Hair Changes

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Breast cancer treatment can affect the hair on your body in different ways. Your hair may change colors, become very thin, or fall out completely.

The following breast cancer treatments can affect your hair:

Managing hair loss

Losing your hair can be stressful and upsetting. Your hair may begin to grow back while you're still having treatment or it may take from 3 to 6 months after treatment is over to begin growing back.

Follow these tips to help you manage the physical and emotional aspects of losing your hair:

  • Prepare your loved ones for your possible change in looks. Young children may not quite understand, so be sure to reassure them that your hair will grow back. They may feel better if they help you pick out wigs or other hair coverings.
  • Try cutting your hair very short when you begin to lose your hair. It will give you some idea of what it will look like when it begins to grow back.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen or protect your head with a hat or scarf when you're in the sun if you’re not wearing a wig.
  • Keep your head warm if you’re not wearing a wig. Make sure you wear a warm hat in cold climates.
  • Visit a wig specialist before you begin chemotherapy if you're going to wear a wig. This way the specialist can see your current hairstyle and color and may be able to suggest a wig that looks like your natural hair. You also may be able to pre-order a custom-made wig.
  • Find a quality wig salon that can provide good advice on the shampoos, conditioners, and brushes to use on your wig. Good wig salons will clean and restyle wigs as needed. You can ask your local hospital or local cancer support group to refer you to a wig shop in your area.
  • Consider buying more than one wig. This way you can avoid going without a wig while having one cleaned and restyled.
  • Find out what your insurance will cover (if you have insurance). Some insurers will pay for 80% of the wig's cost or more, if used for medical purposes. Make sure your doctor writes a prescription for your wig so you can submit it to your insurance company.
  • Be creative with other hair accessories. Wraps, hats, and turbans can be very fashionable and affordable.
  • Be prepared for the re-growth. In some cases, the new hair can grow in with a different color, texture, or wave, but this change usually isn't permanent.
  • Think about joining a support group to find others in your situation and talk about your appearance concerns. You may even pick up a few tips about managing your new look.

Cold caps may help some women keep some of their hair

Cold caps — tightly fitting, strap-on hats filled with gel that’s chilled to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit — may help some women keep some or quite a bit of their hair during chemotherapy. Because the caps are so cold, they narrow the blood vessels beneath the skin of the scalp, reducing the amount of chemotherapy medicine that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemotherapy medicine in the follicles, the hair may be less likely to fall out.

You wear the caps before, during, and after each chemotherapy session.

It’s important to know that some doctors are concerned that the caps may prevent the chemotherapy medicine from reaching cancer cells that may be in the scalp. Several U.S. studies are underway to look at the safety and effectiveness of the caps. At this time, none of the caps have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For more information on cold caps, visit the Cold Caps page in the Hair, Skin, and Nails pages in the Day-to-Day Matter section.

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