Coping with hair loss and thinning

Hair loss and thinning due to cancer treatment can be very upsetting. There are some practical things you can do to help. 

Tips for coping with hair loss

For hair loss

  • Ask about a wig before you start treatment, so you can match the colour and texture of your real hair.
  • If you are feeling adventurous, choose a wig for a whole new look – why not try the colour and style you've always wanted!
  • Think about having your hair gradually cut short before your treatment starts - this might help you get used to seeing yourself with less hair.
  • Some people shave their hair off completely to avoid the distress of seeing their hair fall out.
  • Wear a hair net at night so you won't wake up with hair all over your pillow, which can be upsetting.
  • Keep your head warm in cooler weather - some people wear a soft hat in bed.
  • Rub in oil or moisturiser if your scalp feels dry and itchy, try unperfumed products such as Epaderm, Hydromol or Doublebase.
  • Try a moisturising liquid (emollient) instead of soap if your scalp is dry, for example aqueous cream, Oilatum or Diprobase.
  • Protect your scalp by covering your head in the sun - your scalp is particularly sensitive to the sun.

For hair thinning

  • Use gentle hair products such as baby shampoos.
  • Don't use perms or hair colours on thinning hair – colours may not take well and perms can damage the hair.
  • Use a soft baby brush and comb thinning hair gently.
  • Avoid using hair dryers, curling tongs, hair straighteners and curlers on thinning hair and pat your hair dry after washing.
  • If your scalp flakes or itches this means it is dry – use oil or moisturiser, not dandruff shampoo.
  • Protect your scalp by covering your head in the sun.

Covering your head

There are a lot of ways to cover your head if your hair falls out.

A wig is the most obvious choice. But not everyone wants to wear one. They can be hot and itchy, especially in the summer. You can wear a soft inner cap (a wig stocking) under the wig to make it more comfortable. Some people worry that the wig will slip or fall off. You can buy sticky pads designed specifically to keep the wig still. 

Some people prefer hats, scarves or baseball caps. Or you can just leave your head uncovered if you feel confident with your bald head.

Ask your nurse if you think you would like a wig. You might be able to get a wig for free on the NHS.

There are different types of hats and scarves you can wear when you have hair loss or thinning. You can buy these in high street shops or on the internet.

When your hair grows back


Hair usually grows back once your chemotherapy has finished. Sometimes the hair does not grow back but this usually only happens with very high doses of particular drugs.

It might take several months or longer for your hair to grow back. When it does grow back, it is likely to be softer. It may also have a different colour or be curlier than before. 

Hormone therapy

Hair thinning due to hormone therapy usually starts to improve once treatment has finished. 

Targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy

Within a few weeks of finishing targeted cancer drugs or immunotherapy you might have:

  • thickening of hair if you had hair thinning
  • regrowth of hair if you had hair loss

With some targeted cancer drugs and immunotherapy, hair might start to grow before you stop your treatment. 


Hair usually grows back after radiotherapy for most people. But some people might have permanent hair loss. This is more likely if you have had higher doses of radiotherapy. Ask your doctor what they think might happen in your situation.

It might take 6 months, or more for hair to grow back. The more radiotherapy you have had, the longer your hair takes to grow back.

It may not be quite as thick as before, or regrowth could be patchy. Your hair might grow back a different colour or texture. For example, it may be curly when it used to be straight.

Your feelings about hair loss

Hair loss and hair thinning can be very stressful. Some people find it the hardest part of having cancer and its treatment. This is understandable because our appearance is closely linked to our feelings of self esteem. Trying to accept sudden changes in your looks can be very hard. Social activities might seem more difficult.

It’s not unusual to feel angry and depressed. You might feel worried about how your friends and family see you. And you may think that you are no longer as physically attractive. If you have children or grandchildren, you might worry about how they feel about seeing you without hair. You might also worry about how their friends will see you, and if this will affect your children. It’s natural to worry about these things.

Remember though, that the people closest to you will not see you any differently as a person. They will want to support you as much as they can, so it's important to tell them how you’re feeling. Talking things through can help you to feel less isolated and more able to cope.

People's stories

PV first had his hair cut very short, then shaved it all off

"My hair started to fall out 2 weeks after my first chemotherapy session. As soon as I noticed a few strands coming out, I had my hair cut very short. A few days later it all started to come out and I shaved the rest off.

As a man it doesn't really bother me and my wife quite likes my bald head. Still I'm looking forward to it growing back."

PF lost lots of hair and got a wig

"My doctor said my hair would gradually thin, so I was expecting it. However, I was a bit frightened when it started to come out in handfuls when I washed my hair. So I had my hair cut in a short style to suit thin hair.

When I was in hospital the nurses organised for the wig lady to visit. She was very friendly and helped me choose a wig similar to my own colour and style. I was nervous when my daughter came to see me but she said she could hardly tell the difference. I thought it was a lot greyer than my real colour but my daughter thought it was a perfect match!

I don't wear it all the time. I usually wear a scarf round my head but I like wearing my wig when I go out and I feel very comfortable in it."

EW's hair grew back curly, then straightened

"My hair took about 6 to 7 months to grow back. At first, it was quite curly, but as it grew, it became heavier and the curls dropped out."

Getting help and support

There are people who can help and support you. Talk to someone you trust. You can also talk with your specialist nurse, doctor, GP, dietitian or physiotherapist.

Cancer Research UK nurses

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available. Freephone: 0808 800 4040 - Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Cancer Chat

Cancer Research UK has an online forum called Cancer Chat. You might find it helpful to join the forum to talk to other people who have had a similar experience. 

Resources and support organisations

There are lots of organisations, support groups and helpful books to help you cope with changes to how you look.

  • A comparison of men and women's experiences of chemotherapy-induced alopecia
    G Can and others (2013) 
    European Journal of Oncology Nursing, 2013. Volume 17, Issue 3, Pages 255-60

  • Cancer. Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    VT De Vita, S Hellman and SA Rosenberg
    Walters Klumer, 2015. 

  • PD-1 inhibitor induced alopecia areata
    J Guidry, M Brown and T Medina
    Dermatology Online Journal, 2018. Volume 24, Number 12, Page 1 – 3

  • Chemotherapy-induced alopecia advice and support for hair loss
    H. Roe
    British Journal of Nursing, 2011. Volume 20, Issue 10, Pages 4 -11

  • Immune-related alopecia (areata and universalis-type) in cancer patients receiving immune checkpoint inhibitors
    A Zarboo and others
    British Journal of Dermatology, 2017. Volume 176, Issue 6, Pages 1649 - 1652

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
06 Mar 2023
Next review due: 
06 Mar 2026

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