Hair loss is a common — but usually temporary — side effect of some cancer treatments. Discover more about chemo hair loss and how to manage it.
Chemotherapy can help stop the spread of cancer for many people living with the disease. It can also cause side effects, including hair loss.
Chemo-related hair loss can be a source of stress. Getting more information about it may help you feel better prepared.
Here are seven facts about hair loss from chemotherapy, including strategies to manage it.
Some types of chemotherapy are more likely to cause hair loss than others. Talk with your doctor to learn if hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy medications you’ve been prescribed. Your doctor can help you learn what to expect and when to expect it.
In most cases, hair loss begins within 1 to 4 weeks of starting chemotherapy, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The degree of hair loss can vary, depending on the type and dose of chemotherapy medication you receive.
Most of the time, hair loss from chemotherapy is temporary. If you experience hair loss as a side effect, your hair will probably start to grow back within a few months of you finishing treatment.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says you can expect your hair to grow back in 3 to 5 months.
According to BreastCancer.org, you may see soft fuzz 3 to 4 weeks after finishing treatment. And in 2 to 3 months, your hair may grow 1 full inch.
To help your hair grow back strong, treat it gently. In the early stages of hair growth, avoid coloring or bleaching it. It might also help to limit the use of heated hair tools.
When your hair grows back, it might be a slightly different color or texture than it was before. Those differences are usually temporary, too.
Wearing a scalp cooling cap during chemotherapy infusions might help prevent hair loss. These caps are thought to slow the flow of blood to your scalp. This may limit the amount of chemotherapy medication that reaches your scalp, reducing its effects on your hair follicles.
Recent breast cancer studies, such as a 2019 Japanese study and a 2019 Italian study, found that scalp cooling caps help reduce the risk of hair loss in people undergoing chemotherapy.
Some studies have suggested that these caps might increase the risk that cancer will develop in the scalp later on. However, a 2017 literature review found the rate of cancer recurrence in the scalp was low among breast cancer survivors. This was true whether people wore the caps or not.
There are some minor side effects of scalp cooling caps. Some people develop headaches while wearing them, get the chills, or find them uncomfortable to wear.
Treatments are also expensive and unlikely to be covered by health insurance. They can cost a few thousand dollars on average, according to the
Shorter hair often looks fuller than longer hair. As a result, hair loss might be less noticeable if you have a short hairstyle. If you typically wear your hair long, consider cutting it before you begin chemotherapy.
After you start chemotherapy, hair loss might make your scalp feel itchy, irritated, or sensitive. Shaving your head may help ease the discomfort. Many people also prefer the look of a cleanly shaved head to partial hair loss.
If you feel self-conscious about hair loss, wearing a head covering might help. From scarves to hats to wigs, there are many options. These coverings can also protect your head from exposure to sunlight and cold air.
If you think you might want a wig that matches your natural hair color, consider buying it before you begin chemotherapy. This may help the wig shop better match the color and texture of your hair. Try on different styles until you find one you like.
If you have health insurance, it might partially or fully cover the cost of a wig. Consider calling your insurance provider to learn if the cost is covered. In order to receive reimbursement, you’ll probably need to ask your doctor for a prescription for a cranial prosthesis.
Some nonprofit organizations also help fund the cost of wigs for people in need. Ask your cancer care center or support group for more information about helpful resources.
Chemo-related hair loss affects people in different ways.
For many people, it can be distressing. If you find it difficult to cope with hair loss or other aspects of your treatment, consider joining an online or in-person support group for people with cancer. This will give you the opportunity to talk about your experiences and learn from others who are facing similar challenges.
You might also be interested in connecting with style experts who can help you manage any concerns you have about your appearance.
For example, the Look Good Feel Better program offers free workshops and other resources to help people with cancer learn about topics, such as wigs, cosmetics, and skin care.
Hair loss is a common side effect of many chemotherapy regimens, but there are ways to manage it. Talk with your cancer care team about whether you can expect to experience hair loss as a result of your treatment.
If it’s an expected side effect, you can consider how you want to handle it. You might decide to try a short haircut, look into using scalp cooling caps, or start the process of choosing a wig.
Explore all of your options and make the choices that feel right for you.