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Hair Loss & Appearance

Cancer treatments can cause hair loss (alopecia) and change the way you look and feel. 

We understand the impact that hair loss can have on people with cancer. We have many resources available to support patients experiencing hair loss. 
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss (alopecia) 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.

Hair loss is usually temporary. It may start  one to three weeks after the first treatment. Hair may start  to grow back six to eight weeks after the last treatment. It can take months for your hair to completely grow back.. Some people notice their hair grows back between treatments. Hair that grows back may be a slightly different colour or texture.


You may completely lose your hair or it may happen in patches.  For some people, their hair simply gets thin, dull, or dry. You may lose hair all over your  body, including your head, face (eyelashes, eyebrows, and beard), arms, legs, underarms, and pelvic area.

If you have long hair, you may want to cut it short with scissors or clippers. Do not  use a razor. This may irritate your skin. . Short hair tends to look thicker when hair falls out.   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.

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

Cold caps and cooling systems try to decrease hair loss (alopecia) in people who are having chemotherapy treatments for cancer.

A cold cap is like a tight toque that has ice packs in it. You need to replace the ice packs while you use the cap.

Cooling systems are larger units with the caps attached to a refrigeration machine. The machine circulates cool liquid through the cap. The machine has to be plugged in to power for the entire treatment.

We do not allow cooling systems, the large refrigeration styled machines, at BC Cancer centres, while cold caps, the smaller tight toque styled units, are allowed . People using the large cooling systems need longer appointment times and more space. If people use large cooling systems, there are fewer treatment spots available.

Yes, cold caps, the toque styled units, are allowed. However, you need permission and support from the location where you are receiving your treatment. Before bringing in your cold cap, you must speak to your health care team.

BC Cancer does not provide cold caps, however we understand our patients may choose to use their own cold cap during treatments. 


There may be safety, space, or operational reasons where we cannot allow you to use your cold cap. We will not always have the space for cold caps. The cold cap cannot affect other people's appointments or their safety.


You have to be able to use the cold cap all by yourself or with a visitor/family member. Visitors or a family member can help you with the cold cap.  However, they may not be allowed to stay in the treatment room the whole time; they must follow all guidelines regarding storage of the ice packs and visitor rules. You cannot ask staff to assist you.

Patients need to be familiar enough with their cold cap equipment to self-direct and self-supervise its use.


BC Cancer may decline your request to use a cold cap for safety or operational reasons. 


Look Good, Feel Better (LGFB) Workshop

LGFB workshops help women living with cancer learn special cosmetic techniques and tips on wigs and head coverings. The goal is to help you cope with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatments. Sessions are usually once a month. In addition, a wig consultation and stylist service may be available at the session.

For more information or to find an LGFB workshop in your area go to the Look Good, Feel Better website or ask a BC Cancer volunteer or counsellor. 

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