How to deal with hair loss

Hair loss is a common side effect of many chemotherapy drugs and radiation used to treat cancer. How much hair you lose and how long you will lose it depends on the types of drugs used and the areas of radiation.

For many people, hair loss is one of the most difficult side effects of cancer treatment because it affects their self-image and quality of life. Remember—everyone's experience is different and that hair loss caused by chemotherapy is usually not permanent.

General information

  • Hair loss can start anywhere from seven to 21 days after treatment.
  • Hair will usually fall out gradually or in clumps.
  • Any hair still growing may become dull and dry.
  • Your hair will start to grow back when you are finished with your treatments.
  • It may take up to six to 12 months to grow back completely.
  • Hair may grow back with a different color or texture.
  • You may also have hair loss from other parts of your body, such as eyebrows, eyelashes and genital area.
  • Radiation to the head may cause permanent hair loss.
  • Get a wig or hairpiece before your hair falls out.
  • The purchase of a wig or hairpiece is tax-deductible. Some insurance companies may cover the cost—check your policy.
  • Consider borrowing a wig or hairpiece.
  • Try hats, turbans and scarves for hair coverings.

How to manage hair loss

  • Use mild shampoos.
  • Use soft hairbrushes.
  • Avoid hair dryers or use the lowest heat setting.
  • Cut your hair short. This makes the hair look thicker and fuller and it will also make hair loss easier to manage if it occurs.
  • Avoid permanents or hair coloring at this time.
  • Be sure to cover your head or use sunscreen (SPF 15) when exposed to sunlight.
  • Cover your head in winter to prevent heat loss.

Hair loss from chemotherapy or radiation can be hard to accept.It's common and normal for both women and men to feel angry or depressed about this outward sign of their illness. Remember that preparing yourself in advance can enhance the quality of your life during and after treatment.

Talk with your nurse if you have any other questions about hair loss.

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, How To Deal With Hair Loss, can-ahc-10736 (4/07)
First Published: 04/15/2007
Last Reviewed: 04/15/2007