Cold Cap for Chemo

Cold Cap for Chemo

Medically reviewed by Dr. Doug Blayney on April 8, 2024


Cold caps are special caps worn during chemotherapy treatment to help prevent hair loss. They work by cooling the scalp, which reduces blood flow to the hair follicles and makes it harder for the chemotherapy drugs to reach. Losing hair during chemotherapy can be really tough emotionally, as it's a visible reminder of being sick. When I went through breast cancer treatment, that was one of the toughest parts. I didn’t look sick until my hair was gone, and then I felt like I couldn’t hide the fact that I was going through cancer treatments. For many people, their hair is a big part of their identity, so losing it can feel like losing a part of themselves. Cold caps can help by allowing some people to keep their hair, which can make them feel more like themselves and give them a sense of normalcy during a difficult time.

Understanding Cold Cap Therapy

Cold caps for chemotherapy work by cooling the scalp, which slows down the blood flow to the area where hair grows. This decrease in blood flow means that fewer chemotherapy drugs reach the hair follicles, which may protect the rapidly reproducing hair cells from the damaging effects of chemotherapy, which can help prevent hair loss. It's like putting ice on a bump to reduce swelling - the cold constricts the blood vessels, making it harder for harmful substances to reach the affected area. 

There are two main types of scalp cooling methods: cold caps and scalp cooling systems. Cold caps are worn directly on the head and need to be changed every so often during chemotherapy sessions. They can be uncomfortable to wear for some people and may not always cover the entire scalp evenly. Scalp cooling systems, on the other hand, are machines that pump a coolant through a cap worn on the head. They can provide more consistent cooling, but may be more expensive and require special equipment. Both methods have their pros and cons, so it's important for patients to discuss with their doctors which option might be best for them.

Eligibility and Deciding on Cold Caps

Not everyone undergoing chemotherapy can use cold caps, so it's important to talk with your doctor to see if they're a good option for you. Factors like the type of cancer you have, the specific chemotherapy drugs you'll be taking, and your overall health can affect whether cold caps will work for you. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause hair loss than others, so cold cap use might not be necessary to prevent hair loss.  On the other hand, cold caps almost never work to prevent hair loss for  some chemotherapy drugs, and cold cap use may be a waste of time and effort. Additionally, if you have certain health conditions like poor circulation or sensitive skin, cold caps might not be recommended. Use of the cold cap may also come with scheduling difficulties, especially if your chemotherapy center has a limited number of cooling devices. Deciding if cold cap therapy is right for you involves weighing the potential benefits of keeping your hair against the discomfort of wearing the caps and the uncertainty of how well they'll work. This 2019 study in Japan found that scalp cooling resulted in “faster recovery of hair volume after chemotherapy, even in patients for whom scalp cooling failed to prevent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (hair-loss).” Your doctor can help you understand your options and make the best decision for your situation. Check out our Manta Planner to help you jot down notes to ask your doctor at your appointment. If you’re like me, if you don’t write it down, it is in and out of the brain – especially when you’re distracted by cancer!

Choosing a Cold Cap Product

When choosing a cold cap product for chemotherapy, there are a few important things to think about. First, you'll want to consider how well the cold cap works - does it have a good track record of preventing hair loss? Comfort is also key since you'll be wearing the cap for several hours during treatment, so look for caps that are soft and fit well. Cost is another factor to keep in mind, as some cold cap systems can be expensive. Popular cold cap brands include Penguin Cold Caps and DigniCap, but there are others out there too. Each brand has its own features and benefits, so it's a good idea to do some research and talk to your doctor or other people who have used cold caps to find the best option for you.

Preparation and Procedure

Preparing for cold cap therapy involves a few steps to make sure everything goes smoothly. First, you'll need to schedule a fitting appointment with your healthcare team to find the right size and shape of cap for your head. It's important to have a snug fit to ensure the cold cap works effectively. Before your chemotherapy session, you'll want to wash your hair with a gentle shampoo and avoid using any products like conditioner or styling gel. During treatment, the cold cap will be placed on your head about 30 minutes before chemotherapy drugs are given. It's usually kept on during treatment and for some time afterward to continue cooling the scalp. After treatment, the cap is removed, and you can go home. It's essential to follow any specific instructions from your healthcare team to maximize the effectiveness of the cold cap therapy.

Side Effects and Hair Care Tips

Cold cap therapy can have some side effects, such as headaches, scalp discomfort, and feeling cold. To manage these, you can try taking pain relievers before wearing the cap and using a warm blanket or wearing warm clothing during treatment. It's also important to communicate with your healthcare team if you experience any side effects, as they can provide additional support and advice. Taking good care of your hair before, during, and after cold cap therapy can help maximize its effectiveness. Before treatment, use a gentle shampoo and avoid using harsh chemicals or heat styling tools. During treatment, avoid washing your hair too frequently and be gentle when brushing or styling to prevent hair breakage. After treatment, continue using gentle hair care products and avoid harsh treatments like dyeing or perming until your hair has fully recovered. It's also a good idea to protect your hair from the sun and chlorine if you go swimming. Following these tips can help you keep as much of your hair as possible while undergoing cold cap therapy.

