Lifespan Cancer Institute

Hair Loss

During chemotherapy some or all of your hair may fall out. Hair loss, also known as alopecia, can happen anywhere on your body. Some types of chemotherapy can affect the cells that cause hair growth. Hair loss can begin as soon as two to three weeks after the start of chemotherapy. Your scalp may be tender. Hair loss may happen a little at a time or in clumps.

Most of the time, your hair will grow back two to three months after chemotherapy is over. Your hair may start to grow back even while you are getting chemotherapy. Your hair may be very fine when it starts growing back. Your new hair may also change in color or texture.

What to do before hair loss:

  • Cut your hair short or shave your head. This can help reduce scalp tenderness and may also help you to adjust to your hair loss. If you shave your head, use an electric shaver and not a razor.
  • If you plan to buy a wig, try to do so before you lose your hair. This will allow you to match the wig to your hair color and have it styled to look like your own hair. Make sure to choose a wig that feels comfortable on your scalp.
  • Ask your nurse or social worker if your insurance covers the purchase of a wig. Free wigs and turbans are available through the American Cancer Association representative at The Miriam's clinic. The clinic also has a list of wig stores in Rhode Island.
  • Be gentle when washing your hair. Use a mild shampoo or baby shampoo and pat dry with a soft towel.
  • Do not use items that could hurt your scalp, like hair dryers, curling irons, hair bands and clips, hairspray, hair dye, or products to perm or relax your hair.

What to do after hair loss:

  • Protect your scalp by wearing a hat, turban or scarf, especially when you are outside. Always apply sunscreen to protect your scalp. Avoid extreme temperatures.
  • Try sleeping on a satin pillowcase. Satin is smooth and may feel more comfortable.