Chemotherapy drugs can cause side effects, such as hair loss. This not only affects the hair on a person’s head but also the hair on their body. A person’s hair can become thin and patchy or fall out completely.
There are various steps a person can take to care for thinning hair and cope with hair loss. A person may also be able to reduce hair loss sometimes.
Read on to learn more about chemotherapy and hair loss, including how to prepare for hair loss and how long it lasts.
Chemotherapy targets fast-growing or dividing cells, such as cancer cells, and helps slow or prevent their growth.
Cells in the hair follicles are also dividing cells. Chemotherapy can damage these cells, leading to side effects, such as hair loss.
Hair loss due to chemotherapy generally occurs
A person’s hair may begin to grow back before they finish treatment.
Breastcancer.org states that when hair begins to grow back, it may occur in the following stages after treatment ends:
|3–4 weeks||A person may experience a “soft fuzz.”|
|4–6 weeks||Hair that grows may start to resemble the texture of a person’s hair before treatment.|
|2–3 months||A person may have about 1 inch of hair.|
|3–6 months||A person may have about 2–3 inches of hair.|
|12 months||A person may have about 4–6 inches of hair.|
It is important to note that hair regrowth may be different for each person.
There are various steps a person can take to help prepare for hair loss from chemotherapy,
- speaking with their healthcare team about the likelihood of developing hair loss and how quickly it may occur
- considering cutting their hair short or shaving it off completely
- getting used to a wig before hair loss happens, if a person chooses to wear a wig
- checking if insurance policies cover wigs by using the term “cranial prosthesis”
- buying some turbans, scarves, or hats to help protect the scalp from the sun
A doctor can provide more advice on ways to prepare for hair loss.
Chemotherapy can cause a person’s hair to become thin or sparse. There are certain techniques a person can use to help care for their thinning hair and possibly reduce the amount of hair they lose.
These techniques include:
- avoiding pulling or brushing the hair too much
- brushing the hair gently using a soft-bristled brush or comb
- avoiding bleaching, dying, or perming hair
- not braiding, curling, or straightening hair
- avoiding pulling hair into a ponytail or blow-drying it
- not using rubber swimming caps
- sleeping on satin or silk pillowcases to reduce hair tangling
- protecting the scalp from the sun if hair becomes very thin by wearing hats or sunscreen
- washing the hair every 2–4 days using a gentle shampoo and moisturizing conditioner
It can be difficult for a person to lose their hair during chemotherapy. Hair loss can be a noticeable side effect, which may affect a person’s self-esteem.
A person who loses their hair due to chemotherapy may find seeking support useful. A person may want to talk with the following people about their hair loss concerns:
- family or friends
- a mental health professional
- a social worker at their local cancer center
- in-person or online support groups for people with cancer
A person may find they are more comfortable wearing wigs or scarves to cover their hair loss. Other people may find it easier to shave their hair off themselves before it starts to fall out.
However, cooling caps may cause certain side effects, such as:
- scalp pain
- neck and shoulder discomfort
More research into the benefits of cooling caps is necessary. A person can speak with a doctor to discuss whether a cooling cap could be useful for them.
Here are some frequently asked questions about chemotherapy and hair loss.
What percentage of chemo patients lose their hair?
The number of people who have hair loss due to chemotherapy may vary depending on the type of chemotherapy drug used to treat them.
An older study from 2010 notes that hair loss occurs in around 65% of people who have chemotherapy.
What helps with hair loss during chemo?
Chemotherapy can cause a person to experience thinning hair or hair loss. However, a person’s hair should grow back once they finish their treatment.
There are certain methods a person can use to protect thinning hair due to chemotherapy, such as brushing it gently and avoiding hair dye.
A person may reduce their risk of hair loss due to chemotherapy by wearing a cooling cap. A person can speak with oncology providers to discuss cooling caps and other methods that may help them cope with hair changes during chemotherapy.