Preventing hair loss

Scalp cooling can reduce hair loss caused by chemotherapy. It works by reducing the amount of chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles. Scalp cooling doesn’t work with all chemotherapy drugs and it’s not always possible to know how effective the treatment will be.

You will need to keep your head cold before, during and after treatment. There are two methods of scalp cooling:

  • Cold cap - a special cap filled with cold gel.
  • Refrigerated cooling system - this pumps liquid coolant through a cap.

You might feel cold during your treatment, but the chemotherapy staff will try to make you as comfortable as possible. Your hospital may not have the facilities for scalp cooling. Your doctor or nurse can tell you if it’s available and whether it’s suitable for you.

If you don’t lose all your hair, but it thins or becomes dry or brittle, it’s important to treat your hair carefully. This can help to reduce hair loss.

Scalp cooling

Some people find scalp cooling helps to prevent hair loss from chemotherapy. There is no known way to prevent hair loss from radiotherapy, hormonal therapies or biological therapies.

By cooling the scalp during chemotherapy, it’s sometimes possible to reduce the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles on your scalp. This reduces and, in some cases, it can prevent the hair from falling out.

There are two widely available methods for scalp cooling.

Cold cap

This method uses a special cap that is filled with cold gel. It can be fitted easily and kept in place with Velcro®. The cap can often be uncomfortable and heavy, as well as being very cold. This can give some people a headache. It also needs to be changed every 20–40 minutes to keep your scalp cool.

Refrigerated cooling system

The other type of scalp cooling uses a refrigerated cooling system that pumps liquid coolant through a cap. This type of cap generally feels lighter than a gel-filled cap. You need to sit next to the machine while the cap is in place, so you can’t walk about freely. However, the cap can be disconnected for short periods if necessary, for example if you need to use the toilet.

Things to consider

Both types of scalp cooling need to be worn for up to 30–40 minutes before your chemotherapy drugs are given and for some time afterwards. You may have the cap on for a few hours in total. You may feel cold during the treatment. The chemotherapy staff will do all they can to make you as comfortable as possible, but some people find the discomfort too much.

Scalp cooling is only effective when used with certain chemotherapy drugs and it’s not always possible to know how effective the treatment will be until you try it. Scalp cooling is not advised when treating some types of cancer.

Some hospitals don’t have facilities for scalp cooling. Your doctor or chemotherapy nurse can tell you if it’s available and if it’s suitable for you.


Hair thinning

Some people find they do not lose all their hair. It may thin or become very dry and brittle instead. If this happens, it is important to treat your hair carefully. This may prevent damage to your hair and may help to reduce any further hair loss. We have tips on caring for your hair during treatment.


Back to Hair loss

After treatment

Your hair may grow back after treatment but it might have changed. It’s important to care for your new hair.