When Will You Lose Hair During Chemo?

Female cancer survivor with shaved head looking at remote rural view
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Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss and there are a few factors that affect if and when you may expect to be losing your hair during chemotherapy. Your physician will be able to tell you if your specific type of chemo drugs will cause any hair loss.

Factors That Affect Hair Loss

1. Which chemotherapy drug(s) you are taking: If you are taking chemo drugs that cause hair loss it is most likely that you will begin losing your hair after you have undergone a few treatments, as hair loss usually doesn't happen immediately. However, most people begin losing their hair following their first cycle of chemotherapy—usually 2 to 3 weeks after.

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 the eyelashes, eyebrows, arm and leg hair, underarm hair, and even pubic hair.

2. The dosage of the chemotherapy drug(s) you are taking: Some people undergoing lowered dosage chemotherapy regimens tend to experience milder forms of treatment side effects, which can mean less hair loss or no hair loss at all.

Some people will initially notice excessive amounts of hair falling out in the shower or while they brush their hair. Others may experience clumps of hair falling out right away—it varies from person to person. Some people may choose to shave their heads as the hair that remains may have become dull, dry and unmanageable.

Dos and Don'ts

  • Do use a mild shampoo
  • Do use a soft-bristled hairbrush
  • Do use low heat if you must use a hairdryer
  • Do consider cutting hair short to 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)
  • Do use a satin pillowcase (less friction to pull on your hair)
  • Don't brush your hair when it is wet (hair breaks more easily when wet)
  • Don't use a hairdryer (or use low heat if you must dry your hair using a blow dryer)
  • Don't use brush rollers to style (they pull on the hair and can cause breakage)
  • Don’t dye your hair (hair dyes contain chemicals that can damage hair)
  • Don't perm your hair (the chemicals may be damaging to your hair)

After Hair Loss

Your scalp may feel dry, itchy and extra tender during the regrowth of your hair or when you are bald. It may help to:

  • Protect your scalp from the sun (use a sunscreen, hat, scarf, or wig) 
  • Keep your scalp clean by using a gentle moisturizing shampoo and conditioner
  • 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 wigs, scarves, hats, or hairpieces. Others 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.

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Article Sources
  • American Cancer Society. Hair loss from chemo.