Hair loss is a common side effect of chemo and radiation therapy. How you decide to handle it is a personal choice.

You may choose to cover your head with a scarf, hat, or wig. If you decide to wear a wig, there are several types to consider. Ideally, you’ll want to select one in which you feel comfortable and confident.

Read on to learn more about wigs for chemotherapy and narrow down your choices.

Hair loss from chemotherapy depends on the types and doses of drugs you receive. Hair loss from radiation depends on the part of the body being treated, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Usually, hair loss occurs a few weeks after your first chemotherapy treatment, though it may not happen until after the second cycle. Your oncologist can let you know if your treatment is likely to cause hair loss and provide a timeline of what to expect.

If your doctor confirms that you will lose hair, you can start to prepare. Some people cut their hair short, while others shave their heads. You may opt to wear a mesh cap to catch falling hair. If you have long hair, you can look into selling or donating it.

It’s important to remember that hair loss from chemotherapy is temporary, according to the American Cancer Society. Sometimes, small amounts of hair will grow back between sessions. After the treatments, it’s likely that your hair will start to grow back within a few months.

It may grow back in a different color, texture, or thickness. For example, it may be more curly, straight, thick, or fine. Often, these changes are temporary, and your hair returns to its pre-chemo state after a while.

To prevent some hair loss, you can wear a cold cap during chemotherapy treatments. This may slow the blood flow around your hair follicles and reduce how much chemotherapy reaches them.

However, cold caps may not be appropriate in all treatment instances. They can also come with a high cost and negative side effects. Speak with your oncologist if you’re interested in learning more about this option.

In addition to hair loss, chemo may cause increased scalp itchiness, irritation, and sensitivity, so treat your hair and scalp gently. Sleep on a silk pillowcase, brush your hair with a soft bristle hairbrush, and use gentle hair products. Avoid chemicals, dyes, and heat treatments.

There are many factors to think about when selecting a wig.

For example, ask yourself:

  • How often will you wear it?
  • How long will you use it?
  • How much money do you want to spend?

It’s also a good idea to consider the climate around you, especially if you live somewhere with frequent hot or rainy weather.

Decide if you want a full or partial wig. You can also opt to attach bangs, side pieces, and ponytails to any remaining hair or head coverings. Think about potential accessories, including scarves, barrettes, and clips.

If you want to wear a wig that’s in line with your current hairstyle, snap a few pics of your current hair and bookmark recent photos. Cut a lock of hair to represent your desired wig color. Always use natural light to compare wigs to your hair sample.

If you decide to try out a new style, color, or length, gather a collection of photos to use for inspiration. You can have a chat with your hairstylist for tips, ideas, and insights. In fact, buying a wig can be a great way to try out a new look.

To ensure a proper fit, wet or slick down your hair before measuring your head. If possible, select an adjustable wig in case your head size changes. Some wigs have a cushioned grip band that reduces heat and adds comfort, especially if the chemo increases scalp sensitivity.

Wigs vary according to the materials and construction.

Synthetic wigs

Synthetic wigs are often affordable and durable. They require minimal styling and keep their color well.

Synthetic wigs take 8 to 12 hours to dry, so plan your washes accordingly.

Human hair wigs

Human hair wigs are more expensive but can look and feel more natural than synthetic options. They also last longer and offer more styling options, as they’re easier to dye, cut, and style. On the downside, they respond to weather and fade in sunlight, so they require more upkeep.

According to, wig construction options include:

  • Basic. Wefted wigs are made of rows of hair strands that are sewn onto fabric. Temperature-wise, they are the coolest option, plus they offer volume. Wefted wigs are the cheapest type, costing around $75 to $150.
  • Lace front. This option features a sheer lace fabric with hand-tied hair at the front hairline for a more natural look with movability. Prices range from around $150 to $200. Custom lace front wigs will cost more.
  • Monofilament. These wigs are made by hand-tying hairs into a lace wig cap for a natural look that’s easy to style. They’re cool, lightweight, breathable, and feature a less voluminous look. You can buy a full wig or just a crown, part, or top. They cost around $200 to $300.

You can buy a wig in person at a local shop or from an online retailer. Consider requesting advice from oncologists, nurses, or social workers at your treatment center. You can also talk with your hairstylist.

Shopping in person allows you to make sure you get the right fit and to see how the wig looks before you buy it. Plus, you can visit the shop if you need to have the wig resized or refitted.

If you prefer privacy, check to see if the shop offers private one-on-one services. Find out if it’s possible to try on and return wigs where you live, since health regulations vary by area.

Also, if you have insurance, explore if your policy covers wigs. For example, some plans cover them if you have a cranial prosthesis or hair prosthesis wig prescription.

Original Medicare parts A and B don’t regard wigs as a medical necessity and won’t cover them. Meanwhile, certain private Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans cover wigs, though coverage plans vary.

Keep in mind that you may be able to claim a wig as a tax-deductible expense.

Wigs require upkeep and maintenance.

After you buy your wig, you may have your hairstylist trim and style it to your liking. If using products, combs, and brushes, only use those designed for wig care.

Wash your wig every 10 to 14 days. If using hair products, you may need to wash it more frequently. Use cool water when shampooing, since hot water may cause any glue to melt. Afterward, use a towel to blot it and spray it with a conditioner. Place the wig on a stand to dry.

Do not dye your wig or use any type of heat treatment. If you choose to use a blow-dryer, use only the cool setting. During storage, keep your wig on a stand away from heat, dust, and humidity. You may wish to cover it to keep it protected when not in use.

Do I need to wear a wig cap under a wig?

You can wear a wig cap under your wig to add comfort, protect your scalp, and smooth out your hair.

However, if it feels too hot, tight, or uncomfortable, you can go without one.

Where can I find free or inexpensive wigs?

Some charitable organizations help people with cancer find free or inexpensive wigs. Consider contacting:

  • American Cancer Society
  • CancerCare
  • Verma Foundation
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society
  • Sierra Vista Butterfly Club
  • Wigs and Wishes

Undergoing chemotherapy is likely to be a sensitive time, so be easy on yourself.

Make sure you prepare for potential hair loss and have an idea of your wig preferences — including the type of materials, construction, and style.

It’s natural to experience a range of emotions during chemotherapy. Do your best to honor and acknowledge your feelings throughout the process.

For additional help and advice, reach out to a trusted loved one, contact a health professional, or join a support group.