12 Ways to Handle Hair Loss From Chemotherapy

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 03, 2023
3 min read

Not all drugs that treat cancer cause hair loss, but many of them do. The good news is that it’s almost always temporary. Here are 12 things you can do while you wait for your locks to grow back.

Get informed. Not all drugs will affect your hair the same way. Some only cause gradual hair thinning. Others may cause your hair to fall out in clumps. Make hair loss less scary by asking your doctor what exactly will happen.

Prepare your family. Depending on their age, children may be scared or even embarrassed by your hair loss. Let them know what to expect and why your treatment is so important. The more positive you can be, the better they’ll react.

Go easy on your hair. To slow down hair loss, stay away from shampoos that contain strong fragrances, alcohol, or salicylic acid. For now, don’t color, perm, or chemically straighten your hair. Don’t use rollers, curling irons, or straightening irons. Use a soft-bristle hairbrush, and instead of using a blow-dryer, let your hair air-dry.

Try a shorter style. Shorter hair doesn’t lie flat against your head, so it can make your hair look thicker and fuller. (It’s also easier to manage under wigs.) If you choose to shave your head, use an electric shaver or have it done at a barbershop. Plastic razors can cut your scalp.

Take care of your skin. As you lose your hair, your scalp may get tender or itchy. Some people even feel a tingling sensation. A moisturizing shampoo and conditioner can help, as will a gentle lotion you massage into your scalp.

Rest easy. Wearing a soft cap or turban around your head at night can help collect loose hair as it falls out. Don’t braid your hair or put it into a ponytail since both can tug on it. A silk pillowcase will also reduce friction when you’re asleep.

Cover up. A scarf or hat when you go outside will shield you from the cold. If you choose not to wear one, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your scalp to protect against sunburn.

Consider a wig or hairpiece. If you decide to wear one, do your shopping at the beginning of your treatment so you can match the natural color, texture, and style of your hair. A hairpiece is a tax-deductible expense, and many health insurers will cover some of the cost if your doctor writes you a prescription for a “hair prosthesis.” Sometimes, you can even rent them. Check with your treatment center.

Make the most out of your appearance. Buy a new pair of earrings or a pretty, colorful scarf. Women may want to use makeup like an eyebrow pencil or fake eyelashes to play up other features.

Ask your doctor about “scalp cooling.” A tight cap filled with cold gel reduces hair loss for some people. The temperature narrows blood vessels underneath the scalp, limiting the amount of medicine that reaches hair follicles.

Talk about it. It’s normal to feel anxious, depressed, or self-conscious about losing your hair. And women often have a harder time with it than men. A support group can connect you with others going through the same thing. They can share your feelings and offer advice.

Be patient. Most people notice their hair growing back within a few weeks to months after they’ve finished chemotherapy. Many times, it’s a different color or texture, but this change is usually temporary.