1. How can I prepare for losing my hair?
2. How long will it take for my hair to fall out after starting chemotherapy?
3. Looking after your scalp after hair loss
4. Will I lose my eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair during chemotherapy?
5. How you might feel about losing your hair
6. Support if you lose your hair
7. Wigs, scarves and headwear
8. How long does it take for hair to grow back after chemotherapy?

 

1. How can I prepare for losing my hair?

If you’re likely to lose your hair during chemotherapy, it may help to be prepared beforehand. You might want to think about:

  • having your hair cut short
  • whether you want to use a cold cap
  • choosing a wig
  • trying out other headwear and wig alternatives
  • finding out how to care for your hair and scalp
  • learning how to recreate eyelashes and eyebrows
  • finding support from other people with experience of hair loss

You might want to have your hair cut short (or even shave it off completely using hair clippers) before your treatment starts. For many people this is a way of taking control rather than waiting for hair loss to happen, which in turn can help reduce stress.

Some people ask about donating their hair if they have it cut off. There are organisations that you can donate your hair to for them to make into wigs for other people with hair loss.

If you think you’ll want to wear a wig, it can be useful to choose a wig before you lose your hair. Some people begin trying out wearing their wig before treatment starts to help them get used to it. It can also help if you want to be fitted with a wig that matches your natural hair colour and style.

Some hospitals and local organisations offer hair loss services that provide practical support and information about hair loss for people who are likely to lose their hair, or have already lost it. These may give you the opportunity to try on different types of headwear and tips on using make-up to give the illusion of eyelashes and eyebrows. They may also give you practical advice on caring for your hair and scalp, and information on buying wigs and other headwear.

You can ask your specialist team or local cancer information centre for more information about any services available in your area.

The charity Cancer Hair Care has lots of information to help people understand and prepare for hair loss.

If you have secondary breast cancer, our Living with Secondary Breast Cancer meet-ups include a practical session on eyebrows and eyelashes, or hair and scalp care.

It may also be useful to talk to other people who have experience of hair loss.

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2. How long will it take for my hair to fall out after starting chemotherapy?

Hair loss will usually begin gradually within two or three weeks of starting treatment. For some people it may be sooner and more sudden. You may lose all or some of your hair. Your scalp might feel tender as the hair thins and falls out.
 

The first signs that you are losing your hair may be finding hair on the pillow in the morning or extra hair in your hairbrush. This can still be a shock and very distressing even when you’re prepared for it to happen. Wearing a soft hat or turban in bed to collect loose hairs might help.

 

Cancer Hair Care has useful information on their website explaining the hair loss and regrowth cycle in more detail.

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3. Looking after your scalp after hair loss

Remember to protect your scalp from the sun. Cover your head when in the sun or use a high protection factor sun cream at all times, as the scalp is particularly sensitive.

We lose a lot of heat from our heads so cover your scalp in colder weather.

If your scalp is dry, flaky or itchy you can use unperfumed moisturiser or natural oils such as almond or olive oil to help with this. Some people use aromatherapy oils, but it is best to consult a trained aromatherapist as the oils can be very strong.

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4. Will I lose my eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair during chemotherapy? 

Hair loss caused by chemotherapy can include the loss of body hair, eyelashes and eyebrows.

Find out more about losing your eyelashes, eyebrows and body hair during chemotherapy.

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5. How you might feel about losing your hair

For many of us, the way we feel about ourselves is closely linked to the way we look, and so losing your hair can be devastating. You may feel anxious at the thought of losing your hair, or angry and unhappy that this has happened in addition to your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Some people feel guilty about being upset when they lose their hair as they feel there are other, more important things to worry about. However, there’s no right or wrong way to feel and whether you lose some or all of your hair, the experience can be very distressing.

Hair loss is such a visible side effect of treatment, and can change how you look and view yourself. Men and women often express negative feelings about losing the hair from their head. Men with breast cancer may also find the experience of losing the hair from their chest difficult.

Hair loss may also make you feel vulnerable and exposed. You may see it as a constant reminder of your treatment, labelling you as a ‘cancer patient’ or feel that hair loss has prevented you keeping your diagnosis private. Some people find that they adjust quickly to hair loss. Others find that it takes longer, or is more difficult to accept and adapt to than they imagined.

In some cultures and religions hair has a particular significance. If hair has a special significance for you, losing it may affect your cultural or religious identity as well as your body image or self-esteem, making it even more difficult to come to terms with. If you are finding these feelings overwhelming you may wish to speak to your breast care nurse or a member of your specialist team, or access further counselling and support.

While some people describe hair loss as the most difficult side effect to deal with, others find that the experience of losing their hair isn’t as upsetting as they thought it would be. However you feel, it can be helpful to find out what support is available for people experiencing hair loss.

Coping with other people's reactions to hair loss

You may feel that losing your hair means that you will need to tell people about your diagnosis when you would prefer not to, however, it’s up to you who you tell. Some people tell just their family and close friends, while others are happy to let everyone know.

People will respond to you losing your hair in different ways, and you may find some reactions difficult to understand.

A change in appearance may make you feel less confident about socialising with friends and family. However, withdrawing from your social life may make you feel more isolated or that your diagnosis is preventing you from doing the things you enjoy. Many people find continuing to meet up with others is a useful distraction and helps to keep some normality.

You may feel anxious about other people’s reactions at first, but these feelings should gradually improve over time. It might help to talk to others who have experienced hair loss.

If you have children, whatever their age, you may wonder what to tell them about your breast cancer. Your children may find it upsetting to see you without any hair and it might help if you prepare them for the fact that this may happen. Studies have shown that children are less anxious if they know what’s happening, and that it can be less frightening for them to know what is going on even if they don’t fully understand. Read our tips about talking to children about breast cancer.


6. Support if you lose your hair

Losing your hair can be a particularly distressing side effect of treatment. Finding ways to feel more confident in your new appearance can help you to accept and adjust to what has happened, and feel more like yourself again.

Everyone’s experience of hair loss is different and there’s no right or wrong way to feel. It’s important you find your own way of dealing with it, but it can be helpful to talk to others and find out what worked for them. Some areas have support groups where you can talk to other people who have experienced hair loss. Your breast care nurse will be able to tell you about local support.

You can also ask your breast care nurse and local cancer information centre for more information about hair loss services in your area.

Breast Cancer Care’s Moving Forward courses and Moving Forward resource pack are for anyone who has had a diagnosis of primary breast cancer, helping you approach life after treatment with more confidence.

You can also chat to other people going through breast cancer on our online discussion Forum.

If you have secondary breast cancer, our Living with Secondary Breast Cancer meet-ups provide helpful support and advice in a relaxed environment. Regular sessions include hair and scalp care and a Look Good Feel Better masterclass.

Find out more about how we can support you.

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7. Wigs, scarves and headwear

Find out more about headwear, wigs and scarves after hair loss.

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8. How long does it take for hair to grow back after chemotherapy?

Find out more about what happens when your hair grows back.

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Last reviewed: December 2017
Next planned review begins 2020

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