At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 MSKCC 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
Angels of New York
161 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10021
16 West 56th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10019
26 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10065
(917) 517-4544 (cell)
Call to make an appointment
Top Priority Prosthetics for Hair Loss
174 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
12 East 46th Street
New York, NY 10017
1611 Cedar Street
Brooklyn, NY 11230
4118 13th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11218
116-01 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
Jacki’s Wig Works
3381 Merrick Road
Wantagh, NY 11793
The Wig Salon
1008 West Jericho Turnpike
Smithtown, NY 11787
125 Jericho Turnpike, Suite 104
Jericho, NY 11753
141 South Central Avenue, Suite 303
Hartsdale, NY 10530
Oggi, Adam & Eve
770 Central Avenue
Scarsdale, NY 10583
100 Triangle Shopping Center
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
682 Morris Turnpike
Short Hills, NJ 07078
Just For You*
37 Mt. Pleasant Avenue
East Hanover, NJ 07936
210 Route 4 East, Suite 103 & Suite 104
Paramus, NJ 07652
Lillian Lee Salon and Spa*
947 Teaneck Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
Allura Salon & Day Spa
23 West Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
Hawley Lane Mall
Trumbull, CT 06611
* For women only.