After treatment

As your hair grows back after treatment, you may find that it has changed.

Hair usually grows back after chemotherapy. It may be curlier, finer or a different colour. You might find that it grows unevenly or in patches. These changes are rarely permanent.

Hair re-growth after radiotherapy depends on the type and number of treatments you had, and the area of the body that was affected. If your hair grows back, it usually starts 3–6 months after treatment. It may be patchy, thinner or a different colour.

Sometimes hair loss can be permanent. If you have hair loss on your head, you may want to wear a wig, hairpiece or another type of headwear.

As your hair grows back:

  • Use shampoos and products if they do not irritate your scalp.
  • When your hair is long enough to style, you may decide not to cover your head.
  • Choose a hairdresser who understands your situation. If your hair is finer, you could ask them about using hair extensions.
  • You may be able to colour or perm your hair. Seek professional advice before doing this.

What to expect after treatment

Whether your hair will grow back and how quickly it will grow back will depend on the combination of drugs used, the strength of the dose and how many sessions of treatment you had. Your cancer specialist should be able to tell you what is likely to happen for you.

Chemotherapy

Any hair loss from chemotherapy treatment will almost always grow back. However, the new hair can be different from before treatment. It may be curlier, straighter or finer. It is sometimes fluffy and may be a different colour. Many people find their hair grows back unevenly at different speeds. Facial hair such as beards and moustaches may also grow back patchy or a different colour. This may take a while to return to what it was like before treatment.

Sometimes, the changes to your new hair growth can be permanent, but this is rare. At first, the hair will be very fine, but in most people, the hair will gradually become thicker.

You will probably have a full head of hair after 3–6 months.

If you’re concerned about your hair growth after treatment, speak to your doctor or nurse.

Twelve months after treatment, you should have a good idea of how thick your new hair will be. We have tips on how to look after your hair after treatment.

Radiotherapy

Hair re-growth after radiotherapy will depend on lots of things, including the type and dose of treatment, the number of treatments given and the area of your body affected. Your radiographer can usually tell you before the treatment if your hair is likely to grow back.

If you have been told your hair will grow back, this can start once your skin has healed after treatment. On average, your hair will start to grow back 3–6 months after finishing your treatment, but it may take longer if the treatment dose has been high. The hair that grows back may be thinner, patchy or a different colour. After 12 months, you should have a good idea of how your new hair will look and feel.

Sometimes the hair loss is permanent. This can be especially upsetting if it affects the hair on your head.

If you have hair loss on your head, you may want to wear a hairpiece, wig or some other type of headwear. It may also be possible to have a hair transplant. However, hair transplants are specialised treatments that aren’t available on the NHS. If you are considering a hair transplant, contact the Institute of Trichologists for a list of qualified surgeons. This option is not suitable for everyone. You can read more about your options.

Other treatments

Any hair loss from hormonal or targeted (biological) therapies nearly always grows back once you have finished treatment. Your doctor can advise you about the type of drug you are taking.

‘My main worry was that it would come back grey. Where I did lose it, it has grown back thicker and darker than it’s ever been.’ Katherine

Katherine


As your hair grows back

Many people believe massaging their scalp will help their hair to grow faster. This is not true.

In fact, aggressive massage can cause damage to new hair growth so it should be avoided.

As soon as your hair is long enough to style, you may no longer want to wear a wig or head covering. Having your hair styled by a hairdresser who knows you and understands your situation can be very helpful. Often people who were used to long hair find that a shorter style suits them. Your hairdresser can help you choose a style that suits you.

Macmillan is working in partnership with TONI&GUY and with the national charity mynewhair to provide specialist hair care for people affected by cancer. Consultants have been specially trained to advise on all aspects of hair loss, including cutting and styling wigs and hair re-growth.


Hair products

As your hair grows back, you can use shampoo and styling products that suit your hair/scalp condition. Most shampoos and styling products can be used on a regular daily basis without any problems. But, if you notice that your scalp becomes irritated or the condition of your hair changes, seek professional advice.


Colouring, perming and relaxing your hair

Once your hair is about 3 inches (7.5cm) long, and your scalp is in a healthy condition, you can have your hair tinted, permed or chemically relaxed if you want to.

It’s best to seek professional advice if you have your hair tinted, permed or chemically relaxed after cancer treatment. Your hair and scalp can react differently so it is very important to carry out strand and skin sensitivity tests. This is needed even when it is the same chemicals being used by the same hairdresser that you used before cancer treatment.

A professional hairdresser can do tests to check that any chemicals used on your hair will not damage it or cause an allergic reaction on your scalp. They can also advise you about how to care for your hair after colouring or perming it.

You shouldn’t use any chemicals on your hair without seeking professional advice if your:

  • scalp is scaly, sore or irritated
  • hair is drier than usual
  • hair is very rough to the touch
  • hair is lighter in colour than it was before your treatment
  • hair appears to be breaking or not growing normally.

Colouring your own hair

If you want to colour your hair yourself, ask your hairdresser for advice.

Always try the colour on a small, hidden area of hair and scalp 48 hours before applying it to the rest of your hair. This is to make sure colours will not damage your hair or cause an allergic reaction to them. You should do this even if you have used the same product before. If you don’t experience any increased sensitivity or problems with the colour test within 48 hours, it’s safe to apply it to the rest of your hair.

Be aware that many products that claim to be natural actually contain chemicals that may occasionally cause an allergic reaction. This often includes henna products. Unless the henna is bright red, it will have other forms of tint added to it. It is therefore best avoided. If you use a henna product, the colour the henna produces may be more intense after chemotherapy treatment.

If you are colouring your hair at home, always carefully read and follow the instructions. If you want a permanent colour including highlights and lowlights, it is best to have this applied by a trained hairdresser.


Fine or wispy hair

Hair extensions can thicken fine or wispy hair and can be clipped on to your own hair. However, they can cause damage, even to healthy hair, so aren’t suitable for weak or thin hair. Hair extensions are not available on the NHS.  We have more information about looking after your hair.

Back to Hair loss

Preventing hair loss

Scalp cooling may help to reduce hair loss from the head caused by some chemotherapy drugs. Treating thinning hair carefully can also prevent further hair loss.