Tips to help you prepare and look after your hair and skin

There are things you can do to help you manage your hair loss or changes to your skin.

Some hospitals will have people to show you how to wear different types of headwear. Most programmes are for women but Look Good…Feel Better USA has some online tips for men.

If you will lose your hair during cancer treatment, there are ways you can prepare. You may want to have it cut short or have it cut in stages to help you get used to shorter hair. Some people shave their heads completely.

During and after cancer treatment there are ways you can look after your hair:

  • Use gentle hair products.
  • Check with your radiotherapy team if you can use products on the affected area.
  • Brush your hair gently and wear a hairnet at night.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Avoid hairdryers, straighteners or hot rollers.
  • Avoid colouring or perming.Avoid massaging your head.

During and after cancer treatment there are ways you can look after your skin:

  • Use gentle, unperfumed moisturiser. Check which products you can use with your radiography team.
  • Use pillows made from natural fibres.
  • Protect your head from the sun.
  • Avoid perfumed deodorants.

Practical help to cope with hair loss due to cancer treatment

There are several practical ways to cope with hair loss or if your hair becomes thin, dry, brittle and more difficult to manage. They don’t make the problem disappear, but can make life a bit easier for you during this difficult time. Some hospitals have staff who can show you how to wear different types of headwear and give you ideas and tips. You can ask your nurses whether there is anyone who can do this for you. Some hospitals run hair and beauty programmes for women. Your nurses should be able to tell you if your hospital has such a programme, or if not, whether there is a programme at another nearby hospital. Most of these programmes are for women, but Look Good...Feel Better USA has a website for men affected by cancer, which includes practical tips on coping with hair loss. Visit lookgoodfeelbetterformen.org

Preparing for hair loss due to cancer treatment

You could think about having your hair cut short before your treatment starts. If your hair is shorter, it will feel like you are losing less hair when it does fall out. If you’re used to having long hair, you may find it easier to have it cut in stages to give you time to get used to a new length. Some people prefer to shave their heads completely before they start losing their hair. This can give a sense of control over what is going to happen and you may prefer to do this, rather than wait for your hair to fall out.

Some people may not want to cut their hair for cultural or religious reasons, and may find alternative headwear helpful.


Looking after your hair during cancer treatment

If your hair is dry or brittle during or after cancer treatment:

  • Only use gentle hair products and non-medicated shampoo.
  • If you’re having radiotherapy to your head, check with the radiotherapy staff whether you can use shampoo on your hair and if so, which type of shampoo.
  • Brush or comb your hair gently using a brush with wide prongs, or a wide-toothed comb.
  • At night, wear a soft cap or turban around your head to stop your hair becoming tangled and to collect any loose hair – women may find it easier to wear a hairnet.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, protein, carbohydrates and iron-rich foods if your diet allows.
  • Avoid using excessive heat from hairdryers, hair straighteners or heated rollers, as this can dry the hair and make it break.
  • Avoid wearing your hair in a tight band, as this can damage and break it. If you plait your hair, plait it gently.
  • Avoid perming or colouring your hair as this can make it even more dry and brittle.
  • Avoid massaging your head as it’s unlikely to stimulate new hair growth and could wear away any fine, new hairs.


Looking after your skin during cancer treatment

If your hair falls out, it’s important to take care of the skin on your head and other places where you had hair, as it may be more sensitive than skin elsewhere:

  • Use a gentle unperfumed moisturiser, such as E45 or aqueous cream, on your scalp if it gets dry, flaky or itchy, but avoid any oils. If you’re having radiotherapy, always check with the radiotherapy staff before applying anything to your skin.
  • Use pillowcases made of 100% natural fibres, such as cotton or linen, as man-made fibres like nylon and polyester can irritate the scalp.
  • Cover your head with a hat to make sure your skin doesn’t get burnt on sunny days. If you don’t want to cover your head, use a suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp whenever you go out.
  • Avoid using perfumed deodorants if you have lost hair under your arms. Baby powder or deodorants made from natural mineral crystals can be used instead – these are available from chemists or health shops.

BootsWebMD is working with Macmillan to provide access to even more high-quality information to people affected by cancer. To learn more about hair loss, visit BootsWebMD.com


Back to Hair loss

Hair loss and its causes

Some cancer treatments may cause your hair to fall out or to change.

Coping emotionally with hair loss

Losing your hair due to cancer treatment can be difficult. You can find emotional support to help you.

Scalp cooling

Scalp cooling may help to reduce hair loss from the head caused by some chemotherapy drugs.