Chemotherapy-Related Hair Loss (Alopecia) in Children

What is chemotherapy-related hair loss in children?

Hair loss is a common side effect of chemotherapy. It can affect the hair on the head, and also the eyebrows, eyelashes, and facial and pubic hair. Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss. And not all children lose hair in the same way. Your child's cancer specialist (oncologist) can tell you what to expect with your child's chemo treatment.

What causes chemotherapy-related hair loss in a child?

Chemotherapy kills cells that grow fast, such as cancer cells. Hair also grows fast, so some chemotherapy medicines damage the hair follicle (the root of the hair). This causes the hair to fall out.

What are the symptoms of chemotherapy-related hair loss in a child?

Hair loss from chemotherapy may start 7 to 10 days after your child's first chemotherapy treatment. Sometimes it starts later. Hair loss often starts slowly. Your child's hair may first begin to thin before falling out in larger amounts. Sometimes all the hair doesn't fall out, but it gets thin, dry, and dull.

Your child may lose hair only on the head. Or they may lose hair on other parts of the body, including eyelashes. Your child's scalp may become sensitive, dry, and itchy.

Hair usually begins to grow again about 2 to 3 months after your child's last treatment. The new hair may easily break at first. When hair grows back after chemo, it may be a different color or texture. It usually goes back to normal in a year or so.

How is chemotherapy-related hair loss diagnosed in a child?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's chemotherapy treatment and hair loss symptoms. They may examine your child’s scalp and hair.

How is chemotherapy-related hair loss treated in a child?

You will need to make sure your child's head is protected from sun and cold. You can use sunscreen on your child's scalp or they can wear a hat or scarf.

For dryness or itchiness, you can use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. You can also put cream or lotion on your child's scalp.

What are possible complications of chemotherapy-related hair loss in a child?

Your child's reaction to hair loss depends on your child's age and personality. A young child may not be bothered by hair loss. But a school-age child or teen likely will be.

Many children find hair loss to be the most upsetting part of chemotherapy. It makes them look sick and it makes them look different from their family and their peers. It can cause emotional trauma, social isolation, and problems with self-image.

How can I help my child live with chemotherapy-related hair loss?

You can help your child cope with hair loss and prepare them for it. You and your child may want to try the following:

  • Make sure your child understands that their hair will grow back after treatment.
  • Consider cutting the hair before if falls out or shaving the head.
  • Wash hair less often than normal. Use a gentle moisturizing shampoo.
  • Try not to pull on hair. Brush gently. Use a wide-toothed comb.
  • Don’t use harsh chemicals on the hair, such as hair colors or straighteners.
  • Don’t use curling irons, blow dryers, flat irons, or curlers.

Help your child decide what they want to do about hair loss. Talk about getting a wig or wearing hats or scarves. The people on your child's cancer treatment team can give you ideas, too.

What can I do to prevent chemotherapy-related hair loss in my child?

Chemotherapy-related hair loss can’t be prevented.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH

Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2022

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