Return to Previous Page

Worried About Cancer-Related Hair Loss?

Here are some tips to help you cope with this (usually temporary) change in your appearance.


Knowledge image

For many people, the loss of one’s hair can be one of the most emotionally upsetting aspects of coping with cancer. It is, of course, a visible sign of the presence of your illness. Every day, as you look in the mirror, you are reminded that you have cancer, and that your life has been disrupted in many, many ways. You don’t look like yourself, even to yourself, and having to adjust to a dramatically changed appearance can take a toll on even the strongest survivor.

The good news for people facing cancer-related hair loss is two-fold:

  • First, there are effective ways to cover your head, if you choose.
  • Second, for almost all people, hair begins to grow back several months after your chemotherapy treatment ends. While this hair initially may be of a different texture and even different color than your original hair, this difference is usually temporary.

The best response to expected hair loss is to plan; preparedness makes this experience less frustrating. Take these steps to help reduce your anxiety and sense of loss.

Get your wig before you lose a lot of your hair.
Many insurance companies will cover all or part of the cost of a wig (hair prosthesis) if it is prescribed by a physician as part of cancer treatment. Unfortunately, Medicare will not pay for wigs. If you must pay for your own wig, remember that it is a medical deduction for tax purposes.

Have your hair cut short before it falls out. It will make cleaning up after your falling hair a bit easier.

If the expense of a wig is a concern, it may be possible for you to purchase or borrow a wig through the services provided by the American Cancer Society. Contact your local chapter for information and help. Speak with your hospital oncology social worker for additional resources and ideas; some hospitals also have wigs available.

Ask your social worker or hospital staff for names of hair care professionals who work with wigs for people with cancer; they will be best able to help you select, cut, and manage a wig. Plan to spend time selecting your wig, trying on numerous possibilities until you are satisfied that you’re comfortable with your appearance. Bear in mind that it can take a few weeks for a custom-made wig to be ready … so plan ahead in selecting yours so it will be ready in ample time.

Talk with wig professionals about the various advantages and disadvantages of different kinds of wigs. Each requires a different level of care from its owner – and this may be a consideration as you go through treatment.

Even if you think you may not want to wear a wig, consider purchasing one “just in case.” Some people choose to wear their wigs only some of the time, such as in workplace or social situations, and go bareheaded or use a scarf other times. This is, of course, a very personal decision – but if you lack a wig or other hair covering when your hair initially falls out, your choices are limited at this critical time.

Be gentle with your hair as it falls out.
Have your hair cut short before it falls out. It may make your remaining hair look thicker for a while, it will make fitting a wig easier, and it will make cleaning up after your falling hair a bit easier.

Many insurance companies will cover all or part of the cost of a wig.

During the period before your hair falls out, use mild shampoo and conditioner, and dry your hair on very low heat. Consider letting it air-dry if possible. Avoid using curling irons, curlers, and even hair ornaments. If possible, avoid having your hair dyed.

Be considerate of your newly uncovered scalp. As your hair thins, your scalp becomes vulnerable to the sun. Wear a hat or scarf outdoors. Sunblock helps, too.

Explore options beyond a wig.
Many people who choose to cover their heads most of time choose to wear scarves, turbans, or hats. Going without covering of any kind is always an option – although a chilly one in colder climates.

When your hair begins to grow back in (usually several months after chemo ends), take special care with it.
Your new hair, which may have a different texture and color than your hair did before chemo, will be delicate and often fine in texture. Use very gentle shampoos and light conditioners. Wait several months after regrowth begins to have your hair dyed or to have a permanent; discuss this with your hairdresser. If your scalp is still sensitive, coloring hair and getting a permanent may be painful. If so, postpone these treatments until the sensitivity passes.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Reprinted with permission from the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, www.canceradvocacy.org.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2010.