When chemotherapy ends, hair can undergo changes

When chemotherapy ends, hair can undergo changes

When chemotherapy ends, patients can have a new lease on life. But their hair can also have a completely different look. Post-chemotherapy hair has even been given nicknames such as “virgin hair” or “chemo curls.” But why does chemotherapy sometimes change the color and texture of hair?

Chemotherapy can be extremely effective at killing rapidly dividing cells with genetic mutations. But the medication sometimes doesn’t distinguish between different types of cells, including hair follicles. That’s why cancer patients sometimes lose their hair during treatment. The hair matrix cells stop dividing, then the hair abruptly stops growing and just breaks off.

Dermatologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine note that a post-chemotherapy phenomenon called miniaturization occurs when the hair follicle resumes growing. The new hair follicles are significantly smaller than the previous ones. The regrowth of hair is a relatively gradual process since new follicles do not all start at the same time. But in some cases, when this process is accelerated by metabolism and genetics, hair characteristics can change drastically.

That phenomenon can also affect hair density and texture. That is why going from straight to curly is a common effect of chemotherapy. It can also cause color shifts in hair due to changes in melanocytes, which affect pigmentation. The melanocytes become injured when hair follicles are lost — a sort of “reset button” for hair color. So when hair begins coming back after chemotherapy, anticipate that there could be a difference.


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