Why Do You Have to Shave Your Head When You Have Cancer

Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy, and shaving the head before treatment can help make the process easier to cope with.

When you’re fighting cancer, shaving your head is very common. This is mainly because of chemotherapy.1 Chemotherapy is powerful and targets quick-growing cells, like those in hair.

So, many people lose their hair because of this treatment. When you shave your head before losing your hair, it’s a way to take back some control.1 A good example is when actress Shannen Doherty shaved her head due to breast cancer. This shows losing your hair can tell others you’re undergoing cancer treatment. Many choose to shave their heads early to deal with this.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chemotherapy often leads to hair loss, which can start 2-4 weeks after beginning treatment.1
  • Hair loss during cancer treatment can occur gradually or in clumps.1
  • Chemotherapy can impact hair on the head, as well as eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair in other areas.1
  • Shaving the head before hair loss can help patients feel more in control of the situation.1
  • Hair loss is a visible indicator of cancer treatment that many patients choose to address proactively.

What Is Chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy fights cancer with strong drugs.2 It stops cancer cells from growing. But, it can also affect normal cells, like those in the mouth, gut, and hair.2 This causes side effects such as sores, diarrhea, and losing hair.2 Radiation therapy can make you lose hair too, like chemotherapy.2

Chemotherapy and Its Impact on Rapidly Growing Cells

Hair loss from chemotherapy happens because it targets fast growing cells, including hair cells.3 This can cause a lot of hair to fall out.

Potential Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Besides hair loss, there are other side effects from chemotherapy. Some people may not feel well but won’t lose hair. Others may get an itchy head, feel sore, get rashes, or folliculitis.2 These problems usually last for two to three weeks.2

Reasons People Shave Their Heads During Cancer Treatment

Cancer patients often decide to shave their heads while fighting the disease. They do it for strong reasons.1 Shaving gives them a sense of control when they begin to lose their hair. It’s a tough time emotionally for them.2 Others choose to shave to lower the effort it takes to look after their appearance. This choice becomes easier as their hair starts falling out.2 Some also shave to be more physically comfortable. Without hair, the scalp can feel itchy and weird.2

A Sense of Control Over Hair Loss

Losing hair is often a hard part of fighting cancer. But, being the one to shave the head can make things better.1 It helps patients feel like they’re not just watching their hair go away. They’re making a choice for themselves.

Reduced Care Requirements

When hair starts falling out, shaving the head makes caring for it way easier.1 This is big for those dealing with a lot due to their cancer. They have less to worry about.

Improved Comfort

Without hair, the scalp can get itchy and feel sore.2 Shaving can make this symptom better. It gives patients one fewer discomfort to focus on during recovery.

Chemotherapy and Hair Loss: What to Expect

Cancer patients often lose a lot of hair during chemotherapy. This is called chemotherapy-induced alopecia. How much and when people lose their hair can change. It depends on the chemo drugs and how much is used.3

Factors Affecting Hair Loss

The first source says hair loss in chemo depends on the meds’ type and dose.3 Some drugs might just make hair thinner, but others can make all the hair fall out.2

The Gradual Process of Hair Loss

Hair loss usually kicks in 2 to 4 weeks after the first chemo dose. It might come out a little at a time or in big clumps.3 Starting with a few loose strands, hair loss can turn into a lot more shedding.2 Before the hair goes, some parts of the scalp could feel tender or sore.2

See also  What is The Survival Rate of Spleen Cancer? Important Facts

chemotherapy and hair loss

Hair Loss Beyond the Scalp

Chemo can make hair fall out in other places too. This includes your eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair in your armpits and pubic areas.4 You might see more hair loss, especially in your eyebrows and eyelashes, with longer or stronger chemotherapy.2

Hair loss on the head can start a couple of weeks after the first chemo.2 But, losing your eyebrows and eyelashes often happens later.2 If you have 12 or more treatments, you could lose them.2

Losing hair in these places can really upset some people, because brows and lashes help show emotions. Remember, this hair usually grows back after your treatment or in 3 to 6 months.2

Your hair might grow back wavy or a different color.2 But, sometimes hair might get thinner. This is why taking care of your hair after treatment is important.2

Preventing or Reducing Hair Loss During Chemotherapy

Hair loss during chemotherapy is usually hard to prevent. But patients can try things to slow it down. Healthy hair before treatment helps, like not using bleach or perms.3

