhere on the body, like the legs and buttocks. It’s not particularly dangerous, just irritating and uncomfortable.

If you’re dealing with this side effect, first of all, check with your oncologist. He may have a prescription cream or other medication (antibiotics) that will help. Most patients find the doctor’s solutions heal the problem within a few days, so if whatever you try doesn’t work, go see the doctor again. You may also consider seeing a dermatologist, who may recommend topical antibiotics or antiseptic washes.

Next, try the following tips that we’ve gleaned from other survivors. Whatever you do, don’t just suffer in silence. If it is a bacterial or viral infection, it’s important to get it taken care of as quickly as you can.

  • Check your shampoo. If it’s not the most gentle, chemical-free you can find, switch! Many oncologists recommend baby shampoo. Always read labels, however, as not all baby shampoo is safe as you think. We suggest you go for organic, or at least those brands that stay away from parabens and sulfates. Avoid harsh shampoos like dandruff or anti-bacterial types. We like brands like California Baby, which don’t contain toxic chemicals.
  • Try ice packs and frozen veggies to take away the sting, itch, and irritation.
  • Use CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray for immediate, cooling relief. Apply as needed. Over time, this product will help promote healing.
  • Resist scratching! Use an anti-allergy cream like Benadryl when needed, or try some mashed oatmeal and yogurt combined into a paste. Very soothing!
  • Clean your scalp periodically with a hydrogen peroxide/water solution to kill bacteria and cleanse the infected areas.
  • Some fighters have good luck with tea-tree oil, applied directly to the infected areas. Just be sure you’re not allergic to the oil, first.
  • The Mayo Clinic recommends a wet compress made with white vinegar.
  • Try to keep your scalp as dry as possible. If you can, abstain from wigs for a day or two, as they can trap heat and oils on the skin.
  • Use warm compresses several times a day to soothe, cleanse, and help the area drain.
  • Always wash your hands before and after touching your head to avoid spreading the infection. Use a clean washcloth and towel each time you wash your scalp.
  • Take a break from oily creams and/or cosmetics as they can clog pores and leave more room for bacteria to grow and the infection to spread.

Have you experienced this side effect? Have any tips for our readers?

Photo courtesy giusma via