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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Chemo Hair Loss: Understanding and Coping with a Common Side Effect of Cancer Treatment

Written by Cancer Care Parcel on 
24th December, 2022
Updated: 25th April, 2023
Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

Chemotherapy is a powerful tool in the fight against cancer, but it can also have some unpleasant side effects, including hair loss. This can be a difficult and distressing experience for many people, but it's important to remember that hair loss is usually temporary and that there are steps you can take to manage it. In this article, we'll explore the causes and timeline of chemotherapy hair loss, as well as some strategies for coping with it.

What is chemo hair loss?

Chemotherapy hair loss, also known as chemotherapy-induced alopecia, is the loss of hair that occurs as a result of chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy works by targeting rapidly dividing cells in the body, including cancer cells, but it can also affect healthy cells, including those in the hair follicles.

When hair follicles are damaged by chemotherapy, hair growth can be disrupted, leading to hair loss. The extent of hair loss can vary from person to person and depends on several factors, including the type and dose of chemotherapy drugs used, the length of treatment, and the individual's hair type and texture. Some chemotherapy drugs can make other hairs from your body fall out, such as facial hair and pubic hair.

Do chemo patients always lose their hair?

The extent of hair loss can vary from person to person and can depend on the type of chemotherapy being used, the dose, and the duration of treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others. In general, hair loss may be more severe with high-dose chemotherapy regimens and may be less noticeable with lower-dose regimens or with certain chemotherapy drugs.

It is important to note that not all chemotherapy patients will experience hair loss. Some people may experience only slight thinning of their hair, while others may lose all of their hair, including their eyebrows and eyelashes. The hair usually begins to regrow after chemotherapy is completed, although it may take several months for the hair to fully return. In some cases, the hair may grow back differently in texture or color.

Types of chemotherapy hair loss

There are several different types of chemotherapy hair loss, each with its own distinct characteristics. These include:

  • Telogen effluvium: This type of hair loss occurs when chemotherapy drugs cause the hair follicles to enter a resting phase, leading to hair shedding. Telogen effluvium usually begins two to four months after chemotherapy treatment has ended, and it may take several months for the hair to grow back.
  • Anagen effluvium: This type of hair loss occurs when chemotherapy drugs damage the hair follicles, leading to hair shedding. Anagen effluvium typically begins within a few weeks of starting chemotherapy and may continue for several weeks after treatment has ended.
  • Alopecia totalis: This is a rare type of hair loss that affects the entire scalp. It may be triggered by chemotherapy, as well as other factors such as autoimmune disorders or infections.

How long after starting chemo does hair fall out?

Hair loss from chemotherapy medication typically begins within two to four weeks of starting treatment and may continue for several weeks after treatment has ended. The rate of hair loss can vary, with some people losing a lot of hair quickly and others losing it more slowly. In some cases, hair loss may be patchy, while in others it may be more widespread.

It's important to note that not everyone who undergoes chemotherapy cancer treatment will experience hair loss. Some people may lose only a small amount of hair, while others may lose all of their hair, including eyebrows, eyelashes, and body hair. The extent of hair loss can be unpredictable, so it's important to be prepared for the possibility of losing some or all of your hair.

How can I stop my hair from falling out during chemo?

There are a few strategies you can try to minimize the amount of hair you lose. Here are a few options to consider:

Use cold caps

Also known as scalp cooling caps, these are designed to reduce the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the hair follicles, which may help to minimize hair loss. Cold caps work by constricting blood flow to the scalp and reducing the temperature of the scalp. This can help to reduce the uptake of chemotherapy drugs by the hair follicles, which may help to preserve the hair.

To use these, you'll need to wear a special cap that's been chilled to a very cold temperature. The scalp cooling cap is typically worn for a few hours before, during, and after chemotherapy treatment. The cold temperature of the cap can make your scalp feel numb and tingly, and it may also cause some mild discomfort.