Scalp Cooling Caps

Scalp cooling caps can help save hair during chemo.3 Yet, they might not work as well for people with tight curls. This includes many Black individuals.3

Minoxidil (Rogaine) might help hair grow back quicker after treatment. But we need more research on this.3 The Look Good Feel Better program also gives free makeovers and beauty tips to women with cancer. It offers support in the U.S. and other places.3

Hair Regrowth After Chemotherapy

Hair starts growing back after chemo for many patients. But, when and how it grows back can be different for everyone.3

Timing of Hair Regrowth

After chemo, hair cells need several weeks to recover.3 Some see new hair at the end of treatment. Yet, others might not see much until 3 to 6 months later.2

Changes in Hair Texture and Color

New hair might not look like the old hair right away.3 It could be curly or gray. Chemo changes the way hair looks and feels.2

Remember, there’s no sure way to prevent hair loss from chemo.3 But, cooling caps or Rogaine could help. They might lessen hair loss or make it grow back sooner.2

The process of losing then growing hair back is tough. But, getting help and support can make it better. Look Good Feel Better gives makeovers to women with cancer. It makes them feel better and more normal during a hard time.3

Emotional Impact of Hair Loss

Losing hair when fighting cancer is very tough emotionally. It changes how patients see themselves.3 They might not feel like themselves when they look in the mirror.3

Dealing with Identity Changes

Losing hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes can shock and sadden patients.3 This sudden change can make them feel they’ve lost their old look.5

Coping Strategies

Patients are advised to find comfort in family, friends, and pros.3 They can get help from groups, counseling, and programs like Look Good Feel Better.6 Some feel better after shaving their heads, gaining some control.5

Understanding the emotional side of hair loss and getting help is important.3 With the right help and support, patients can handle this tough time.6

why do you have to shave your head when you have cancer

People with cancer often choose to shave their heads for several reasons. It can help them feel like they are in1 control. When hair is falling out, shaving it avoids mess and makes life simpler1. This choice can also make them more comfortable. For example, it stops an itchy or painful scalp1. So, it’s really about feeling strong and positive during a tough time.

See also  How Do Cancer Patients Get Treated for Colds?

Physical Side Effects of Hair Loss

Losing hair during cancer treatment affects more than just how you feel. It can cause many physical issues too. For instance, an itchy scalp is a common problem when hair falls out.

Itchy Scalp

It starts with slight irritation and then turns into a full-on itch.3Some cancer patients also feel

Tenderness and Soreness

their scalp getting tender or sore. This happens mostly where they’re losing a lot of hair.3And it’s not just an itchy scalp.

Scalp Conditions

They can also get cradle cap, dryness, flaking, redness, heat, rashes, and folliculitis. These make the hair loss feel worse.3The good news is these symptoms usually go away in 2 to 3 weeks.

Still, the physical side effects can be hard to deal with. Cancer patients can do a few things to help. Like, wash their hair gently, not use hair dryers, and try different head coverings.4

Hair Loss Patterns and Extent

Often, cancer treatments lead to hair loss. The amount of hair lost can change based on the drugs given.5 Some drugs might make all hair fall out (alopecia). Others might just thin the hair.

Partial vs. Complete Hair Loss

How much hair you lose from cancer treatments varies.4 Some chemo types lead to a little hair loss. With others, you might lose all your hair.4

Losing Eyelashes and Eyebrows

Cancer treatment can also stop eyelashes and eyebrows from growing.4 It’s more likely with strong or long-lasting chemo.4

Preparing for Hair Loss

Hair loss is common due to cancer treatments. Patients should get ready, both inside and out.2 They can choose wigs, hats, or scarves early on.2 This makes the process easier when hair falls out. It usually starts 14 to 21 days after starting treatment.2

Wigs and Head Coverings

Picking out a wig or head covering early is a good idea. It lets patients control how they look.3 Hair might start growing back in 3 to 6 months after chemo.3 Keeping stylish options can help with the sadness of losing hair.2 If hair grows back thin, a health hair care plan and custom hair-pieces are good steps.2

Support Resources

Many centers have special help for dealing with hair loss.3 Look Good Feel Better is one such program. It gives free beauty makeovers to women with cancer, in the U.S. and other countries.3 The American Cancer Society also offers wigs and other head coverings. It helps people feel better about their hair loss.3

Getting ready for hair loss and using help resources can make patients feel stronger.2 Dealing with hair loss is tough, but accepting one’s new image is an important part of healing.2

Embracing Your New Look

Losing hair during cancer treatment is hard. But, many patients become strong in their new look.7 They might choose to shave their head. This helps them feel more in control and okay with how they look.7 Donating hair can make someone else very happy. It can change their life, too.7

Shaving off your hair can make you feel brave and powerful.7 St. Baldrick’s events bring shavees and their fans together. This makes the fundraising even more special.7 Many who shave donate their hair to help kids get wigs. They also raise money for cancer research.7

See also  How Long Does It Take for Intestinal Metaplasia to Turn Into Cancer?

The real beauty of a patient comes from inside, no matter their hair.78 The author was touched by the courage of women who shaved for kids’ cancer research.8

St. Baldrick’s events have raised a lot of money for fighting childhood cancer.7 They are very inspiring for new volunteers. These are people who join the event for the first time.7

People from all walks of life, from cancer survivors to healthcare workers, help with pediatric cancer research.8


Hair loss is common with cancer treatments like chemo. These treatments go after fast-growing cells. That includes the ones in your hair roots.9

Many patients decide to shave their heads. It helps them feel more in control. It also makes it easier to deal with hair slowly falling out. Plus, it can be more comfortable physically.9

Getting ready for hair loss is smart. Look into wigs and head coverings. Also, reach out for help. It can make dealing with this part of cancer easier.9

Eventually, feeling good about how you look, whether bald or with new hair, is strong.10 Hair usually grows back after chemo. This might take three to ten months. The new hair might feel or look different.10

Using scalp cooling during chemo might help avoid hair loss. It works by making blood vessels in the scalp smaller.10 This method is good, especially for breast cancer patients having chemo.10

Cancer patients can get through losing their hair by finding their own courage. They can do this by shaving their heads or wearing different things on their heads. Letting their hair grow back is also an option. Staying strong inside and with the support of friends and family helps. It lets them deal with the sad feelings of losing their hair. In the end, they come out stronger on the path to feeling better.9


Why do people with cancer often choose to shave their heads?

Many cancer patients choose to shave their heads. They do this for several reasons. It helps them feel in control of the hair loss. It also makes dealing with falling hair easier.Shaving their heads helps with an itchy or sore scalp. This step makes them more comfortable during their fight against cancer.

What is chemotherapy and how does it impact hair?

Chemotherapy is a strong cancer treatment. It attacks fast-dividing cells, including hair roots. Hair falls out because of this, called chemotherapy-induced alopecia.

What are some of the potential side effects of hair loss during cancer treatment?

There could be different side effects from hair loss. An itchy scalp and soreness are common. Other effects include cradle cap and flaky, red, or rashy scalps. Most of these problems last only 2-3 weeks.

How does the extent of hair loss vary during cancer treatment?

The amount of hair loss varies by the treatment used. Some people only lose some hair. Others lose it all. Eyelashes, eyebrows, and other body hair might fall out too.

What steps can cancer patients take to prepare for hair loss?

Cancer patients can prepare for hair loss. They should have wigs or coverings like hats ready. Many cancer centers also offer help. Services like specialty salons and cosmetology are there to support them.

How can cancer patients cope with the emotional impact of hair loss?

Hair loss can affect a patient’s identity and self-image. Support from loved ones and healthcare teams is crucial. Exploring new looks can also boost their spirits.

Source Links

  1. https://www.baptisthealth.com/blog/cancer-care/why-do-people-with-cancer-shave-their-heads
  2. https://bestcare.org/news/hair-loss-during-cancer-treatment-what-expect
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/in-depth/hair-loss/art-20046920
  4. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/hair-loss
  5. https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/treatment/cancer-drugs/side-effects/hair-loss-and-thinning
  6. https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/hair-loss
  7. https://www.stbaldricks.org/blog/post/why-you-should-shave-your-head-at-least-once-in-your-life/
  8. https://www.today.com/series/love-your-body/what-shaving-my-head-cancer-research-taught-me-about-hair-t51066
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9557142/
  10. https://cansa.org.za/files/2021/05/Fact-Sheet-on-Scalp-Cooling-to-Help-Minimise-Hair-Loss-May-2021.pdf