Covering the Cost

The cost of cold cap therapy can vary depending on factors like the brand of the caps and the number of treatments needed. It's important to check with your insurance provider to see if they cover cold cap therapy and what expenses they might help with. Some insurance plans may cover part or all of the cost, while others may not cover it at all. If your insurance doesn't cover cold cap therapy, there may be financial assistance programs available through the cold cap manufacturer or nonprofit organizations. Additionally, some hospitals or cancer centers may offer financial assistance or payment plans to help make cold cap therapy more affordable. An organization called The Rapunzel Project has great information about scalp cooling therapy. Hair to Stay is a non-profit that helps lower income cancer patients afford scalp cooling systems.  It's a good idea to talk to your healthcare team and explore all your options to find the best way to cover the costs of cold cap therapy.

Manta Care Services and Support

The Manta Cares team is made up of cancer patients, caregivers and survivors, and we have been dropped into Cancerland ourselves. We have felt that fear, sadness, anger and have also found the silver linings along the way. We work with amazing oncologists and cancer experts who help ensure that the information and resources we are providing for you are science-backed. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and check out our free resources like our Chemotherapy Checklist for Caregivers, Financial Checklist for Cancer Treatment and more. We also put out a bi-weekly podcast called the Patient from Hell to educate, empower and hopefully inspire you as you go through this crappy experience. You can listen on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Dealing with cancer as a patient or caregiver can feel really lonely. Just know that you are not alone in this experience.


In conclusion, cold caps offer a promising solution to the emotionally challenging prospect of hair loss during chemotherapy. By understanding the process of cold cap therapy and considering factors like eligibility, product selection, and preparation, when undergoing chemotherapy you can make informed decisions about hair preservation options. While cold cap therapy may not be suitable for everyone and may come with some side effects, the potential benefits of maintaining one's hair during treatment can significantly impact emotional well-being and sense of normalcy. Additionally, by exploring insurance coverage, financial assistance programs, and seeking guidance from healthcare providers, you or your family can navigate the costs associated with cold cap therapy more effectively. Overall, cold cap therapy represents a valuable tool in empowering people going through cancer to maintain their identity and confidence throughout the challenges of cancer treatment.


Do cold caps for chemo really work?

Yes, cold caps for chemo can help potentially reduce hair loss by cooling the scalp, which limits the amount of chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles.

Is cold capping painful?

Cold capping can cause discomfort, such as headaches or feeling cold, but it's generally not considered painful. Some people find relief by taking pain relievers or using warm blankets during treatment.

How much do cold caps cost for chemotherapy?

The cost of cold caps for chemotherapy varies depending on factors like the brand and number of treatments needed. Generally, they can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for the duration of treatment, but costs will vary depending on insurance, financial assistance and other factors specific to each individual.

Does insurance pay for cold caps?

Some insurance plans may cover the cost of cold caps for chemotherapy, but coverage varies. It's important to check with your insurance provider to see if they offer coverage for this treatment option.

Where can I buy a cold cap for chemo?

Cold caps for chemo can be purchased from various sources, including medical supply companies, online retailers, and directly from the manufacturers of specific cold cap brands.

Best cold cap for chemo?

The best cold cap for chemo depends on factors like effectiveness, comfort, and personal preference. Popular brands include Penguin Cold Caps and DigniCap, but it's essential to research and consult with healthcare providers for individual recommendations.

Cold cap success rates?

Cold cap success rates vary, but research suggests that they can help prevent or reduce hair loss in a significant percentage of chemotherapy patients who use them.

Cold cap chemo side effects?

Side effects of cold cap therapy may include headaches, scalp discomfort, and feeling cold. However, these side effects are generally temporary and manageable for most individuals.

What are the disadvantages of a cold cap?

Disadvantages of cold caps for chemo may include discomfort during treatment, the need for frequent cap changes, the possible expense, and the potential for incomplete hair preservation.

What are the chances of a cold cap working?

The chances of a cold cap working vary depending on factors like the type of chemotherapy drugs used, the individual's overall health, and adherence to the treatment protocol. Consulting with cancercare providers can provide personalized insights into the likelihood of success.  If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t try hard enough, or let the cap slip too much.  

Are cold caps worth it?

Many people find cold caps worth it as they offer a chance to preserve their hair and maintain a sense of normalcy during chemotherapy treatment. However, it's essential to weigh the potential benefits against the discomfort and costs associated with cold cap therapy.

How can I hide my hair loss from chemo?

Ways to hide hair loss from chemo include wearing hats, scarves, or wigs, experimenting with different hairstyles, or using hair accessories to add volume or coverage to thinning areas.

How can I stop my hair from falling out during chemo?

To help stop hair from falling out during chemo, individuals can consider cold cap therapy or scalp cooling systems. Additionally, following a gentle hair care routine and avoiding harsh chemicals or heat styling tools can help minimize hair loss. Discuss options with your care team as you prepare for chemo.

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