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Hair Regrowth After Cancer Treatment. What Are Chemo Curls?

As I start my chemo therapy regimen I have already researched my type of cancer, the drugs I will be taking, the side effects and so on. So now what do I do? I decided to research what happens post treatment. My hair will fall out, but it will also grow back. That started to fascinate me, because there were all kinds of stories flying around about the condition of your hair, the altered pigment, straight becomes curly and curly becomes straight. I needed to get some straight (or curly) information to satisfy my curiosity.
chemoterapy hair loss

The information below is a grouping of facts that I gathered by talking to my Oncology team of nurses and doctors, and through my own research on the web at sites such as the Mayo Clinic.
What are chemo curls?
When hair that was straight or just a little wavy pre chemo grows back in tight little curls, it is called Chemo Curls. For some folks this may be a dream come true, but for others it is a nightmare. The crazy thing here is not only the phenomenon of once straight hair growing out curly, it is also that scientist don’t know why this happens. Not yet anyhow.

8 questions about hair growth after chemotherapy

What will your new hair look like after chemotherapy?
 How do you take care of your first new hair? These are questions that are not always answered in hospital. Instead you get a lot of information about hair loss, wigs, scarves and so on. But people talk much less about what happens when your hair grows back after chemotherapy. We have made a list of eight frequently asked questions about hair growth after chemotherapy and provided clear, concise answers.
   Will my hair look different when it grows back?
This must be the most frequently asked question from women who lose their hair due to chemotherapy. And that is easy to understand, because you often hear people talk about “chemo curls”. It may be quite possible that the colour and texture of your hair is different to you had before your chemotherapy. Sometimes women with curly hair end up having straight hair or vice versa. And the first hair growth might be darker or lighter than your original hair colour. Sometimes your first hair might even be grey.

Don’t forget that your hair started to fall out because the chemotherapy attacked the root, which was unable to produce new hair as a result. After your last treatment, it takes some time for your body to get rid of all the drugs in it. So your hair root will need some time to start working 100% normally again. Usually new hair appears after one or two months.

Do you feel that your hair is thicker and more difficult to manage? This is not unusual as short hair feels fuller. This sensation will usually disappear as your hair continues to grow.
  My new hair has a different colour and texture. Will it stay like this?
Good question. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes your “chemo curls” will disappear after a few months. But for some women, the changes are permanent. It is a mystery why this happens. Not much has been written about this in medical literature. So all you can do is guess and wait. Sometimes your hair suddenly looks “normal” again after a year.

Remember that “change” doesn’t mean a drastic turnaround. We have yet to meet someone who originally had black hair and ended up with red hair after chemo. However blond hair does often get darker.
  Will my hair grow more slowly if I continue to wear my hat or scarf?
No, that is definitely a myth! Hair grows from the inside outwards. Headwear does not prevent your hair from growing. The condition of your hair roots determines how and how fast your hair will grow again. Until you feel your hair is long enough to walk around without anything on your head, you can continue to wear your wig or chemo scarves and hats. It’s up to you to decide when your new hair is long enough and you’re ready to appear without a wig or headscarf.
   Are hair growth remedies a good way to make my hair grow back faster after chemotherapy?
Healthy hair grows 1 to 2 centimetres a month. Your hair also grows back at this rate after chemo. So you will have to be patient if you want to grow back the long hair you had before your treatment. So this might have you wondering whether there are special hair growth remedies to make your hair grow faster. They do exist, but the question remains whether they really work. You may have heard from other women that they take vitamins to stimulate hair growth or rub their scalp with a special serum. Quackery? We didn’t say that but we prefer to let Mother Nature do her job. This means being patient and letting your hair roots restore themselves after your treatment so they are strong enough to produce healthy hair again. If you do want to use a product that stimulates hair growth, we recommend talking to your doctor or nurse.
  Will a haircut help my hair grow faster after my last chemotherapy treatment?
No, this is another myth. Again, it is your hair roots that make your hair grow. Hair is actually dead matter. Whether you cut your hair or not, this will not improve the vitality of your hair roots. It is nice to have your hair cut into a style once it is 1 to 2 cm long. A good hair stylist can definitely think of an interesting style and give you a good basic cut without removing more than a couple of millimetres, so it can grow. The advantage is that the fluffy, downy hair is cut short and you can enjoy a fresh, new look.

TIP: make your first visit to your hair salon a special experience. Treat yourself to a shopping spree, buy some expensive shampoo or have a glass of champagne. Another important milestone to celebrate!
 When can I dye my hair again after chemo?
Opinions are divided on this one. Some stylists say “right away”, while others recommend waiting until your hair is two to three centimetres long. Pay attention to the condition of your scalp. Did it become dry and irritated after the chemo? Then wait until your skin has recovered. If your scalp is not excessively sensitive, then choose a gentle, non-aggressive hair colouring. And talk to your hair stylist. He or she will certainly be able to give you expert advice.
 Will my eyelashes and eyebrows grow back?
If you also lost your eyelashes and eyebrows during your chemotherapy, they will almost always grow back. It may take a little longer because you probably lost them at a relatively late stage in your treatment. Again, they also may look somewhat thinner and finer in the beginning.
 Does medication (e.g., hormone therapy) affect my hair growth?
Medication can influence your hair growth. A side effect of hormone therapy, for example, is that your hair will become thinner. Enquire about the possible side-effects of your treatment with your doctor. They can give you an indication of how likely it is that you will have them. Don’t forget that there are several other factors that influence your hair growth. Thinner or duller hair can also be a result of hormonal changes during menopause, of a shortage of certain vitamins or minerals and so on. Again: talk to your doctor. If necessary, they can refer you to a specialist for more targeted help.

Please note that we have limited ourselves to the most common questions. Our answers are based on hair growth as experienced by the majority of the people after chemotherapy. There are always exceptions to the rule. Do you have any more questions or concerns? Talk to your doctor, your oncology coach or your nurse.


  1. How long does it take for your hair to fall out after chemo?

  2. When hair loss occurs because of chemotherapy, it does not often fall out right away. Most of the time, hair begins to fall out about seven to 10 days after chemotherapy starts. After that, hair loss tends to increase one to two months into treatment.

  3. Is Alopecia a cancer?

  4. Some diseases and disorders also cause scarring alopecia. These include lichen planus, injury, discoid lupus etc. Anagen effluvium is a more widespread hair loss that may affect the whole body apart from the scalp. This is caused most commonly due to cancer chemotherapy.

  5. How long does it take for your hair to grow back?

  6. Depends on what kind of hair we're talking about. You'll have stubble in a day or two. Head hair will take a month or so to grow back out to a short length, and most likely years to grow out long. For body hair, it'll be undetectable that it was ever shaved in three to four weeks.

  7. Do your eyebrows and eyelashes grow back after chemo?

  8. “Within 3 months of finishing the treatment they had grown back…. Well, it's now 5 months since I finished chemo and my eyebrows and eyelashes are falling out all over again!” The good news is that eyelashes usually do grow back, so the change is temporary.