Chemotherapy and Hair Loss: What to Expect and When to Expect It

Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and radiation therapy—all of which are common breast cancer treatments. Fortunately, most of this hair loss is temporary.

It’s normal to be anxious, depressed or feel however you feel about your diagnosis and upcoming cancer treatments. Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends and family about your feelings and concerns. It’s super important to have a support system going into chemotherapy. Sometimes letting other’s strength keep you going in some of the hardest times can take a huge weight off your shoulders.

That being said, seeing your changing appearance in the mirror and more hair in your hairbrush every day can greatly affect your mood and result in a harsher outlook on life. So, what can you do about it?

First, always consult with your doctor and cancer care team before doing anything else in order to get a full picture of your specific circumstance going forward. Every person and cancer treatment is unique, meaning you can expect a range of symptoms from minor hair thinning to complete hair loss depending on your specific treatment and dosage.

But once that’s done? We’ve got you covered.

How Common Is Hair Loss from Chemo?

By definition, chemotherapy attacks rapidly growing cancer cells—but it doesn’t discriminate. This means the treatment attacks any and all rapidly growing cells within your body. Including your hair follicles, which are some of the fastest-growing cells in your body. In addition to hair loss on your scalp, your eyelashes, armpit, eyebrow and other body hair can also fall out. Thus far, there’s no treatment out there that can guarantee you won’t experience any hair loss.

This is one of the biggest concerns for both men and women who are diagnosed with cancer and prescribed chemotherapy or another treatment. Many people see hair loss as the biggest sign that someone has cancer—something some, if not most, people prefer not to advertise to the rest of the world.

Hair loss usually begins roughly two to four weeks into your treatment and may fall out gradually or in larger amounts. You’ll likely begin to see an increased amount of hair in the shower drain or find loose hairs on your pillowcase. It’s also common for your hair loss to occur up to a few weeks after your last chemo treatment. Over the coming weeks, your hair will begin to grow again, but it might not look or feel like it used to. Thankfully, the change in appearance and texture is usually temporary.

Don’t be scared or surprised if your hair grows in gray—give the pigment cells in your follicles some time to recharge before they can begin functioning again. In the meantime, Silver Lining Purple Brightening Shampoo can be a great alternative to your normal wash routine. Just because your hair isn’t what it used to be for the time being doesn’t mean it can’t look amazing!

Your hair might also be coarser, thinner or curlier than it was before chemo. Based on the average rate of regrowth, you will likely see four to six inches of hair growth within a year of your last chemo treatment.

However, some people may experience an extended period of hair loss after chemo, incomplete hair regrowth or permanent hair loss. Although the change in color and texture of your new hair is often temporary, it can sometimes be permanent. Remember that everyone’s hair regrowth journey is different. No matter how mild or severe, any amount of hair loss is often traumatic.

Help and Support Are Two of Your Biggest Assets

Friends and family are some of the greatest resources you have. However, sometimes it’s hard for people to really understand what you’re going through unless they’ve been through it themselves. If you’re not getting the support you need at home or from friends, in-person support groups and online communities for people who have gone through the same thing as you can be a great asset.

Look Good Feel Better is an amazing program that provides hair tips and beauty makeovers to women with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy, radiation or other forms of treatment. With programs offered all throughout the U.S. and in several other countries, Look Good Feel Better offers lessons on cosmetics, skin and nail care, wigs, covers and styling with the aim of bringing normalcy back to people’s lives. They also offer special classes for teens with cancer and dedicated websites and guides for men with cancer.

Cancer Hair Care is a charity service that offers free, expert advice and support for those struggling with cancer treatments. They focus on taking a holistic approach and supporting the practical, emotional and physical needs of those suffering from hair loss. The American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program offers you the chance to connect with volunteers who have been in your shoes before, providing one-on-one support through online chats or phone conversations.

If you’re still wondering how to prepare your hair for chemotherapy and how to care for your post-chemo hair, Better Not Younger is here to help.

Tell Us: Have you or someone you've known dealt with hair loss related to chemotherapy? Share in the comments below.