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Hair Loss During Your Cancer Treatment

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), we understand that it can be difficult to experience hair loss during treatment. This information will help you understand hair loss and describe services available to help you.

Commonly Asked Questions

Why will I lose my hair?

Cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy attack fast-growing cancer cells. These treatments can also affect normal cells that are fast growing, such as hair.

Chemotherapy can cause hair loss on the scalp and the loss of pubic hair, arm and leg hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes. Radiation therapy to the head often causes hair loss on the scalp. Sometimes, depending on the dose of radiation to the head, the hair will not grow back the same as it was before treatment.

When will I begin to lose my hair?

You may start to see your hair thin or fall out 1 to 4 weeks after your first chemotherapy treatment and 4 weeks after you receive radiation therapy. The extent of your hair thinning or loss will depend on the type, dose, timing of your treatments. Some patients will experience hair thinning rather than hair loss. Speak to your nurse about what to expect after your chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

How quickly hair falls out varies from patient to patient. You may first notice hair on your pillow in the morning or see it when you shower or brush your hair.

When will my hair grow back?

Once your treatments have stopped, your hair should begin to grow back. Hair regrowth can take 3 to 5 months. Your hair may look or feel a little different.

There is a very small risk that your hair will not grow back after radiation therapy to the head.

Caring For Your Hair and Head

Here are suggestions on how to care for your hair and head while experiencing hair loss:

  • Use a baby shampoo or other mild shampoo and a cream rinse or hair conditioner every 2 to 4 days.
  • Always rinse your hair well and pat it dry with a soft towel.
  • Wash your hair after swimming in a pool.
  • Use shampoos and conditioners that have sunscreen to prevent sun damage to your scalp. Do not expose your scalp to the sun and keep your head covered in the summer.
  • In the winter, cover your head with a hat, scarf, turban, or wig to keep it warm. This can also help to contain falling hair.
  • Sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase because it is smoother than other fabrics and can decrease hair tangles.
  • Brush your hair gently with a soft-bristle brush or comb. Start brushing or combing your hair at the ends and gently work your way up to your scalp. You can also finger comb your hair by moistening your fingers with water.
  • If your hair is long, you may want to have it cut short before you begin treatment.
  • Tell your hairdresser that you are receiving chemotherapy. He or she may be able to recommend gentle hair products.
  • Try using Bumble and bumbleTM Hair Powder to cover bald spots and thinning areas of your hair. You can buy it at Sephora® or online from various beauty supply websites.
Do not use the following on your hair during treatment because they can be too harsh or pull on your hair:
 
  • Hair spray, hair dye, bleach, or permanents (perm)
  • Clips, barrettes, bobby pins, pony tail holders, or scrunchies
  • Hair dryers, curlers, curling irons, or a hair straightener
  • Rubber bathing or swimming caps

Do not put your hair in braids, corn rows, or pony tails.

Wigs, Hairpieces, and Head Coverings

If you want to wear a wig, try to get one before your hair falls out because it will be easier to match your hair color and style. If you have already experienced hair loss, bring a photo of your usual hairstyle, and if you can, a lock of your hair. This will help you find a wig that looks like your hair did before your treatment started.

When shopping for a wig, you may want to shop around and compare prices. There is a list of stores that sell wigs and hairpieces at the end of this resource.

Wigs

A wig should fit properly, be comfortable, and be easy to care for. You may want to start wearing your wig as soon as your hair begins to thin. As your hair gets thinner, you may need to have your wig adjusted to make it fit better.

There are many types of wigs and hairpieces. Below is a list of the most common.

Custom-made wigs

Custom-made wigs are made by hand and are usually the most expensive type of wig. These wigs are made using your specific head measurements. To get a custom-made wig, multiple visits to a store are usually needed.

Customized ready-made wigs

Customized ready-made wigs can be made of human hair, synthetic blends, or a mixture of both. They are made in standard sizes, but can be altered to fit your head. These wigs can be styled and generally cost less than a custom-made wig.

Ready-made/stock wigs

Ready-made or stock wigs are usually made out of a stretchy material and come in 1 size. If you buy a readymade wig, you can usually take it home the same day that you purchase it. Ready-made wigs are generally the least expensive type of wig.

Hairpieces

If you lose your hair in only 1 area, you may want to consider buying a hairpiece rather than a wig. A hairpiece will blend into your own hair when combed. It can be made in any size, color, or shape.

Scarves, turbans, and hats

  • Scarves, turbans, and hats can help hold hair that is falling out and also hide a bald scalp.
  • Scarves made from silk can easily slide off your head. A scarf made of a cotton blend can be more comfortable.
  • Turbans are sold in many drug stores and come in many different colors and textures.
  • Hats worn with or without scarves can also be attractive and comfortable.

Financial Support

Your health insurance may cover the cost of your wig or hairpiece. For your wig or hairpiece to be covered by insurance, your doctor must write a prescription with a diagnosis code indicating that your hair loss is due to treatment for cancer. Check with your insurance company to see if they cover the costs of wigs or hairpieces and how much they will pay.

Additional resources for financial support include:

American Cancer Society
Some American Cancer Society offices offer free wigs to cancer patients. If you are interested in this service, go to your local American Cancer Society office or call (800) 227-2345.
 