While scalp cooling caps can be effective at reducing hair loss, they may not be suitable for everyone. These caps may not work for all types of chemotherapy, and they may not be effective in all cases. In addition, they can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. It's important to discuss your options with your healthcare team to determine whether cold caps are a good choice for you.

Use hair care products designed for hair loss

There are many hair care products on the market that are designed to nourish the scalp and help healthy hair grow, and some of these products may be helpful for managing hair loss during chemotherapy. These products may contain ingredients like biotin, keratin, and vitamins that can help to strengthen and repair damaged hair.

Here are a few hair care products that may be helpful for managing chemotherapy hair loss:

  • Shampoo and conditioner: Look for gentle hair products and sulfate-free, as harsh chemicals can further damage your hair. You may also want to consider using a product that's specifically designed for hair loss or thinning hair.
  • Scalp massager: A scalp massager can help to improve circulation and stimulate the hair follicles, which may help to reduce hair loss. You can use a scalp massager or simply use your fingers to gently massage your scalp in circular motions.
  • Hair oil: Hair oils can help to nourish and moisturize the scalp and hair, which may help to promote healthy hair to grow. Look for products that contain ingredients like argan oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil, which can help to nourish and moisturize the hair.
  • Hair mask: A hair mask can help to repair and strengthen damaged hair, which may be helpful for managing chemotherapy hair loss. Look for products that contain nourishing ingredients like avocado, coconut milk, or honey, which can help to moisturize and repair damaged hair.

Using hair care products that are designed to nourish and repair damaged hair may help to minimize hair loss and promote healthy growth of hair.

Massage your scalp

Massaging the scalp can help to improve circulation and stimulate the hair follicles, which may help to reduce hair loss. Some people find that massaging the scalp on a regular basis can help to minimize hair loss during chemotherapy and promote healthy hair growth. There are a few different ways to massage the scalp, including using a scalp massager or simply using your fingers.

To massage your scalp, start by applying a small amount of oil or lotion to your scalp. Then, use your fingers to gently massage your scalp in circular motions, starting at the forehead and working your way to the back of the head. Massage your scalp for 5-10 minutes, and repeat the process a few times a week.

It's important to be gentle when massaging the scalp, as overly vigorous massaging can damage the hair and scalp. If you're unsure how to massage your scalp, it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare team or a hair stylist for guidance.

While massaging the scalp may help to reduce hair loss, it's important to note that it may not be effective for everyone and may not work for all types of chemotherapy.

Avoid heat styling

Heat styling tools such as hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners can damage your hair and make it more prone to falling out. If you're undergoing chemotherapy, it's a good idea to avoid heat styling or use it sparingly to reduce the risk of further damage to your hair. During chemotherapy, your hair is already more fragile and prone to breakage, so it's important to take extra care to protect it. Heat styling tools can strip moisture from the hair and scalp, leaving them dry and brittle, which can lead to further hair loss. If you do need to use heat styling tools, it's a good idea to use a heat protectant spray or serum to help shield your hair from the heat. You should also use the lowest heat setting possible and avoid styling your hair too frequently. It's also a good idea to be gentle when styling your hair, as rough handling can cause further damage. Use a wide-toothed comb or brush to detangle your hair, and be sure to handle your hair gently when washing and drying it. Try to minimize the use of heat styling tools and be gentle with your hair to help reduce the risk of further damage.

Eat a healthy diet

A healthy diet is important for overall health, and it can also help to support healthy hair growth. Foods that are rich in protein, iron, and other nutrients can help to nourish the hair and scalp, while foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats can contribute to hair loss. Here are a few dietary tips that may help to reduce hair loss during chemotherapy:

Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help to nourish the hair and scalp and support healthy hair growth.

Get enough protein

Protein is essential for healthy hair growth, so it's important to include plenty of protein-rich foods in your diet. Good sources of protein include chicken, fish, beans, nuts, and tofu.

