When you’re undergoing chemotherapy, the most important thing on your mind is keeping your body strong enough to fight off cancer. But once the treatment is over and that big wave of initial relief has passed, you might start to worry about the toll chemotherapy has taken on your body and what you can do to start feeling like yourself again.
While hair loss might seem like a small concern when you’re dealing with a potentially life-threatening illness, those who have gone through cancer treatment know how distressing it can be to lose it. Fortunately, hair loss caused by chemotherapy is usually temporary, so the hair you’ve lost will likely grow back on its own.
That said, we understand why you’d want the regrowth to happen as quickly as possible. If you’re feeling healthier, you probably want your appearance to reflect that. And if you take a lot of pride in your hair, you’d want it to return to its former glory ASAP.
That’s why we’re answering some of the most common questions about hair growth after chemotherapy, and letting you know what hair loss treatments can actually help you regrow your hair faster.
Let’s start with a popular misconception.
It makes sense to worry that keeping your hair cooped up under a wig for weeks or months might stop it from growing, but rest assured: Wearing a wig won’t discourage hair growth.
In fact, wearing a wig is often recommended for people who want to maintain the look of a full head of hair or hide the patchy spots left by inconsistent hair loss. Some people can even get the cost of their wig covered by their health insurance.
So if wearing a wig, hat, turban, scarf, or any other head covering helps you feel better while you wait for new hair to come in, go ahead and wear it. Your hair will keep on growing either way, so you might as well do what makes you feel most comfortable.
Many people consider biotin (a.k.a. vitamin H) a booster for the appearance of hair and skin. These benefits are largely unproven, although some studies suggest that taking biotin supplements might help hair look thicker, especially if you’re not getting enough biotin from your diet.
By now you might be thinking, “If biotin won’t help my hair grow in faster, what will?” Here are a few safe, effective options.
This one may seem obvious, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to help spur regrowth. For many people, hair starts growing back around four to six weeks after finishing chemotherapy. That timeline varies from one person to the next, but no matter when your hair starts to grow back, it’s going to be fragile at first, and your scalp might be sensitive. So make sure you treat your hair carefully for the first six months after chemo. That means steering clear of dye, bleach, hair dryers and other hot tools, perms, and other chemical treatments.
After all your body has been through, it’s going to take some time for it to return to normal (or find a new normal). For your hair, this can mean temporary changes in texture or color. If you’ve always had straight hair, it might be pretty surprising or even jarring to see curly hair (sometimes called “chemo curls”) growing in.
While it’s understandably upsetting when your new hair isn’t what you were expecting, try to keep an open mind—your hair might return to its previous texture or color in a few months, or it may not. Our best advice is to be patient with your body and yourself as you go through the recovery process.
Minoxidil (generic Rogaine®) is an FDA-approved topical treatment for hair loss. While it’s typically used to treat male pattern baldness, it’s been studied as a remedy for chemotherapy-induced alopecia as well.
These studies suggest minoxidil isn’t great at preventing hair loss during chemotherapy, but can help speed up regrowth once you’ve finished cancer treatment. (If you haven’t finished chemo yet, you might want to look into scalp cooling caps, which are FDA-approved to prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss.)
Minoxidil generally causes few side effects, but you should still have a talk with your doctor before you start using it.
It’s totally understandable to want your hair to grow back ASAP after finishing chemotherapy, and you can help it grow in faster by taking good care of it (and potentially using a hair loss treatment like minoxidil).
But no matter what you end up doing to promote regrowth, be prepared for the possibility that your new hair might not look exactly the way it did before. Some people might assume that’s a pretty insignificant change, but we know how important hair can be to a person’s self-confidence.
If you don’t love the way your hair looks when it starts growing back, give yourself some time to get used to it. (Yes, it’s okay to be upset about your hair.) Then experiment with new styles, cuts, and products until you find something that feels right for you.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash