Coping with hair loss

It is quite natural to experience a range of emotions when dealing with the side effects of cancer treatment, such as hair loss.

Being prepared and talking about how you feel can help you adjust to this temporary change in your appearance. It may be difficult to cope with people’s reactions to your hair loss.

If you are not comfortable talking about it, give a simple response that creates boundaries and people often follow your lead, eg. “I have had to have some treatment for my health and this is the side effect.”

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Taking back some control

It can help to plan ahead for how you might deal with the possibility of hair loss.

  • Consider cutting your hair before treatment starts to give yourself time to adjust. Some people cut their hair short before treatment starts, while others prefer to cut their hair in stages.
  • Prepare children for your hair loss to help reduce their feelings of fear or anxiety. Cancer Council’s Talking to Kids About Cancer includes tips on how to talk to children about the changes cancer treatment may cause. 
Talking to someone else who has experienced hair loss may be helpful – call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for information and support.

Hair and scalp care

Below are some tips that may help you take care of your hair and scalp during and after cancer treatment.

If you have lost your hair

  • Gentle massage and moisturising of the scalp can be invigorating and reduce flaky areas.
  • Protect your scalp from the sun with sunscreen, or a scarf or hat.
  • Use a pillow case made from satin, polyester or cotton.
  • You may like to wear a soft cap or beanie to keep your head warm as having no hair or less hair can make you feel cold.

If your scalp is sensitive and your hair is thin

  • Use a gentle shampoo and conditioner.
  • Brush your hair gently with a soft bristle brush.
  • Dry your hair naturally or use a cool setting on the hair dryer.
  • Avoid heated rollers, curling wands or straightening irons.
  • Avoid harsh chemicals such as hair colouring, gel, mousse and perming agents.
  • If you have lost hair under your arms avoid perfumed deodorants.

If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor or nurses and follow their specific advice on caring for your scalp during treatment.

Read more about hair and scalp care

This information was last reviewed in February 2015
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