Hair loss is one of the distressing side effects of chemotherapy, and for many cancer patients, hair regrowth is desired. If you’re looking for the best treatments for chemotherapy-related hair loss, we’ve broken down everything you need to know below.
Why does chemotherapy cause hair loss?
Chemotherapy drugs are potent, aggressively attacking cancer cells to hinder their progress. These drugs can also attack other cells in the body during treatment, including those present in hair follicles. This can lead to hair loss, which usually starts around 2 to 4 weeks after starting treatment. This loss will continue through treatment and around a few weeks after it ends. The speed at which you lose your hair – and the amount of hair you lose – will vary from person to person and can also depend on the specific drug and dosage you are taking.
Does chemotherapy cause permanent hair loss?
The good news is that hair loss from this cancer treatment is typically temporary. New hair regrowth will occur approximately 3 to 6 months after the end of your chemotherapy treatment. Keep in mind that your new hair may have a different color, texture, or curl. In some instances, hair color may even be gray while the cells that control pigment regain their function. These changes in your hair are often temporary, but in some cases, hair loss can be persistent for more extended periods. (Persistent chemotherapy-induced alopecia (pCIA).
Do all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss?
Not all chemotherapy drugs cause hair loss, and some are more likely to cause this side effect than others. If you take a medication known to have a side effect of hair loss, various factors will affect your risk of losing hair during your treatment. Higher doses will have an increased risk of hair loss, as will more frequent doses. Additionally, drugs taken intravenously are more likely to cause hair loss compared to drugs taken orally. You also need to take genetic makeup into account – some people are more likely to experience hair loss from chemotherapy than others, even when taking the same medication.
For the most accurate information for your case, you can talk to your oncologist about whether you might expect hair loss from your cancer treatment.
The best treatments for hair loss related to chemotherapy
Below, we’ve broken down a few different treatments you can try that support scalp health to boost hair regrowth after chemotherapy.
Minoxidil is an FDA-approved medication for treating alopecia (hair loss). It is applied topically to the scalp and works by increasing blood flow and oxygen delivery to hair follicles to prevent further hair loss and support hair regrowth. For cancer patients, research has shown that minoxidil is effective at accelerating hair regrowth after chemo treatment. In one study, women with breast cancer who experienced hair loss from chemotherapy and used a 2% minoxidil solution experienced a shorter period of baldness (a mean of about 50 days) than women who did not use the treatment. In another study, on 99 women with persistent chemotherapy-induced alopecia, treated with topical minoxidil combined with anti-androgen (DHT blocking agents), a signiﬁcant proportion of patients achieved cosmetically signiﬁcant hair regrowth, suggesting that pCIA may be at least partly reversible.
If you’re interested in using this topical treatment to encourage hair growth, check out MDHair’s Minoxidil 2.0%. This vegan and cruelty-free formula is clinically proven to regrow hair and is safe and non-irritating. To use, simply apply a full dropper to your scalp morning and evening, spreading the solution all over the scalp with your fingers. People with normal blood pressure who are not taking antihypertensive medications can also use topical minoxidil. MDhair's plant-based scalp treatment serum, treatment shampoo, oral supplements, and collagen peptides can be used before, during, and after chemotherapy.
Oral supplements containing essential vitamins and minerals that support scalp health and boost hair growth can also help patients who undergo chemotherapy accelerate their hair regrowth. Some common vitamins and minerals that help with hair growth include the following:
- Vitamins B9 (folic acid) and B12: These B vitamins promote circulation to help deliver oxygen and nutrients to hair follicles so that they can produce healthy hair. Folic acid also assists with the keratinization of hair, which allows follicles to produce keratin (a hair protein) for stronger hair.
- Biotin: Also known as vitamin B7 or vitamin H, biotin is believed to strengthen hair follicles, increase hair density, and improve circulation to the scalp.
- Iron: Iron boosts circulation and brings oxygen to follicles to promote growth. An iron deficiency has also been linked to hair loss.
- Calcium: This mineral keeps the scalp from getting too dry and also reduces hair breakage. Bonus: it’s also great for nail strength!
The MDhair’s Restore Supplements formula contains all of the vitamins and minerals mentioned above and additional nutrients that are proven to support hair and scalp health. These supplements are dermatologist formulated and tested, and are also vegan and cruelty-free. Simply take one capsule a day with food.
Scalp cooling is something you can try both during and after your chemotherapy treatment to help prevent hair loss. Research on this method is still limited, but the idea is that by wearing a tight cold cap filled with a cold liquid or gel, you can help prevent chemotherapy-related hair loss. The cool temperature restricts the blood vessels in the scalp, which limits the amount of medicine that gets to those follicles. It may also prevent damage to the hair follicles. Talk to your oncologist and dermatologist about whether scalp cooling is a suitable preventative treatment method for you.
Additional steps to support hair regrowth and scalp health
During and after chemotherapy, there are a few things you can do to protect your scalp and any remaining hair you might have. Regardless of whether you’ve experienced some hair thinning or complete hair loss, your scalp will be more exposed to the elements than it is used to. It may also feel more tender and sensitive from your chemotherapy treatment.
With that in mind, it is essential to implement a few practices to keep your scalp protected. Many people use head coverings (like scarves, turbans, or hats) to both protect their sensitive scalp from the sun and harsh cooler weather, both of which can irritate the skin. When you’re not wearing a head covering, be sure to apply (and reapply) sunscreen to avoid burning.
During and immediately after chemotherapy, if you do have some remaining hair, you should be as gentle with it as possible, as this hair will be more fragile. Avoid using dyes, bleach, curling irons, straighteners, hairdryers, or other tools that can damage the hair. Perms should also be avoided during this time. You should also skip any hairstyles that pull on the hair – stick with looser styles that are gentle on your scalp and hair.
As new hair starts to grow in, stick with these rules for about 6 months after you finish your chemotherapy treatment. Your hair will be fragile as it is growing in, so you want to treat it as delicately as possible while it strengthens.
- A Clinical and Biological Guide for Understanding Chemotherapy‐Induced Alopecia and Its Prevention
- Chemotherapy-induced alopecia management: clinical experience and practical advice
- A randomized trial of minoxidil in chemotherapy-induced alopecia
- A multicenter survey of temporal changes in chemotherapy-induced hair loss in breast cancer patients
- Clinicopathologic Characteristics and Response to Treatment of Persistent Chemotherapy-Induced Alopecia in Breast Cancer Survivors