Chemotherapy not only damages rapidly dividing cells such as cancer cells but also healthy cells like hair follicles. Some chemotherapy drugs can damage hair follicles, which may lead to hair loss. However, not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss. Your nurse will let you know if the drugs you are receiving can lead to hair loss.

When hair loss occurs, it typically begins two or three weeks after the first chemotherapy treatment. It is normal to have some tenderness and/or itching of the scalp as a result of hair loss. In addition to hair on your head, it’s possible to lose eyebrows, eyelashes, facial hair, pubic hair, underarm hair, and leg hair. The amount of hair loss depends on the specific chemotherapy drug being used in your cancer treatment.

Tips for Coping With Hair Loss

Hair loss is a temporary side effect of chemotherapy. After your chemotherapy treatments are complete, your hair will begin to grow back. In some cases, it may come back different. For example, it may come back curly in someone who had straight hair previously. Hair typically will grow back about 1/2 inch per month.

Here are a few tips to help you cope with the loss of your hair.

  • You may want to cut your hair before it falls out. Some patients feel it is easier to lose their hair if it is short. It also can help make it easier when your hair begins to thin.
  • We recommend that you shop for a wig before your hair is gone, especially if you wish to match your natural hairstyle and color. The American Cancer Society has resources for patients who cannot afford a wig. Also, some insurance companies will pay for a wig if you get a prescription from your doctor for a “head prosthesis”.
  • Consider trying hats or headscarves. We have catalogs available for you to browse through to get ideas.
  • Your scalp may be tender and sensitive, so remember to protect it from the sun by wearing sunscreen, hats, scarves, or wigs.
  • As your new hair grows back, treat it gently. Use mild shampoos and conditioners, and avoid chemicals, bleach, peroxide, or colors.
  • The American Cancer Society’s program “Look Good…Feel Better” is a fantastic program for women going through chemotherapy. Classes are run by professional make-up artists. You will get tips on applying make-up and head coverings, along with a bag of high-end cosmetics. Call 1-800-227-2345 to find a class near you!