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Hair Loss & Appearance

Cancer treatments can cause hair loss and changes in the way you look and feel. 
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss by damaging hair follicles responsible for hair growth. Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss.

Some people may feel upset by these changes. It is also important to know why these changes are happening and to find ways to maintain and support a healthy body image.

Is my hair loss temporary?

Hair loss is usually temporary. It may begin one to three weeks after the first treatment and may begin to grow back six to eight weeks after the last treatment. Complete re-growth can take months. Some people notice hair re-growth between treatments. Hair that grows back may be of a slightly different colour or texture.

Hair loss may be complete, may occur in patches, or in some cases, hair may simply become thin, dull, or dry. Hair loss may occur all over the body, including the head, face (eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard), arms, legs, underarms, and pubic area.
What can I do before treatment starts?

If you have long hair, you may want to cut it short using scissors or clippers. Avoid using a razor, due to skin irritation or compromise. Short hair tends to look thicker when hair loss occurs and it may have a less dramatic effect if your hair falls out. Here are some other suggestions:

  • You may want to talk about hair loss to friends and family, especially children, before it occurs.
  • You may want to choose head coverings like hats, scarves, and wigs that are comfortable.
  • If you plan to purchase a wig, it is a good idea to select one before hair loss occurs.
  • If you have already lost your hair, take a recent colour photograph with you when selecting a wig. This way you can match your hair colour and style if you wish. Ask your hairdresser if they can style the wig for you.

Is there anything I can do to prevent hair loss and protect my scalp?

In most cases, hair loss due to chemotherapy is not preventable regardless of the care taken. The following recommendations may help you when caring for your hair and scalp during and after cancer treatment:

  • Be gentle with your hair. Choose a mild shampoo such as baby shampoo, a soft hairbrush, and set your hair dryer on low heat or let your hair dry naturally.
  • Dyeing, getting a perm, curling, or straightening your hair can make it even more dry and brittle. You may want to avoid these during treatment.
  • Protect your scalp from the sun when outdoors. Wear a wide-brimmed hat or scarf or use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear a hat or scarf in cold weather to reduce the loss of body heat.
  • Use a satin or satin-like pillowcase. This will prevent pulling on your hair while you sleep

Recommended Websites: Hair Loss / Alopecia WebsitesPersonal Appearance Websites

BC Cancer Library pathfinder: Personal Appearance Pathfinder

BC Cancer pamphlets: Resources for Hair Loss & Appearance Changes handout located under Practical Support Resources)

Look Good, Feel Better (LGFB) Workshop

LGFB workshops help women living with cancer learn special cosmetic techniques and tips on wigs and head coverings in order to help cope with the appearance-related side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Sessions are usually once a month at a local venue or in your Cancer Centre. In addition, a wig consultation and stylist service may be available at the session.

To learn more information or find an LGFB workshop in your area refer to the workshop finder in the Look Good, Feel Better website (, or ask a BC Cancer volunteer or counsellor. LGFB offers workshops one time only per person at no cost.

For more information about what resources are available near or at your Cancer Centre read our fact sheets on the practical support resources page.


Revised February 2014

SOURCE: Hair Loss & Appearance ( )
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