Cancer Care
Cancer care offers free wigs to cancer patients. Call (800) 813-4673 and ask to speak with a social worker.
 

The Look Good…Feel Better Program

The Look Good…Feel Better program at MSK is designed to help male and female teenagers and adults cope with the effects that cancer treatment can have on their appearance. During weekly sessions, makeup artists teach makeup techniques, skin and nail care, and hair styling and head-covering options. To register for a class, call (212) 639-LOOK.

 

Where to Purchase Wigs and Hairpieces

Manhattan

   
Angels of New York
Nicholas Piazza
Nina Larsen*
161 East 61st Street
16 West 56th Street
26 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10021
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10065
(212) 838-7888
New York, NY 10019
(646) 301-9087
(212) 838-6190
(917) 517-4544 (cell)
 
 
Call to make an appointment
   
Top Priority Prosthetics for Hair Loss
JA Alternatives
174 Fifth Avenue
12 East 46th Street
New York, NY 10010
New York, NY 10017
(212) 206-6785
(212) 682-6888
 
   

Brooklyn 

 
Claire Accuhair*
Yaffa Wigs*
1611 Cedar Street
4118 13th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11230
Brooklyn, NY 11218
(718) 998-6043
(718) 436-4280
   

Queens

Ginza Wigs*
116-01 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 544-1848
 

Long Island

   
Jacki’s Wig Works
The Wig Salon
JA Alternatives
3381 Merrick Road
1008 West Jericho Turnpike
125 Jericho Turnpike
Wantagh, NY 11793
Smithtown, NY 11787
Suite 104
(516) 679-4633
(631) 864-7560
Jericho, NY 11753
(516) 333-1426
 
 
     

Westchester County

   
JA Alternatives
Oggi, Adam & Eve
Tiffany Wigs
141 South Central Avenue
770 Central Avenue
100 Triangle Shopping Center
Suite 303
Scarsdale, NY 10583
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
Hartsdale, NY 10530
(586) 985-0576
(800) 427-9447
(914) 682-2825
 
 
     

New Jersey

   
AAA Wigs
Just For You*
JA Alternatives
682 Morris Turnpike 37 Mt. Pleasant Avenue 210 Route 4 East
Short Hills, NJ 07078 East Hanover, NJ 07936 Suite 103 & Suite 104
(973) 376-8050 (973) 887-5930 Paramus, NJ 07652
www.angelsofny.com www.justforyoucenter.com (201) 368-8900
    www.hairloss-hair-replacement.com
Lillian Lee Salon and Spa*
947 Teaneck Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
(201) 837-6770
 

Connecticut 

 
Allura Salon & Day Spa
Anthony’s Wigs
23 West Putnam Avenue
Hawley Lane Mall
Greenwich, CT 06830
Trumbull, CT 06611
(203) 869-1234
(800) 421-9447
 
* For women only.
 

Medications and Supplements for Hair Loss

Medications and supplements for hair loss can slow thinning of hair and increase coverage of the scalp by growing new hair and enlarging existing hairs. Below are frequently asked questions people have about minoxidil, biotin, and BioSil™.

Minoxidil

What is minoxidil?

Minoxidil is a topical (applied on the skin) medication that has been used for over 20 years to help regrow hair. It can be purchased over the counter.

For more information, including how to apply the product, go to: www.rogaine.com for an instructional video.

The 5% product is marked for men. The 2% product is marked for women. Which product do you recommend?

We recommend the 5% product for both men and women.

Is the liquid or foam product easier to apply?

The foam product is easier to apply if you have some hair, and less likely to drip down your face.

How often should I apply it?

Apply it at least once daily, but we recommend applying it twice daily.

What are the side effects?

Uncommon side effects include scalp irritation and itchy or dry scalp. Rare side effects include increased hair growth on the face.

You may experience changes in the color or texture of your hair.

I am getting some facial hair as a side effect of my cancer treatment. Will the minoxidil increase this growth if I am only applying it to my scalp?

Unwanted hair growth on the face and other parts of the body has been reported from the use of minoxidil, but these reports have been uncommon. The hair growth may be caused by the transfer of minoxidil to areas other than the scalp, or by low levels of it being absorbed into the body.

Are there any alternatives to minoxidil?

There are no alternative topical medications that we recommended.

Can I use minoxidil if I am pregnant or nursing?

No. Do not use this product if you are pregnant or nursing.

Biotin

What is biotin?

Biotin is a supplement that can strengthen hair and nails.

How much should I take daily?

We recommend taking 2,500 mcg (2.5 mg) orally (by mouth) daily.

Are there any side effects?

Biotin is usually well tolerated when taken as directed.

BioSil™

What is BioSil™?

BioSil™ is a supplement that allows your body to make and increase the production of collagen.

Why do I need collagen?

Collagen is a protein that is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails, as well as healthy bones and joints. It promotes greater skin elasticity, thicker and stronger hair, and harder nails.

How long should I take BioSil™?

You can take it as long as you want, or until you feel your hair and nails have returned to normal after your treatment.

Can I take BioSil™ with other supplements (i.e, biotin)?

Yes. There are no contraindications between BioSil™ and any other supplement.

Are there any side effects?

Rare side effects include leg swelling and rashes.