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How chemotherapy affects different hair types

Hair cells are the fastest growing cells in the body. The follicle goes through a cycle of three phases.

The anagen phase is the growth stage, which lasts between 2-7 years. The length of time this stage lasts and how long your hair can grow is determined by genetics and ethnicity.

The catagen phase is where the hair is still in the follicle but is no longer actively growing, this stage lasts 2-3 weeks.

The telogen phase is the resting phase when the hair will shed. 10% of our hair is in this phase at any one time, but each follicle is in a different stage of this cycle, so we don’t lose our hair all in one go.

Hair growth differs between the different ethnic groups. The fastest growing is Caucasian hair, 1.5cm per month, followed by Asian hair, 1.2cm per month and the slowest growing hair is afro hair, 0.9 cm per month.




Oval follicle opening

Straight to curly hair

Flat oval elliptical follicle opening

Curly hair

Round follicle opening

Straight hair

Growth 1.5cm per month

Growth 0.9cm per month

Growth 1.2cm per month

High density

​Low density

Mid density

Weak structure, prone to breakage

As the follicle lies flat the natural oil, sebum, is hard to distribute down the hair shaft.

Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells that multiply quickly but chemo drugs can’t recognise good cells or bad cells just fast growing cells and this is why the hair is affected by the treatment.

The effects of chemotherapy are the same on all hair types.

When treatment is finished and the follicle is no longer suffering the effects of the chemotherapy drugs your hair will grow back. As each follicle will return to the growth phase at different times the new growth may seem slower to grow and appear patchy. Having regular cuts can help the hair to feel thicker as each follicle needs time to catch up.

As hair takes a lot of energy to grow it needs a good source of fuel. This includes protein as hair is made of a protein called keratin. Returning to a well-balanced diet will aid recovery of your hair.

The texture and colour of your new hair may have changed also. These differences usually settle down and return to your normal within 6-12 months.

It is not advisable to colour your hair initially, this is due to the sensitivity of your scalp after treatment. However, you can add depth or tone with a water-based colour that wash in and wash out. Always perform a skin test before applying any colour to your scalp.

Keeping the scalp clean and healthy creates the best environment for hair growth.

An aqueous cream may be suitable for cleansing and moisturising the scalp before the hair returns.

Once the hair has returned use products free of SLS and pH balanced to avoid drying out the scalp.

Moisturise the scalp if it feels dry or scaly.

Afro hair may need more moisturising with a hair oil.

With thanks to Elizabeth Smith, ART USTI, Trichologist at Aderans for this information.


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