Smiling woman with short cropped hair wearing a pink t-shirt

Here’s our guide to hair care post-chemo, caring for thin and fragile hair and how to manage chemo curls - which can be an unexpected surprise for many people when their hair regrows.

Hair regrowth after chemo

During a course of chemotherapy, powerful medications attack multiplying cancer cells in your body. These medicines also attack other areas of your body with rapid cell growth, including your hair follicles, which is why many people undergoing cancer treatment lose their hair. Most of the time hair loss caused by chemo is temporary, and your hair starts to regrow 3-6 months after your treatment ends.

Older woman wearing a cream jumper with short cropped blonde hair

Caring for post-chemo hair

Your doctor or healthcare teams will be able to advise you on the best ways to encourage hair growth; however, we’ve got some great tips on taking care of fragile hair post-chemo.

If you’ve had radiotherapy treatments on your head, check with your radiotherapy team to see which products are suitable for use when your hair starts to regrow.
  • Wash your hair as you normally would, making sure you’re not scrubbing your roots too aggressively. It’s important to keep your scalp clean, as an oily scalp can hamper regrowth. Washing your hair won’t make it fall out, or increase its fragility.
  • If your hair is more brittle and dry, you may need to switch up your hair products to more hydrating formulas which will protect against snapping and breakage.
  • Use a microfibre turban or an old t-shirt to gently dry your hair - don’t rub it with a towel.
  • Use a wide-toothed comb or a gentle brush to brush your hair - avoid tugging or pulling on any knots. If you’re finding that your hair gets more tangled than before, you might like to try a leave-in conditioner to detangle and strengthen your hair.
  • Try to limit heat styling if possible, as heat can cause split ends and breakage. If you do need to use heat styling tools, you can protect delicate regrowth with a heat protectant spray.
  • Don’t tie your hair back tightly or style it in tight plaits; this will put stress on your roots and can damage already-fragile new hair.
  • Check with your healthcare team before dyeing your hair or getting a perm; post-chemo, you may be sensitive to the chemicals in these formulations.

Blonde woman drying her hair with a soft blue towel

Does chemo change hair forever?

We understand you may be feeling anxious about your new hair regrowth post-chemo. Changes to your hair’s texture and colour are often temporary, but for some individuals they will be permanent.

There’s no way to predict how your hair will grow back after chemo; the best indicator is to wait 6-12 months after regrowth begins, and assess your hair’s texture and colour then.

Many people are surprised by their hair regrowth. Some people find the texture has changed, and it’s thinner or finer than before. Your hair may grow more slowly than before, and may look wispier or frizzier. You may find that the colour of your hair has changed, too.

If you had long hair before chemo, it may take several months or years for your hair to be the length it was before.

If your hair isn’t as thick as it was previously, you might like to try a shorter or more graduated hairstyle.

What causes chemo curls?

As well as finer hair or hair that’s changed colour, some people report that their hair grows back curly after their chemo treatment finishes. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘chemo curls’.

Chemo curls are caused by chemotherapy affecting your hair follicles, as the chemicals may remain in your system after your treatment ends. These chemicals will eventually leave your body, but while they linger they can change your hair follicles, and regrowth may vary from barely-there waves to bouncy curls.

Chemo curls are often temporary, and can last for varying lengths of time, depending on your age, the condition of your hair pre-chemo, and the treatment you had.

Caring for chemo curls

  • Curls can be more fragile than straight hair, so you might like to use a moisturising sulphate-free shampoo to cleanse your chemo curls without stripping natural oils.
  • You can keep your curls moisturised by using a rich, hydrating conditioner. Leave it on for a few minutes to allow your hair to absorb moisture, preventing dryness and frizz.
  • If your curls are tight, this can cause your hair to be drier, as oils may find it trickier to travel down the hair shaft. To combat dry, brittle curls, consider minimising hair washes and incorporating a leave-in conditioner and deep conditioning treatments into your routine to provide your chemo curls with extra nourishment.
  • Use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to detangle your curls when they’re wet. Begin from the ends and work your way up to minimise breakage, and use a detangling spray to loosen any knots.
  • Switching to silk or satin pillowcases will reduce friction and prevent tangles while you sleep.
  • Limit the use of heat styling tools and use heat-free styling methods when possible.
  • Regular trims will help to remove split ends and maintain the health of your chemo curls.

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