Practical tips for coping with hair loss

It is important to look after your hair during and after cancer treatment:

  • Wash your hair at least every two days.
  • Use gentle hair products and non-medicated shampoo.
  • If you are having radiotherapy, ask your radiotherapy team if you can use shampoo and which type is best.
  • Only use conditioner on the middle and ends of your hair.
  • When drying your hair with a towel, don’t rub hard.
  • Use a brush with wide-spaced prongs or a wide-toothed comb.
  • Wear a soft cap or turban at night.
  • Avoid too much heat from hairdryers, heated rollers or hair straighteners.
  • Avoid colouring, perming or relaxing your hair.
  • Try not to tie your hair in a tight band.

It is also important to look after the skin on your head and other places where you have hair:

  • If you are having radiotherapy, ask the radiographers which deodorants, soaps, perfumes and lotions you can use. 
  • Shampoo your scalp every day.
  • Use an unperfumed moisturiser.
  • Use pillows made from natural fibres.
  • Protect your head from the sun and from the cold.

Caring for your hair

The tips in this section are suitable for all hair types. If your hair is dry or brittle during or after your cancer treatment, the following information could help. The tips are especially helpful for curly or Afro-Caribbean hair, which naturally gets damaged more easily.

Tips for washing your hair

  • Wash your hair at least once every two days. Leaving a longer time between washes will not prevent hair loss. Not washing your hair may cause problems as any hair you lose can build up on your head and tangle.
  • Only use gentle hair products and non-medicated shampoo. Special products are available for Afro-Caribbean hair and other hair types.
  • If you are having radiotherapy to your head, check with the radiotherapy staff if you can use shampoo and ask which type is best.
  • When washing your hair, only put conditioner on the middle lengths and ends of the hair in small sections. 

Drying and styling your hair

  • When drying your hair with a towel, don’t rub hard.
  • Use a brush with wide-spaced prongs or a wide-toothed comb. Full-bristle brushes will pull your hair. Use a wide-toothed comb when your hair is wet, as combs cause less damage than brushes. Start combing from the ends to reduce tangles.
  • Avoid too much heat from hairdryers or heated rollers. These can dry the hair and make it break. Put hairdryers on a low heat and hold at least 15cm (6in) away from the hair. Try to leave your hair damp, as moisture is important for your hair’s health.
  • Avoid using hair straighteners during treatment, as these may damage fragile hair.
  • 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, colouring or chemically relaxing your hair, as this can make it even more dry and brittle. We have more tips on colouring, perming or relaxing your hair after treatment has finished.
  • At night, wear a hair net, soft cap or turban to stop your hair becoming tangled and to collect any loose hair.

Watch our hair loss video playlist

In these videos, people with experience of cancer and hair loss share their stories. You can also watch tutorials on wigs, headwear and eye make up.

Watch our hair loss video playlist

In these videos, people with experience of cancer and hair loss share their stories. You can also watch tutorials on wigs, headwear and eye make up.


Caring for your skin

If your hair falls out, it is important to take care of the skin on your head and other places where you had hair. 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 develop a skin reaction, such as soreness or a change in skin colour, let the radiotherapy staff know as soon as possible. They will advise you on the best way to manage it.
  • Shampoo your scalp every day, even if you have lost all your hair. Scalp tissue still contains oil and sweat glands. Shampooing every day is especially important if you are wearing a wig. Use a perfume-free product.
  • Use a gentle, unperfumed moisturiser on your scalp if it gets dry, flaky or itchy.
  • Use pillowcases made of natural fibres, such as cotton or linen. Man-made (synthetic) fibres, like nylon and polyester, can irritate the scalp.
  • Cover your head with a hat to make sure your skin does not burn on sunny days. If you do not 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.
  • Cover your head when it is cold to protect your scalp and to prevent heat loss.
  • If you wear a wig, leave it off whenever possible to let your scalp have some air.


Eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hair

Losing your eyebrows, eyelashes and other body hair can be upsetting. But there are practical ways to cope with these changes, which we have listed below. 

We also have more information about coping with the visible side effects of cancer treatment, written in partnership with Boots. In some Boots stores, you can have appointments with Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors. The Beauty Advisors have been trained to support people living with cancer. They offer free, face-to-face advice about caring for your skin, hair and nails.

Eyebrows

If you lose your eyebrows or find that they are thinner, you can redraw them with an eyebrow pencil that matches your normal hair colour. Eyebrow pencils are available from any chemist or beauty shop. Beauty counters in department stores can show you how to redraw your eyebrows.

To make your eyebrows as realistic and natural-looking as possible, follow the natural eyebrow arch and draw in short, feathery strokes that look like the normal eyebrow hair. Make the brow thicker on the inner end of the eyebrow (nearest to the nose) and thinner at the outer edge.

Another natural-looking way to redraw the eyebrows is by using an eye shadow powder and applying it with a make-up brush. You can also use false eyebrows. They need to be stuck on with special glue, which is available from false eyebrow suppliers. 

Some people may find that drawing eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil is not suitable for them. Wearing a pair of thick-rimmed glasses can also help to hide your missing eyebrows.

Some people choose to have permanent tattooing to create new eyebrows. This can be done by some cosmetic salons, medical tattoo specialists and tattooing shops. It should only be carried out by registered tattooists with an up-to-date health and safety certificate. Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse before getting a tattoo. 

Eyelashes

False eyelashes can be used to give a natural appearance. These are available from many beauty departments. Many department stores have private rooms where staff can show you how to apply the eyelashes. Wearing glasses can be another good option.

Moustaches and beards

Facial hair can be an important part of your identity. Or it may be important for cultural or religious reasons. Losing a moustache or a beard can be very difficult to deal with. Some online companies, make-up shops or theatrical shops sell moustaches or beards. Some of these can be tailored specially, but this can be very expensive.

Pubic hair

Some people temporarily lose their pubic hair. This can be upsetting and you may worry about how you look. If you have a partner, you may also be concerned about what they think and worry that it could affect your sex life. Try to be open with your partner and talk about how you feel. Often by talking, you will find that it is not such a problem after all.

Nasal hair

If you lose the hair from inside your nose, you may be more likely to have a runny nose. Although this can be irritating, it is only temporary and will stop when the hairs grow back. Try to take plenty of tissues with you when you go out.

I went to an event that gave me lots of make-up tips, which meant I could draw on features. I actually felt a bit more normal.

Penny

One thing I didn’t like was getting up in the middle of the night and seeing myself in the mirror. In the morning, I would apply some eyebrows straight away.

Adele

Back to Hair loss

Preparing for hair loss

There are things that you can do to help you feel more in control when your hair falls out.

Scalp cooling

Cooling your head in certain ways during chemotherapy may reduce or prevent hair loss.