The hair regrowth process is slow but steady, and hair loss is rarely permanent.
Contents of this article:
- Hair loss can vary from total to patchy with some people's hair simply become thinner or brittle.
- People whose hair grew fast before chemotherapy 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.
How long does it take to grow hair after chemo?
Chemotherapy may affect hair follicles, which can cause hair loss.
Healthy cells in the hair follicles that support hair growth can be affected by chemotherapy treatment.
As a result, people with cancer who are given chemotherapy may lose the hair on their heads, eyelashes, eyebrows, and elsewhere on the body.
When hair loss occurs, it usually starts within 2 weeks of treatment and continues to get worse for 1-2 months.
Similarly, a person's hair does not start to grow back immediately after their last chemotherapy treatment. The delay is due to chemotherapy drugs taking time to leave the body and to stop attacking healthy dividing cells.
Most people receiving chemotherapy will begin seeing a limited amount of thin, fuzzy hair a few weeks after their last treatment. Real hair starts to grow properly within a month or two of the last treatment.
A small fraction of people who are given chemotherapy may never regrow their hair. Specific drugs increase the risk of permanent hair loss. The breast cancer drug docetaxel, which is sold under the brand name Taxotere, has been known to cause permanent hair loss in some people.
Hair growth after chemo timeline
Knowing a little bit about hair growth can help a person understand hair regrowth after chemotherapy.
All hair goes through periods of rest, during which it does not grow. Furthermore, when the hair hits a certain length or when it is pulled, it falls out. So the scalp is always shedding some hair.
The following timeline indicates what happens after chemotherapy:
- 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.
It can take several years for hair to return to its previous style, particularly for people who once had long hair.
Will hair look or feel different after chemo?
Hair loss may start 2 weeks after treatment.
After chemotherapy, hair initially grows as thin fuzz. It may stick straight up or be difficult to style. Being very thin, it may also not be visible from a distance.
Some hair follicles may be in the active growth period before others. When this happens, the hair length on a person's head can vary, again, making it more difficult to style. Likewise, it may look patchy or unruly at first.
Over time, the hair will settle into a more regular growth pattern. But hair texture might be different from how it was before. Some people recovering from cancer refer to "chemo curls," as hair can become more brittle or unruly, curlier, or even change color.
Sometimes the change in a person's hair is short-lived. In other cases, it may be permanent. There is no way to predict whose hair will change texture after chemo or whether the change will be permanent.
Doctors still do not fully understand why hair texture sometimes changes after chemo. It could be that chemo damages the genes that control hair growth, or that it changes the hair follicles.
Can you stimulate hair growth after chemo?
Good hair care can keep a person's hair healthy as it regrows.
Avoiding excessive brushing or pulling, which can cause more hair loss, is advisable. Styling with heating devices, such as flat irons or blow driers, can damage the hair, as well, and can make it look thin and brittle or cause it to break.
The use of drugs to encourage hair growth after chemotherapy is largely experimental, and a person should expect mixed results if using these. Most hair regrowth drugs are designed to treat other causes of hair loss rather than chemotherapy.
People are advised to discuss the risks and benefits of hair regrowth treatments with their doctors if they have concerns.
More recent research also suggests Minoxidil might speed hair regrowth, or even reduce hair loss during chemotherapy.
Outlook for hair after chemo
Choosing the correct wig or hairpiece may help while waiting for hair to regrow.
Losing hair during chemotherapy can be upsetting, but the baldness is almost always temporary.
The correct wig or hairpiece can help as an individual waits for their hair to regrow. Some organizations even donate wigs to people recovering from cancer.
There is also a FDA-approved cold-cap that can help during chemo treatment for both men and women. Known as the Digni-Cap, it works by cooling the scalp to reduce the likelihood of alopecia in people with cancer.
As hair regrows after chemotherapy, it can be a positive sign of a person's improving health. However, people who have had cancer should be aware that it is a sign of their recovery that may take a while to appear.