When Will You Lose Hair During Chemo?

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Hair loss with chemotherapy (chemo) varies based on the type of chemotherapy drug, dosage, combinations of medications, and type of cancer. Your healthcare team can help you determine if you are at risk of hair loss with your treatment, but it can vary from person to person, even when taking the same drug.

This article covers the chemo hair loss timeline, how to care for your hair and prepare for hair loss, how to care for your scalp after hair loss, and what it’s like when hair grows back.

Coping with hair loss during chemo.
Alex Dos Diaz / Verywell

Chemo Hair Loss Timeline

Hair loss does not typically begin immediately. If hair loss is going to happen, it often starts after about one to three weeks of chemo treatment. It usually becomes more noticeable a couple of months after starting chemo.

When hair loss begins, it's usually gradual. Many people notice clumps that come out while they wash or brush their hair. Your scalp may become sensitive especially when combing, brushing, or washing it.

People undergoing chemotherapy (chemo) will notice different levels of hair loss depending on a variety of factors, including the drugs (or combination of drugs) used, dosage, and type of cancer.

With those taking lower dosages of chemo, hair loss may be absent or minimal. Some people only experience mild thinning of their hair that only they notice. For others, hair loss can mean losing hair everywhere on the body, including eyelashes, eyebrows, arm and leg hair, underarm hair, and even pubic hair.

Preparing For Hair Loss

The following tips may help decrease hair loss, thinning, or breaking:

  • Be gentle: Try using a mild fragrance-free shampoo, a soft-bristled brush, or a wide-tooth comb, and avoid brushing your hair while wet. It can also help to avoid washing your hair every day and using a conditioner or detangler spray.
  • Avoid over-styling: Try to avoid over-styling or pulling. This includes braiding, curlers, putting your hair in a ponytail, or using rubber bands or clips.
  • Try to avoid extra heat: It helps to reduce excessive heat from hair dryers, curlers, hot rollers, brush rollers, and straightening or curling irons. It's best to use low heat if you do use a hairdryer.
  • Say no to harsh chemicals. Do your best to avoid hair dyes, color, bleach, or perms as they can do further damage to your already fragile hair.
  • Sleep on silk or satin pillowcases. Cotton pillowcases generate too much friction and can lead to breakage.
  • Consider cutting your hair short. Shorter cuts can create the illusion of a thicker and fuller head of hair. A short style also makes hair loss easier to deal with if it happens.

After Hair Loss

After hair loss, your scalp may feel dry, itchy, and extra tender. It may also feel itchy or sensitive when your hair is growing back. It may help to:

  • Protect your scalp from the sun (use a hat, scarf, wig, or sunscreen
  • Keep your scalp clean by using a gentle moisturizing shampoo and conditioner
  • Gently massage your scalp to avoid dry skin
  • Use gentle creams or lotions on your scalp as needed and gently massage the scalp

After losing all or most of their hair, some people choose to wear headcovers such as wigs, turbans, scarves, hats, or hairpieces. Cotton fabrics are usually cooler and may stay on the head more easily than polyester or nylon.

Some people leave their heads uncovered while others may choose to switch between covering and not. The decision is a personal one and anything goes.

Hair Regrowth

Hair loss is temporary for the majority of people. About four to six weeks after completing chemotherapy, hair begins to regrow.

When hair does grow back, it may be a different texture or possibly a different color than it was before treatment. For example, if you had straight hair, it may grow back curly. The color may be slightly different as well.

Summary

It’s hard to know who will experience partial or complete hair loss while undergoing chemo. It varies based on the dosage of chemo, combinations of medications, and type of cancer. 

Hair loss typically begins one to three weeks into chemo treatment. Some people notice mild thinning, while others may lose hair over their entire body. 

Before hair loss, it may help to pamper your hair by avoiding harsh chemicals or overheating, and sleeping on silk or satin pillowcases. 

Some find it helps to shave their head or cut their hair short once they experience hair loss. While waiting for your hair to grow back, you can wear a hat, wig, turban, or scarf. Many people prefer to go without a head covering or do a little of both.

A Word From Verywell

Hair loss due to cancer treatment can be shocking. It can affect your quality of life due to negative self-esteem, body image, or sexual health.

It's important to go easy on yourself during this time. It can also help to talk to a support group in person or online so you can discuss your emotions with others who have gone through or are going through similar circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many sessions of chemo does it take to lose your hair?

    If hair loss does occur it usually begins about one-three weeks into chemo treatment. It's typically most noticeable one or two months into treatment.

  • Why does chemo cause hair loss?

    Chemo targets all rapidly dividing cells. This means it harms both healthy and cancerous cells. Hair follicles are fast-growing, so the chemo targets those cells.

  • When will your hair grow back?

    Hair usually starts to grow back one to three months after chemo is over. However, it can take six to 12 months to completely grow back. It can also be a different texture or color.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed
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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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