Woman with short hair looking out a window.
Tips for Side Effects

Hair Changes During Treatment

Cancer treatment can cause hair loss and changes in hair texture and color, which can impact the physical and emotional health of patients. Hair loss is commonly associated with chemotherapy; however, radiation therapy can also cause hair loss or thinning. Hair loss and changes can be challenging for some people, as hair is often tied to one's identity, self-esteem, and sexuality. 

Here are some strategies and tips to cope with hair loss and changes during cancer treatment:

Hair Loss

Hair may fall out gradually or in clumps, and it can happen anywhere on the body with hair. Hair loss often occurs 2-4 weeks after starting treatment, and it can be temporary or permanent, depending on the type of treatment. Hair usually grows back 2-3 months after treatment ends. 

  • Talk to your doctor about medications that can help manage hair loss. 

  • Consider cold capping or cryotherapy, which may help minimize hair loss. 

  • Consider wearing a wig or cranial prosthesis. Your doctor can provide a prescription for a wig, which may be covered by insurance. 


Hair Texture and Color Changes

Chemotherapy and radiation can also cause changes in hair texture and color, making it thinner or coarser, or causing it to grow back in a different color or texture. 

  • Use a soft bristle brush on your hair. 

  • Avoid using harsh chemicals (i.e. bleach or hair dye) or heat on your hair. 

  • Wash your hair less frequently and allow it to air dry. 

  • Consider using satin hair wraps or pillowcases to reduce hair pulling. 

  • Protect your scalp from the sun with a hat or sunscreen.


Coping Strategies

Hair loss and changes can be difficult to cope with, but there are strategies that may help. 

  • Consider cutting your hair short before it falls out. 

  • Experiment with different headscarves, hats, or temporary tattoos that reflect your personality. 

  • Talk to an Iris Therapist to help manage the emotional impact of hair loss and changes. 

  • Connect with an Iris Peer Mentor who has experienced hair loss to share experiences and strategies. 

Hair loss and changes are common side effects of cancer treatment, but there are ways to cope with them.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.