A Guide to Chemotherapy

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Hair loss from chemotherapy

Hair loss can be distressing. But not all chemo drugs will make you lose your hair. Some people have mild thinning that only they notice. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your chemo is likely to cause hair loss.

If you do lose your hair, it will almost always grow back after the treatments are over. But it might be a different color or texture.

You can lose hair on all parts of your body, not just your scalp. Eyelashes and eyebrows, arm and leg hair, underarm hair, and pubic hair all may be affected.

Hair loss usually doesn’t happen right away. More often, it starts after a few treatments. At that point, your hair may fall out slowly or in clumps. Some people shave their heads when this happens. Any hair that remains may become dull and dry.

Things that may help with hair loss:

  • Use mild shampoos.
  • Use soft-bristle hair brushes.
  • Use low heat if you must use a hair dryer.
  • Don’t use brush rollers to set your hair.
  • Don’t dye your hair or get a perm.
  • Have your hair cut short. A shorter style will make your hair look thicker and fuller. It also will make hair loss easier to deal with if it does happen.
  • Use a sunscreen, hat, scarf, or wig to protect your scalp from the sun.
  • Use a satin pillowcase.

Sometimes, either during the regrowth of your hair or when you are bald, your scalp may feel extra tender, dry, and itchy. It may help to keep your scalp clean by using a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Also, use gentle creams or lotions on your scalp as needed. Even a gentle scalp massage may make your scalp feel better.

After chemo, your hair’s texture and fullness may change. Hair dyes contain chemicals that can damage hair. There’s no research that supports hair dye doing more damage to hair after chemo, but most doctors recommend patients do not color their hair until it returns to normal. This may be as long as 6 months after treatment.

Should I cover my head if I lose my hair?

Some people who lose all or most of their hair choose to wear turbans, scarves, caps, wigs, or hairpieces. Others leave their heads uncovered. Still others switch back and forth, depending on whether they are in public or at home with family and friends. Here are tips to follow if you choose to cover your head with a wig or hairpiece:

  • Shop for your wig or hairpiece before you lose a lot of hair so you can match your natural color, texture, and style.
  • You may be able to buy a wig or hairpiece at a specialty shop just for cancer patients.
  • A sales person may be able to come to your home to help you.
  • You can get more tips or even buy a wig or hairpiece through our “tlcTender Loving Care® catalog. Call us for a free copy or visit the “tlcTM website at www.tlcdirect.org.
  • If you would prefer to borrow rather than buy a wig or hairpiece, call us or check with the social work department at your treatment center.

If you need a hairpiece because of cancer treatment, it’s a tax-deductible expense. It may also be at least partly covered by your health insurance. Be sure to check your policy, and ask your doctor to write a prescription for a “hair prosthesis.” Do not use the word “wig” on the prescription.


Last Medical Review: 08/11/2014
Last Revised: 08/24/2014