How to Get Free Headgear During Chemotherapy

Wigs, Hats, Scarves, Caps, and More

Some people will need to have chemotherapy as part of their cancer treatment. Although chemotherapy destroys cancer cells, it also targets the fast-splitting cells that form hair follicles, leading to alopecia (hair loss). Some chemotherapies result in more hair loss than others.

Whether chemotherapy causes hair thinning or complete baldness, wearing headgear may improve self-confidence and prevent scalp irritation.

Unfortunately, purchasing wigs, caps, hats, and scarves can come at a high expense. Your oncology nurse can work with your health insurance company to cover some of the cost, but there is another option. There are many organizations that provide headgear at little to no cost for women (and men) undergoing chemotherapy.

This article will review how to obtain low-cost or free headgear during cancer treatment.

Wigs

Wigs in store window
Chris Clor/Blend Images/Getty Images

Wearing a wig during cancer treatment can provide camouflage and insulation for bare heads. Depending on the weather, you may be surprised how well a wig can keep you warm in the winter. Plus, there is fun in trying new hairstyles and colors.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) understands that wigs are not affordable for many women. Therefore, the ACS provides free wigs to women experiencing hair loss from chemotherapy. Call 800-ACS-2345 for more information.

Many insurance companies will cover the cost of one "hair prosthesis" during cancer treatment. Ask your oncology nurse or social worker how to get started.

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Hats

Sun hat and sun glasses on a table
Nela Petria / EyeEm / Getty Images

A hat is an excellent alternative for warmer days when a wig is too hot or time-consuming. Since some chemotherapies cause photosensitivity (sunlight sensitivity), hats provide shade and easily slip on and off.

Breast Friends is a U.S.-based organization founded by two women who survived breast cancer. The Breast Friends Hat Project serves women experiencing hair loss due to active treatment with chemotherapy. They cater to women with breast, ovarian, or gynecological cancer and offer over 500 free hats yearly. Explore their website for more valuable resources.

Caps

Stack of knit hats
Christine Lauritzen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Unlike a brimmed hat, caps stay in place on a windy day. Also called beanies, these soft headpieces can be sized for a perfect fit. Beanies can keep your head cool in the summer or warm in the winter, depending on how tightly woven the stitches are.

Knots of Love was founded in 2007 and provides 100% free handmade beanies, lovingly created by more than 15,000 volunteers. They currently offer more than 4,000 free beanies and blankets per month.

 


Scarves

Woman sitting on a couch wearing a headwrap
FatCamera/Getty Images

Scarves may be the most popular headgear worn by women who have hair thinning or hair loss from chemotherapy. Hope Scarves is an international non-profit organization founded in 2012. They are known as "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves" because they collect scarves from around the world and pair them with women in need. Visit their page to request a scarf and read stories of hope from around the globe.

Several websites provide step-by-step directions on how to choose and wear a headscarf.

Additional Freebies

Freebies

The cost of cancer treatment leaves most patients feeling overwhelmed and fearful. There are many organizations that offer free services to help improve the quality of life for those surviving and thriving with cancer. Here are some additional cost-free programs that may be useful.

Retreats

Casting for Recovery: Offers free fly fishing retreats in several U.S. regions for women facing breast cancer.

Camp Kesem: A nationwide camp that offers free camping experiences for children affected by a parent's cancer diagnosis.

Housecleaning

Cleaning with a Reason: An organization that provides up to two free housecleaning visits for people living with cancer - where services are available.

Legal Assistance

Cancer Legal Resource Center

National Cancer Legal Services Network

Airline Flights

There are options for free flights when traveling to receive cancer treatment.

Accepting Help and Giving Back

Accepting and Giving

Accepting Help

Accepting help is often easier said than done. However, not wanting to take advantage of people or services is common, especially among women. Many caregivers report feeling included and relieved when allowed to assist their loved one. Practicing the art of letting go and writing 'honey do' lists is crucial to healing.

Giving Back

Whether it's donating your headgear, volunteering at a local oncology clinic, or teaching women how to paint on eyebrows - your chance to give back will come around. You, too, will be someone's helping hand one day.

Summary

Many types of chemotherapy cause hair thinning or complete hair loss. Wearing headgear such as wigs, hats, caps, and/or scarves is a creative way to camouflage and protect a bare scalp. Several organizations provide free headgear for those undergoing active cancer treatment. In addition, numerous companies offer free services that help improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

A Word From Verywell

Chemotherapy does not just affect the hair on your head. Hair loss can be widespread, affecting body hair (arm, leg, and pubic), eyebrows, and eyelashes. Hair often falls out sporadically or in clumps. Many women allow their hair to fall out naturally while others shave their heads immediately. Doing what feels best to you is essential.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes hair loss with chemotherapy?

    Chemotherapy destroys healthy and unhealthy fast-splitting cells. Cancer and hair follicles are each made of fast-splitting cells, which is why chemotherapy affects them both.

  • How can I protect my scalp during chemotherapy?

    Keep your scalp covered when spending time outdoors. If you are unable to wear a head covering (swimming, for example) then use a high SPF sunblock. Keep your scalp moisturized to prevent flaking or itching. Only use an electric razor to shave your scalp—this prevents possible cuts, which may lead to infection.

  • How quickly does your hair fall out after chemotherapy?

    Hair thinning or loss depends on the type of chemotherapy you are getting. For example, hair loss while receiving anthracyclines can occur within a couple of weeks after the first treatment, while other types of chemotherapies may take months to see hair loss. Also, some people with weakened hair follicles may have quicker hair loss than those with solid hair follicles.

  • What kind of wig is best for chemo patients?

    Choosing a comfortable wig that fits correctly and gives you confidence is most important.

2 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.
  1. The American Cancer Society. ACS Patient Programs and Services.

  2. The American Cancer Society. How to Wear a Scarf When You've Lost Your Hair.

By Serenity Mirabito RN, OCN
Serenity Mirabito, MSN, RN, OCN, advocates for well-being, even in the midst of illness. She believes in arming her readers with the most current and trustworthy information leading to fully informed decision making.

Originally written by
Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.
Learn about our editorial process