Hair Following Chemo

When does the hair grow back after having chemo?  Dawn Villines gave some good information for those recovering from hair loss after receiving chemo.  The article was reviewed by Christina Chun, MPH.

Regrowth of hair after chemotherapy is a visible and heartening sign.  Chemo can destroy cancer cells, but it also kills healthy cells, too.  The regrowth process is slow but steady, and hair loss is rarely a permanent condition.  Some fast facts on hair growth after chemo are:

  • Hair loss can vary from total to patchy with some people’s hair simply becoming thinner or brittle.
  • People whose hair grew fast before chemo may find it also grows more rapidly after chemo.
  • Hair regrowth can start as soon as chemotherapy is no longer attacking healthy cells.
  • Hair growth rates vary with a person’s age, health and other factors, such as ethnicity.

I have even heard and seen some patients following chemo treatment that reported their hair growing in a darker color that was more like their normal hair color before they became grey headed with age.

People who have been given chemotherapy may lose the hair on their heads, eyelashes, eyebrows and other places on the body.   They usually start losing their hair within 2 weeks of treatment and it continues to get worse for 1-2 months, and usually does not grow back immediately after the last treatment.  This delay of growth is due to chemotherapy drugs taking time to leave the body and to stop it’s attacking of the heathy dividing cells.  Regrowth will usually begin with a limited amount of thin, fuzzy hair a few weeks after their last treatment and within a month or two real hair starts to grow properly.

Hair goes through periods of rest where it does not grow and the scalp is always shedding some hair.  Some timelines for after chemotherapy are:

  • 2-3 weeks: Light, fuzzy hair forms.
  • 1-2 months: Thicker hair begins growing.
  • 2-3 months: An inch of hair may have grown.
  • 6 months: Some 2-3 inches of hair may have grown, covering bald patches. People with very short hair may be able to wear a previous style.
  • 12 months: the hair may have grown 4-6 inches and be long enough to brush or style.

For those who once had long hair, it can take several years for the hair to finally return to its previous style.  It may initially stick straight up or be difficult to style and may not be visible from a distance.  The hair might actually be different lengths as some hair follicles may be in the active growth period before others.  Overtime it will settle back into a more regular growth pattern, however the hair texture might be different from the way it was before.  Some may end up with curlier, unruly or brittle hair and even might  have a change of color.  It can be either short-lived or may be permanent and there is no way to predict the outcome.

Keeping good hair healthy as it regrows will stimulate this growth following chemo.  Excessive brushing can cause more hair loss as well as styling with heating devices that can damage the hair and make it look thin and brittle.  A previous study of mice found that estrogen applied to the scalp might increase some hair regrowth.  Most research also suggests that Minoxidil might speed the regrowth of hair or even reduce the loss of hair during chemotherapy.  If the growth isn’t fast enough or good enough, try one of the natural hair wigs available.  Just remember that hair regrowth is a positive sign of improvement of your health.

Dr Fredda Branyon