Changes to hair during cancer treatment
Some cancer treatments cause changes to the texture and condition of hair. They may also cause hair thinning or complete hair loss.
Specialist hair services
My New Hair
A charity with a network of salons that provide a wig-styling service for people with cancer and medical hair loss. The website has a list of recommended salons and it also has information about hair loss and wigs. Some salons offer their service for free.
Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic
Provides consultations and advice about hair health. Consultations are with qualified trichologists who have experience with hair loss caused by cancer treatment.
Strength in Style with Toni & Guy
Macmillan is working in partnership with Toni & Guy to provide specialist haircare for people affected by cancer.
You can also search for other useful organisations
Hair loss depends on the type of treatment you have, the combination of drugs used, the dose, and how the drugs affect you personally. If you’re having radiotherapy, the hair in the treatment area may be affected but other areas won’t be.
Hair usually grows back after cancer treatment has finished.
For certain types of chemotherapy, hair loss may be prevented or reduced by using a cold cap. This works by reducing blood flow and the amount of drugs reaching the scalp. Your cancer nurse specialist or oncology team can tell you if this kind of treatment is suitable for you.
It’s helpful to have your hair short before starting any treatment that may cause hair loss. This is because the weight of long hair can pull on the scalp and can make the hair fall out faster. For some people, cutting their hair short before treatment helps them feel in control of their appearance.
If you’re considering wearing a wig, ask about your options early on so that the wig can be as close a match as possible to your normal hair. The other advantage of arranging a wig early is that you’ll already be prepared if you lose your hair more quickly than expected. It also gives you a chance to get used to the wig before you really need it.
NHS wigs are free if you live in Scotland or Wales. Health Service wigs are free if you live in Northern Ireland. In England, you may be entitled to a free wig on the NHS if you’re having, or have had, cancer treatment and meet certain criteria. See our hair loss section or speak to your cancer nurse specialist or oncology team to find out more.
Other options for covering up hair loss include:
It’s important to do what makes you feel most comfortable.
Many women with cancer lose their hair, their eyebrows, their eyelashes, and with it, their confidence. Seeing what these ladies go through makes it even more important to be able to give something back to them by offering tips and advice on how to apply make-up.
Sam Brady, Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisor, Marldon
Avoid combing your hair if it’s brittle or if your scalp is dry, as this can make your hair fall out faster.
Use a soft brush or babies’ brush.
Avoid using hairdryers, straighteners and curling tongs.
Some people choose to wear a hairnet to bed to catch any hair that falls out.
Consider using hats and scarves to protect your head from the sun or cold wind if you’re not wearing a wig. These will also add a bit of colour and style.
Our Coping with hair loss section has more detailed information and practical tips to help you look after your hair during and after cancer treatment.