Get enough iron

Iron is important for carrying oxygen to the cells, including the hair follicles. If you're not getting enough iron, you may experience hair loss. Good sources of iron include red meat, poultry, beans, and leafy green vegetables.

Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated is important for overall health, and it can also help to keep your hair and scalp moisturized and healthy. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

Avoid processed foods

Processed foods are often high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can contribute to hair loss. Instead, opt for whole, unprocessed foods to nourish your hair and scalp.

Eating a healthy diet can help to support healthy hair growth and reduce the risk of further hair loss.

5 Tips to help you prepare for losing your hair during chemo

If you're anticipating hair loss during chemotherapy cancer treatment, there are a few things you can do to prepare:

1. Talk to your healthcare team

Your healthcare team can provide more information about the timeline for hair loss and offer tips for managing it. They may also be able to recommend products or strategies that can help to minimize hair loss.

2. Consider a wig or hairpiece

If you're not comfortable going without hair, you may want to consider a wig or hairpiece. There are many different types of wigs and hairpieces available, including synthetic and human hair options. It's a good idea to shop around and try on different styles to find one that feels comfortable and looks natural.

3. Stock up on head coverings

Scarves, hats, and other head coverings can be a good way to cover up hair loss and protect your scalp from the sun and wind. You may want to invest in a few different styles to give you options and help you feel more comfortable and confident. If you're not ready for a wig or hairpiece, or if you just want to give your scalp a break, you can use scarves, hats, and other head coverings to cover up your hair loss. This can be a good way to protect your scalp from the sun and wind, as well as to add some style to your look.

4. Take care of your scalp

Keep your scalp clean and moisturized by using a gentle shampoo and conditioner, and consider using a scalp massager to stimulate blood flow and promote healthy hair growth.

5. Plan ahead

Hair loss can be unpredictable, so it's a good idea to plan ahead and think about how you'll manage your hair loss. You may want to talk to your healthcare team about how to prepare for hair loss, or consider seeking support from friends, family, or a counselor.

5 Tips To Help You Prepare For Losing Your Hair During Chemo

Does hair loss from chemo grow back?

Yes, hair loss from chemotherapy is usually temporary and most people's hair grows back once treatment has ended. However, the timeline for hair regrowth can vary from person to person, and it may take several months for the hair to fully regrow.

The rate hair grows and the texture of the new hair may also be different from the hair that was lost. Some people may experience thicker, coarser hair, while others may have finer, softer hair. It's also possible that the hair may grow back in a different color or texture than it was before chemotherapy.

It's important to be patient and give your hair time to grow back. In the meantime, you can use wigs, hats, and other head coverings to cover up any remaining hair loss, or try some of the strategies mentioned above to minimize hair loss and promote healthy hair growth.

What should I do if my hair grows back a different texture or color?

If your hair grows back a different texture or color after chemotherapy, it is completely normal and a common side effect of the treatment. Many people experience changes in the texture, thickness, and color of their hair after chemotherapy. It is important to be patient and allow your hair to grow back at its own pace. In the meantime, you may want to try using different hair care products or styling techniques to manage the changes in your hair. You can also talk to your healthcare team or a dermatologist for advice on how to care for your hair during this time. It is also a good idea to be gentle with your hair and avoid using heat styling tools or applying harsh chemicals to your hair until it has fully recovered from chemotherapy.

If you're concerned about your hair loss or have any other questions about chemotherapy, it's a good idea to talk to seek professional advice from your healthcare team. They can provide more information and support as you go through treatment.

Further reading

What To Pack In A Chemo Bag: 18 Suggestions

What Is Chemotherapy And Why Is It Given To People With Cancer?

30 Things You Should Know About Living With Cancer

What Is Metastatic Cancer? How Is It Treated? And How Do You Cope?

How Chemotherapy Affects Your Skin And What You Can Do About It

We strongly advise you to talk with a health care professional about specific medical conditions and treatments. The information on our site is meant to be helpful and educational but is not a substitute for medical advice.

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