How long does it take to grow hair after chemo?

Updated April 17, 2017

Chemotherapy is an extremely stressful experience, both physically and mentally. One of the biggest outward signs of chemotherapy treatment is hair loss. It can be jarring to suddenly lose one's hair. Fortunately, after treatment is over hair begins to grow back--although it may look or feel different than before. Gentle treatment can keep new growth in great shape.


Chemotherapy works by killing off quickly dividing cancer cells. It can be a very effective treatment for cancer. Yet there's a problem--chemotherapy doesn't discriminate between tumour cells and healthy cells that naturally divide quickly. Hair cells are one type of quickly-dividing cells. When a patient undergoes chemotherapy, the treatment attacks the hair and causes hair shafts to loosen and fall out.


Chemotherapy hair loss is usually temporary. After the drugs leave the body, the hair is no longer under attack and begins growing again. However, this isn't an immediate process. The body needs time to recover. Generally, "bumfluff" will appear a few weeks after chemotherapy stops, and in about a month, hair will start growing at a normal speed. You should have a "good head of hair" on your head in six months to one year. The first hair to fall out tends to be the first to grow back; head hair appears before eyelashes or eyebrows.


Hair that grows back after chemotherapy may appear different than it did pre-treatment. Chemotherapy can alter the pigment in the hair, so it may be a different colour than before or even white or grey in colour. The texture may also have changed, or hair may be curlier or straighter. The hair often returns to close to its previous appearance as the hair follicles recover from chemotherapy.


To make sure that your new hair stays looking it best, treat it carefully. You don't need to shampoo it often--twice a week is enough, using a baby or other mild type of shampoo. Conditioning helps your hair (don't use anything too heavy, though, unless you want your hair plastered to your head). Let your hair air-dry; not only does this help keep new hair growth healthy, it helps keep your scalp from drying out as well. Be sparing with any products you use.


Chemical processes--straightening, perms, and so on--should be avoided if at all possible. They make new hair brittle and the solution can also irritate your tender scalp. Hair dye is also irritating, as is bleach. If you absolutely have to undergo a chemical process, use the weakest solutions possible (if you're having your hair dyed, go for temporary or semi-permanent dye).

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About the Author

J.D. Wollf has been a writer since 1999 and has been published in a variety of newspapers and newsletters. She has covered everything from local sports to computer accessory reviews and specializes in articles about health issues, particularly in the elderly.