Combatting Hair Loss and Other Changes

One of the most well-known side effects of cancer treatments is hair loss. If you’re concerned about potential or current hair loss, you are not alone—for many women and men, hair loss can be one of the most distressing side effects of cancer treatment, both physically and emotionally.

Whatever you may feel about hair loss, it’s important to remember that it is usually temporary, and the hair will grow back.

In the interim, there are additional ways you can strengthen and protect your hair from the effects of therapy.

Reducing Hair Loss

The potential loss of hair—and the amount—during chemotherapy depend on several factors. The type of chemotherapy and how it is given (in terms of dose and frequency) can affect the amount of hair a person may lose. Different doses of chemotherapy can cause varying degrees of hair loss, from just thinning to complete baldness.

Minoxidil is a topical medication approved for use in men and women who have the type of hair loss that occurs with age. Although applying minoxidil to the scalp before and during chemotherapy may not completely prevent hair loss, it can reduce the amount of hair lost and speed up the regrowth of hair.

Did you know?

While radiation typically only affects hair in the treated area, hair loss from chemotherapy can occur throughout the body, including

  • the head,
  • face (including eyebrows and eyelashes),
  • arms,
  • legs,
  • underarms,
  • and pubic area

Changes in Hair Texture

Sometimes, hair loss isn’t the only change that can occur during or after cancer treatment. Hair that grows back after chemotherapy may be different in color or texture, but this is normal—your hair usually returns to its original look and feel within a few years.

Pro tip: For greater hair strength and growth, you can take the following over-the-counter supplements: biotin and orthosilicic acid.

As always, consult with your doctor before adding these medications to your daily routine.

Minimizing Unwanted Hair

Hair growth can also occur in response to treatment. Threading, shaving, electrolysis, or laser removal are good removal options for unwanted, excess growth. Consider the best one for you based on cost, the time it takes, and availability in your area.

There are several key steps to take, ideally before receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy:

  • understand the degree of hair loss usually caused by the treatments
  • decide whether to use medications to speed up hair regrowth
  • consider various coverups (scarves, hats, turbans, wigs); and realize that in most people, hair loss is temporary.

All of these steps will empower you and help you feel better about your appearance during treatment. As always, talk with your doctor about making any changes to your daily routine.


Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD
If you are a person living with cancer, you may experience changes in your skin, hair, or nails. There are many effective ways to prevent and manage these side effects so they don't disrupt your life or interfere with treatment.

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