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Hair Loss from Chemo: What to Expect

Woman holding clump of hair in her hands

Hair loss (also called alopecia) is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy targets cells that divide and grow quickly—a feature of cancer cells. Chemo affects hair cells because they also divide and grow quickly.

Though hair can fall out from this treatment, it’s important to remember that it does grow back in most cases. These frequently asked questions tell you more about what to expect.

Will I lose my hair when I’m on chemo?

It’s hard to predict who will lose hair. Though it is common, not everyone loses their hair while on chemo. It depends on the type of chemotherapy, dosage, and other factors. Talk to your health care team about hair loss for the type of chemo you get.

What should I expect with hair loss?

  • Hair will start to fall out about 1–3 weeks after beginning treatment.
  • Hair often comes out in clumps as you shampoo or brush it.
  • Your head may feel tender or itchy when hair begins to fall out.
  • Hair loss happens all over the body, not just your scalp. This can include your eyelashes and brows.

How should I prepare for hair loss?

  • It can help to visit a hairstylist before treatment so you feel more prepared. You may want to cut your hair short or shave your head before treatment begins or when you notice your hair starting to fall out.
  • If you want a wig, buy it before treatment begins to make sure you can get the style you want. Ask for a wig that can be adjusted. That way you can make it smaller as you lose hair. Learn more about choosing and wearing a wig from the American Cancer Society.

What should I do when I start losing my hair?

  • Use a wide-tooth comb or a soft-bristle brush.
  • Avoid braiding your hair or pulling it into a tight ponytail. This can increase hair loss.
  • Use head coverings or scarves to protect your head from sun, wind, and cold.
  • Use sunscreen on your scalp.
  • Wear a hair net or use a satin pillowcase at night to reduce hair coming out in clumps.
  • Be gentle with your eyelashes and eyebrows.

Does hair grow back after chemo?

Hair grows back most of the time. Hair growth usually happens 4–6 weeks after your last dose of chemotherapy.

Hair that grows back after chemo may be a different texture, color, or thickness than it was before. Over time, your hair may return to its normal color and texture.

Learn more about hair loss from the National Cancer Institute. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s G. Mitchell Morris Cancer Learning Center can answer questions about hair loss or other cancer topics. Contact the Cancer Learning Center: