Does Radiation Cause Hair Loss: A Detailed Guide

Cancer is a disease that breaks a person emotionally, physically, and mentally. It is a hard time for both the patient and his family members.

Once someone is diagnosed with cancer, many insecurities come to their mind. Even when they decide to opt for the treatments, the side effects associated with the treatments make them worried and tense.

A few side effects of cancer treatment include nausea, irritation, peevishness, appetite loss, weakness, fatigue, etc. A person undergoes many difficulties during the treatment. Similar is the case with people undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

People who are about to start radiation therapy for cancer treatment have one more fear in their minds and may wonder if they will lose all their hair during the treatment. And will their hair ever grow back once the treatment ends? 

Well, radiation does indeed cause hair loss. It includes hair loss on the scalp, body, eyebrows, eyelashes, and pubic hair.

However, the effect of such radiation is not the same for every person. It depends on various factors, such as the radiation dose, the duration for which a person is undergoing cancer treatment, and the body parts exposed to radiation1.

Why does radiation cause hair loss?

People who undergo cancer treatments like radiation therapy and take chemotherapy drugs lose hair because of the strong radiation, which kills the cancer cells and attacks the body’s growing cells.

does radiation cause hair loss
By fusehairdelhi1 // Pixabay// Copyright 2023

When these radiations harm the hair follicles in the region exposed, hair loss due to these strong therapies is termed chemotherapy-induced alopecia or simply alopecia2.

One more thing that people must be aware of is that chemotherapy causes loss of complete hair; contrary to this, radiation therapy does cause hair loss, but only in the area being treated.

How does radiation cause hair loss?

Excessive exposure during radiation treatment can cause the scalp to become dry, inflamed, and itchy. This happens because the radiation burns the skin.

Radiation therapy, therefore, affects the hair follicles only if your head is exposed to the radiation. On the other hand, if some other part of your body is exposed to radiation, you will only lose hair in that area. In very rare cases, complete hair loss has been observed after undergoing radiation therapy.

Hair loss is mainly observed 2-3 weeks after the treatment starts.

Does radiation cause hair loss permanently?

Another question people often ask before starting treatment is whether radiation causes permanent hair loss, i.e., Is there any possibility of no hair growth after the treatment?

This thought also scares a lot of people.

According to observations, new hair may grow after the treatment ends. However, the new hair may have a different texture and color from the earlier ones. Medical health professionals also suggest that the thickness of hair may vary from the earlier ones.

does radiation cause hair loss
By Ben White // Unsplash // Copyright 2023

This hair regrowth process 3isn’t possible in the nick of time, so don’t stress yourself too much over it. As per the information provided by the National Cancer Institute, new hair usually takes 3-6 months to grow after radiation therapy. For chemotherapy treatment, this time is usually less.

One more point to be kept in mind is that it can take more time than this, as hair regrowth depends on a variety of factors like age, type of cancer, or medical history, which are not the same for everyone who receives the treatment. So, there are chances that in some cases, there is permanent hair loss post-radiation therapy.

How do you minimize hair loss during cancer treatment?

Although it isn’t possible to completely avoid the side effects of the drug treatments, one can minimize those effects by consulting a dermatologist. They may prescribe medicines to help hair growth once the treatment is completed.

A few steps that can be taken to aid hair growth are mentioned below:

1. Adopt a proper hair care routine

If you experience hair thinning once your treatment starts, you should take extra care of your hair to prevent permanent hair loss and promote hair regrowth.

Use such products that soothe your scalp and provide nourishment to the scalp. Keep in touch with your cancer care team to stay updated and know the necessary precautions.

2. Don’t be harsh with your hair

Be a little more cautious with your hair after radiation therapy. Don’t make harsh choices while dealing with hair loss; treat your hair gently.

For example, instead of using harmful chemical-based hair products4, switch to natural alternatives or less harmful products, like coconut oil, mustard oil, mild shampoo, or baby shampoo. Comb your hair with a soft bristle brush and dry it with a soft towel. Don’t wash your hair frequently, as this also leads to hair fall.

3. Cover your head when you are out

The American Cancer Society suggests covering your head when you are out. You can even wear a wig if you wish to. This helps to keep your head warm and protects the scalp from direct exposure to sunlight.

4. Avoid using too much of hairstyling devices

does radiation cause hair loss
By Adam Winger // Unsplash // Copyright 2023

Overusing hair straighteners, curlers, curling irons, hot rollers, and hair dryers elevates hair thinning. Therefore, if you are undergoing any therapy or taking any medications, reduce the use of such devices. Instead, go for the natural ways if you are worried about managing hair loss.5

5. Worry a less!

Taking a lot of stress and tension is a prominent reason for hair loss. Therefore, to prevent hair loss, you should stop taking tension uselessly regarding whether radiation causes hair loss.

Trust the healing process and follow a healthy diet; you will see positive results. If you ever become conscious of your hair loss, don’t hesitate to talk with your family and friends. They are your real supporters and motivators and will support you throughout your journey.

Bottom Line

Losing hair while undergoing any kind of cancer treatment is a common phenomenon. On average, 80 percent of people lose hair during treatment. If you are worried that you won’t look beautiful if you don’t have hair, then you are wrong.

Losing your hair doesn’t make you less beautiful. Don’t think about what others say or think about you. You matter a lot to your family and acquaintances, so stop worrying about whether radiation causes hair loss, take the treatment without having any second thoughts and focus on being healthy rather than beautiful.

Remember that your looks don’t define real beauty. It depends on how pure your heart is, so make sure you are beautiful by your heart and not by looks.

  1. Morgan, Karl Z. “Human exposure to radiation.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 15.9 (1959): 384-389. ↩︎
  2. Gordon, Katherine A., and Antonella Tosti. “Alopecia: evaluation and treatment.” Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology (2011): 101-106. ↩︎
  3. Shapiro, Jerry, and Vera H. Price. “Hair regrowth: therapeutic agents.” Dermatologic clinics 16.2 (1998): 341-356. ↩︎
  4. Li, Dingsheng, and Sangwon Suh. “Health risks of chemicals in consumer products: A review.” Environment international 123 (2019): 580-587. ↩︎
  5. Ross, Elizabeth K., and Jerry Shapiro. “Management of hair loss.” Dermatologic clinics 23.2 (2005): 227-243. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

Authors

Yashika Mahajan
Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology
  1. Hair loss is indeed a major issue. It affects a person both physically and mentally. I think your article is very informative about the hair loss caused by radiation. If we take initial precautions and lead a healthy lifestyle, it could benefit us.

  2. Hair today, gone during radiation therapy, but it’s not the end of the story! While radiation can lead to hair loss, it’s just a temporary setback on your path to recovery. Remember, real beauty comes from within, so focus on being healthy and let your heart shine!

  3. After reading this big guide about radiation and hair loss, it makes me a bit nervous. It talks a lot about how radiation might make you lose hair. I didn’t know much about this before, so it’s like a warning to take care of my health and try to avoid things that might cause problems.

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