Cancer hair care

We have some practical tips to help you keep your hair in good condition during or after your cancer treatment.

Caring for your hair

Even if you do not lose your hair, you may find your hair is dry or brittle. This could happen during or after your cancer treatment.

Here are some helpful tips for any type of hair. We have included further information for people with Afro hair, as this hair type naturally gets damaged more easily.

Washing your hair

  • Wash your hair as you normally would. Washing will not make hair loss worse, or make hair fall out faster. The important thing is to keep your hair and scalp clean.
  • Start with your usual shampoo and hair products. But if the condition of your hair changes, for example if it becomes dry or brittle, you may need to change what you use.
  • You may want to use a gentle, fragrance-free shampoo that does not contain any harsh chemicals. If you are unsure what to use, check with your healthcare team.
  • If you are having radiotherapy to your head, check with the radiotherapy team which products you can use on your hair and scalp.
  • When washing your hair, use conditioner as recommended. This usually means applying it to the middle lengths and ends of the hair.

Drying and styling your hair

  • Be gentle when using a towel to dry your hair. Do not rub hard, as this can damage the hair.
  • When your hair is wet, use a wide-toothed comb, as these cause less damage than brushes. There are also brushes designed for use on wet hair. Start combing or brushing from the ends of your hair to reduce tangles.
  • Try to keep your hair free from tangles. Combing your hair every day with a wide-toothed comb will remove any loose hairs. You may prefer to use a brush, depending on your hair type.
  • If you use a brush, use one that does not get caught in, or pull on your hair. This may cause damage.
  • Avoid too much heat from hairdryers or heated rollers. These can cause the hair to split and break. Use a hairdryer on a low heat and hold it at least 15cm (6in) away from the hair. Avoid using hair straighteners or curling tongs too often.
  • Avoid tying your hair up with a tight band, as this can cause damage and breaks. If you plait your hair, braid it gently.
  • If you want to use chemicals such as perms or colours on your hair, make sure your hair and scalp are in good condition first. If you are having chemotherapy, you may have an allergic reaction to strong hair chemicals. It is important to do a sensitivity test before a colour or perm.

Afro hair

  • If you are going to lose your hair or have scalp cooling, it helps to remove weaves, extensions and braids before you start treatment. These can put extra strain on the hair follicles.
  • If you plan to chemically relax your hair, it is important that your hair and scalp are in good condition. This will help avoid damaging your hair. Do a sensitivity test before applying any chemicals to your hair.
  • You may be used to using oil on your hair and scalp to help keep your hair moisturised. You may need to change the oil you use, or use less than usual. This is because you may have less hair to absorb the oil. Reducing the amount of oil on the scalp will also help if you wear a wig.

Cancer Hair Care has more information about caring for Afro hair.

Caring for your skin

It is important to take care of the skin in areas where you have hair loss. It may be more sensitive or tender than skin on other parts of your body.

  • If you are having radiotherapy, talk to the radiographers about which deodorants, soaps, perfumes and lotions you can use. If you have a skin reaction, such as soreness or a change in skin colour, let the radiotherapy team know as soon as possible. They will advise you on the best way to manage it.
  • Unless your healthcare team tells you not to, wash your scalp every day, even if you have lost all your hair. This is especially important if you wear a wig, which can make your scalp hot and sweaty. Use a gentle shampoo or a facial wash.
  • If your scalp gets dry, flaky or itchy, you may want to use a gentle fragrance-free moisturiser.
  • If your skin develops red spots or a rash, tell your healthcare team. If the hair follicles become inflamed, you may need antibiotic treatment.
  • You may find it helps to use pillowcases made of natural fibres, such as cotton, silk, bamboo or linen. Man-made (synthetic) fibres, like nylon and polyester, can irritate the scalp.
  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on your scalp whenever you go out. Even if you have black or brown skin, you need to protect your scalp. You could also wear a hat.
  • When it is cold, cover your head to protect your scalp and keep it warm.
  • If you wear a wig, take it off sometimes. It is good to let your scalp have some air.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our cancer pain information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Cancer Hair Care website: (accessed June 2022).

    Dilawari A, Gallagher C, Alintah P, et al. Does scalp cooling have the same efficacy in Black patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer? Oncologist, 2021; Volume 26(4):292-e548. Available from www.doi:10.1002/onco.13690 (accessed June 2022).

    Kinoshita T, Nakayama T, Fukuma E, et al. Efficacy of scalp cooling in preventing and recovering from chemotherapy-induced alopecia in breast cancer patients: The HOPE Study. Front Oncol, 2019; 9:733. Available from www.doi:10.3389/fonc.2019.00733 (accessed Oct 2022).

    Sung-chan Gwark, Sei Hyun Ahn, Woo Chul Noh, et al. Similar negative emotional impact on hair loss in neoadjuvant endocrine therapy compared to neoadjuvant chemotherapy in young women with breast cancer from patient reported outcomes. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2020; 38:15 suppl, e19242-e19242. Available from (accessed June 2022).

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 December 2022
Next review: 01 December 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.