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Hair after Chemotherapy

Hair after Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells anywhere in the body. Cancer cells divide continuously at a fast pace, as do the cells that create hair. Chemo can’t distinguish between these cells so attacks the hair cells too. The extent of hair loss can vary and will depend on the type of drugs used. It takes time for the chemotherapy drugs to leave the body so the hair will not start to grow back immediately, new growth can usually be seen after 8-12 weeks. For some this can happen more quickly.


The hair grows approximately 1/2”-1cm a month, 6 inches in a year, and at any given time, each of the one hundred thousand follicles we all have, will be in one of the three stages of hair growth and shedding. Anagen, stage 1, the hair is actively growing. This stage can last between 2-7 years. Each individual will have a different active stage and this will determine the length you can grow your hair to. Catagen, stage 2, the hair is in transition, no longer actively growing but encased in the follicle. 3% of the follicles will be in this phase at any one time. Telogen, stage 3, the hair is resting and ready to shred. 6-8% of the hair will be in this phase at any given time. This accounts for daily hair loss of 25-100 hairs.


After chemotherapy each follicle will return to the anagen phase at different times so it may seem the hair grows back more slowly than before and appears patchy. Areas to the front of the head and crown can be the areas that take the longest to grow back. After a few months all the follicles should have return to anagen and the hair will appear thicker. During this catch up time regular cuts can help the appearance of the hair.


Following treatment you can be run down and depleted of nutrients so this may also be part of the reason the hair grows back slowly, it takes a lot of energy to grow hair and if the body has any depletion of vital nutrients the hair will be the last to be feed.


Mediceuticals “Baomed” supplements for hair, skin and nails has all you need to boost growth. When your new hair appears it may feel much finer than before, given time these hairs will thicken up. Your new hair may come back curly, this is because the follicle opening may have collapsed slightly during treatment and forms the new hair into a new shape. As the hair grows in length the curl can be reduced.


The new hair may be a different colour or is it? As most women colour their hair it could have been many years, even decades since they saw their natural colour so when it returns it won’t be as it was prior to treatment. Chemo can speed up the ageing process of the follicle so the hair may be greyer or the reduction in melanin, the pigment that gives hair its colour. These effects should lessen over time. It is not advisable to permanently colour or chemically treat your hair for a minimum of 6 months, preferably after 12. Using a water based hair dye can add depth and tone in the interim. Your skin could still be very sensitive after treatment so always do a skin test with any products you wish to use on the scalp.

It is also advisable to protect the scalp from sunlight.


Eyelashes and eyebrows may have also been lost during treatment and just like hair they will return when the body has rid itself of the chemotherapy. Semi-permanent makeup may be a way of hurrying the process of regaining your natural look. Aderans Hair Centre can advise on this procedure and the cost.


Low level light therapy can speed up the follicles return to anagen with the huge advantage on no side effect.


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