Why do People Lose Hair During Chemotherapy?

a bald woman undergoing chemotherapy is talking to a doctor

Chemotherapy Hair Loss

For many people suffering from cancer, chemotherapy can help stop the spreading of the disease. But it can also cause several side effects as well, including hair loss which can be a reason for stress. Getting more information about chemo-related hair loss may help you feel better prepared for this side effect and deal with it accordingly.

Facts & Ways to Manage Hair Loss from Chemotherapy

Here are a few facts about hair loss from chemotherapy, including some ways to manage it.

  1. Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss

Few kinds of chemotherapy are more likely to cause hair loss. Consult your doctor to learn if hair loss is a common side effect of the chemotherapy medications that you’ve been prescribed. Your doctor can help you with what and when to expect.

In most cases, hair loss starts within 2-4 weeks of starting chemotherapy, as per the Mayo Clinic. The degree of hair loss can vary, depending on the type of drug and its dosage for chemotherapy is given.

  1. Chemo-related hair loss is usually temporary

Most of the time, chemotherapy-related hair loss is temporary. If you experience hair loss as a side effect of the treatment, it will probably start to grow back within 3-6 weeks of finishing treatment.

To help your hair grow back strong, treat them very gently. In the early phase of hair growth, avoid colouring or bleaching it. You also need to limit the use of hairdryers and other heating devices.

When your hair grows back after the treatment, it might be a slightly different texture or colour than it was before. Those differences are also usually temporary.

  1. Scalp cooling caps to prevent hair loss

Wearing a scalp cooling cap during chemotherapy infusions might help to prevent hair loss. These caps are thought to slow down the flow of blood to your scalp. This may also limit the amount of chemotherapy drug that reaches your scalp, lowering its effects on your hair follicles.

According to a review published in the International Journal of Cancer, scalp cooling caps lower the risk of hair loss in people undergoing chemotherapy treatment. It was also found that other treatments, like the use of minoxidil (Rogaine), were not effective.

  1. A short haircut can make a difference

Shorter hair usually looks much fuller than longer hair. As a result, hair loss or hair thinning would be less noticeable if you have a short hairstyle. If you typically have long hair, consider cutting them before you begin your chemotherapy session.

After you start chemo, hair loss might make you feel itchy, irritated, or sensitive scalp. Many people even prefer the look of a cleanly shaved head to partial hair loss.

  1. A variety of head coverings can be chosen

If you feel conscious regarding hair loss or complete baldness, wearing a head covering might help. From scarves to hats to wigs, there are several options. These coverings can also shield your head from sunlight exposure and cold air.

If you want a wig that matches your natural hair colour, consider buying it before you begin chemotherapy as this may help the wig shop to better match the colour and texture of your hair type.

  1. It’s OK to feel upset

Chemo-related hair loss impacts different individuals in different ways. For some people, it can be very distressing. If you find it difficult to cope with the treatment, consider joining online or in-person support of people suffering from cancer. This will let you know about the experiences and challenges of others who are facing similar challenges.

You can connect with experts who can help you manage appearance-related concerns. 

How can I prevent my hair from falling out from chemotherapy?

While hair loss may depend on the drug used in the chemotherapy and how the treatment is given, these choices are rightly made to be very effective against the type of cancer being treated.

One method is the use of scalp cooling which can be done with ice packs, cooling caps, or scalp cooling systems used before, during, or after the treatment. This causes the capillaries to constrict which is supplying the hair follicles, so they are less exposed to the chemotherapy medication.

Using minoxidil has not been proven to prevent hair loss, but it may shorten the time it takes to regrow the hair.

Being gentle with your hair and scalp can help minimise hair loss and breakage, as well as prevent scalp irritation. Follow these tips:

  • Do not shampoo frequently.
  • Use warm water to clean your scalp, and pat dry your hair rather than rubbing.
  • Use mild shampoos and conditioners without any fragrance. Avoid any kind of hair products like hair spray, gels, or oils.
  • Be gentle with your hair and minimise combing or brushing.
  • Don’t dye your hair or get a permanent colouring
  • Sleep on a satin pillowcase.

Take Away

Hair loss is one of the very common side effects of many chemotherapy treatments, but there are several methods to manage it. Talk to your cancer treatment team about whether you are going to experience hair loss as a result of your treatment.

If it’s an expected side effect, you can consider how you need to handle it. You can explore various options and make the choices that find right for you.