If you’re undergoing chemotherapy currently, or about to start treatment, then you might want to know what to expect in terms of hair regrowth afterwards. How long will it take to grow back? Will it look like it did before? In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at what to expect from hair regrowth after chemo.
By Dr Don Grant, for Happy Magazine.
Hair regrowth: a timeline
Although chemotherapy is an effective way to treat cancer, there are many side effects that can be unpleasant and difficult to handle. One of these is hair loss. Hair loss doesn’t affect everyone who undergoes chemo — and there are ways to try to prevent hair loss, such as scalp cooling — but many people do experience it.
Hair regrowth post-chemo isn’t instant; however, it will grow back — and it’ll grow back faster than you think.
Here is a rough timeline of hair regrowth after chemotherapy:
- 2-3 weeks after chemo has finished: You’ll notice soft, fuzzy hair starting to form on your head. It probably won’t grow back evenly to start with, and you may have bald patches.
- 1-2 months: Thicker, more “normal” hair will begin to grow at a normal rate.
- 2-3 months: By this point, most people will see around an inch of hair growth over their head.
- 5-6 months: Around 2-3 inches of hair may have grown; you’ll be able to wear your hair in a pixie cut or cropped, and your previous bald patches will most likely be covered.
- 1 year: The hair on your head will probably be long enough to brush or style, as it will have grown 4-6 inches by now.
Remember this is a rough timeline; everyone is different, and you may experience quicker or slower hair regrowth than this.
Hair appearance and texture post-chemo
Your hair appearance and texture may change after chemo.
As we’ve mentioned, when your hair first starts to grow back, it will look thin and fuzzy (almost like fine baby hair). It will probably grow back unevenly to start with, so you will have patches of baldness. However, this will soon be replaced by normal, thicker hair growth.
When normal hair starts to grow back, you might notice that it looks and feels different from your hair before your treatment; it might be curlier or straighter than your hair was originally. It may also be thicker, coarser, and seem wiry and unruly (people often refer to this as “chemo curls”). Usually, your hair will eventually go back to the way it looked previously; although it might take a few years for the effect of chemotherapy on the hair follicles to wear off.
Your hair might also grow back a different colour — often darker, which is due to increased pigmentation as your hair grows. Very rarely, it may grow back grey or white.
Tips for promoting regrowth and healthy hair
You might not know how to look after your new hair after chemo, and you don’t want to damage your new hair or affect regrowth. There are also ways of stimulating hair growth.
Here are some tips for promoting regrowth and maintaining a healthy head of hair:
- Avoid excessive brushing or pulling. This can cause further hair loss while your new hair is trying to grow.
- Do not style your hair with heating devices like hair dryers or straighteners to start with. This can damage new hair growth, and make your hair brittle (as well as breaking it).
- Use a gentle shampoo to avoid damaging your hair or irritating your scalp during regrowth (your scalp can become very dry and sensitive during chemo). Avoid products containing harsh or toxic chemicals. Have a look at this list of shampoo and conditioners, or consult your healthcare team to see which they would recommend.
- Stick to washing your hair twice per week. Any more will irritate and dry out your scalp. Avoid using extremely hot water that can damage your hair follicles too.
- Supplements and high-protein foods containing B vitamins, Vitamin C and Vitamin E can encourage faster regrowth by strengthening cell turnover and follicle health.
- Wear a soft cap or turban at night to protect your hair and prevent your hair from being pulled out.
Options while you wait for your hair to grow back
Hair loss impacts everyone differently, and it’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel about it.
You may choose to embrace your baldness and don’t feel it is necessary to cover up when you’re out and about, which is awesome.
However, many people feel self-conscious while their hair is growing back after chemo, and this is perfectly normal. In these circumstances, there are plenty of options now to keep you feeling confident and feeling more feminine.
Some people choose to wear hats, headbands or headscarves — which can help keep you warm, protected from the sun, and feeling more stylish.
Lots of women wear wigs too. These days, there are all sorts of different styles and colours to choose from (check out this blog post on how to style your wig so that it looks its best).
It’s completely up to you what you decide to do, so do whatever feels right and most comfortable for you.
Eyebrows and eyelashes
Generally speaking, the hair on your head grows back much quicker than your other hair — such as eyebrows and eyelashes, which usually take around 6 weeks to grow back.
Eyebrows and eyelashes are a difficult thing to deal with because they tend to be the last hair to go, right at the very end of your chemotherapy treatment. So even though you feel like you’re at the end of your chemo journey and should start to look like less “cancer patient,” your brows and lashes betray you and disappear.
If you’re feeling self-conscious about the disappearance of your eyebrows and lashes, you can use an eyebrow pencil and draw them on. Winged eyeliner (you can use a pencil or liquid brush for this) will also help you to feel more feminine while you wait for your lashes to grow back.
Knowing what to expect from hair regrowth after chemotherapy will help you to feel more prepared and confident when facing it. And following our hair care tips can promote healthy re-growth and avoid additional hair loss post-chemo.
Don’t be afraid to mourn the loss of your hair if you have to — this journey impacts us all differently, and it is totally normal to feel sad, anxious or self-conscious about losing your hair, particularly as a woman feeling like you’re losing your femininity.
The important thing to remember is that your hair loss won’t last forever and it will grow back; in the meantime, there are many ways to build your confidence up with your appearance.
Dr Don Grant (MB, ChB, DRCOG, MRCGP, Dip. Orth. Med) is the clinical lead at The Independent Pharmacy, one of the UK’s leading independent online pharmacies. For more healthcare and treatment advice, visit their website.