Fighting Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Kelli Miller on September 2, 2020
  • hair loss
    It’s Not Just Hair
    Of the many challenging symptoms of cancer treatment, hair loss from chemotherapy can be among the most difficult. For women especially, hair is a reflection of health, beauty and style. Losing your hair can be very emotional, both as a change to your personal sense of identity and socially as a public sign of your cancer. Fortunately, there are new technologies available and steps you can take to lower your risk of hair loss during chemotherapy and keep you feeling confident throughout your treatment.
  • Scalp massage
    Protect Your Scalp
    Not all chemo drugs cause hair loss. If yours does, you might not notice your thinning locks right away. But sometimes, clumps of hair suddenly fall out. Your scalp might also feel tender, dry or itchy. Wash your hair only twice a week, using a baby or moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Creams, lotions or a gentle scalp massage helps ease scalp soreness. At night, use a hair net or smooth satin pillowcase to prevent tangles that can cause hair loss.
  • Patient in infusion room smiling
    Cool Your Scalp During Chemo
    Donning a cold cap during chemotherapy can help some women with breast cancer fight treatment-related hair loss. The DigniCap is a snug strap-on hat that's chilled to -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The subzero temps narrow blood vessels in the scalp, so less chemotherapy gets to the hair follicles. This helps prevent or slow the loss of hair. The new cap connected to a continuous cooling unit, unlike older caps which used dry ice and required frequent changing.
  • Barber makes the cut for woman
    Go Natural
    Avoid hair chemicals, such as dyes or perms. They can be damaging to your hair shaft, which makes it hard for healthy hair to grow. They can also make your already sensitive scalp even sorer. Doctors suggest you do not color your hair until six months after cancer treatments. If you can't resist, try semi-permanent dyes. They may be less harsh. Skip the perms until your hair is at least 3 inches or longer.
  • Hair brushes for sale
    Buy the Right Styling Tools
    You want to make sure the things you’re using to style your hair aren't leading to more hair loss. Use a soft hair brush or wide-toothed comb that won't tug and break your hair. Also: Nix the brush rollers. They can get tangled in your hair, causing it to break. Use the lowest heat setting on your blow dryer. Hot air can cause hair to become fragile. It can also lead to more scalp irritation.
  • Hairstylist and client
    Make the First Cut
    Some people with cancer find it's helpful to take control and cut their hair short before any hair falls out. Doctors call this "anticipatory coping." This deliberate move can help ease stress. For example, friends or colleagues will be used to your new style and may not notice any thinning hair. Short hair can also give the look of fuller, thicker locks. Some community programs offer free haircuts for people with cancer. Check with your local cancer society or hospital.
  • Bald woman with cancer in front of graffiti wall
    Make a Bald Statement
    Some people find completely shaving their head before hair loss begins is helpful. This option gives you full control and can prevent the emotional feelings that might have occurred if your hair fell out in clumps here and there. Use an electric razor if you choose this option. Cuts are more likely when using a hand razor. Since chemotherapy makes it harder for your immune system to fight infections, you want to avoid such injuries.
  • Young woman trying on wig in clothes shop, smiling
    Have Fun With Wigs
    A wig can be an enjoyable way to hide your lost locks. Bonus: You can try a new color or style without commitment. Shop for one before your hair starts to fall out so you can find the right fit, color, and texture. Man-made (synthetic) wigs are less expensive and easier to care for than those made of human hair. Wigs and hairpieces needed for cancer treatment may be covered by your health insurance.
  • Smiling Woman with Cancer
    Choose a Quick Coverup
    If the idea of a wig leaves you with a scratchy scalp, try a hat or scarf instead. They are easy options for making your hair loss less noticeable. Guys, try a baseball or golf cap or a stylish fedora. You can even purchase hats with attached hairpieces. Colorful scarves or turbans also help hide hair loss in a fashionable and trendy way. Cotton stays put on a smooth scalp better than silk, nylon or polyester.
  • Woman using eyebrow pencil
    Don't Forget Your Brows
    Remember, chemotherapy causes hair to fall out all over the body, not just on the scalp. That means eyebrows become sparse, too. For a quick fix, shop the makeup aisle for a creamy eyebrow pencil that best matches your natural hair color. With a light hand, draw a few short strokes in place of the missing brows. (Guys, you can do this, too!) Wearing eyeglasses with big frames can also hide your eyebrow area.
  • Japanese doctor talking to patient
    Ask About Medication
    Your doctor may recommend medicine to help your hair grow thicker or slow hair loss. Minoxidil, or Rogaine, is an over-the-counter product that you rub on the scalp to regrow hair. You can also use it on the eyebrows. Some prescription drugs interfere with hormones that lead to baldness. Those used to treat cancer-related hair loss include spironolactone and finasteride. A supplement called biotin may also be helpful. It boosts the production of collagen, a major component in keeping hair strong and thick.
  • Portrait of smiling mature woman in snow
    Growing Your Hair Back
    Your hair may start growing back in before your chemotherapy treatments end. Be prepared for a few changes. Your hair may be a different color. It might feel different, too. The first few strands can break easily. So, take care when brushing to avoid snags that might lead to further damage. It can take several months for your locks to grow back in. Sometimes, it doesn't completely grow back. Keeping your hair short can help it look thicker and stylish.
Fighting Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

About The Author

  1. Hair Loss. American Cancer Society.
  2. Hair Loss From Chemo. American Cancer Society.
  3. Dealing with Cancer Therapy Hair Loss. University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics.
  4. Men, Cancer Treatment & Hair Loss. Cosmetic Executive Women Foundation/Cancer and Careers.
  5. Hair. Look Good Feel Better for Men.
  6. Hair Loss and Your Cancer Treatment. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
  7. Press Release: Dignitana Brings First and Only U.S. FDA-Cleared Scalp Cooling System to Market. Dignicap.
  8. Dinh, Q.Q. Clinical Interventions in Aging. June 2007.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 2
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.