How chemotherapy affects the hair of men

Your hair will be curly and grow back after chemotherapy

While cancer itself doesn’t affect your hair, it is the chemotherapy that affects hair in 2 ways: temporary hair loss and hair growing back curlier. Both these consequences of chemotherapy are normal and unlike what you may have been led to believe hair does grow back after chemotherapy!

Illustration A

The hair follicles in men's hair

Transient hair loss

The hair loss incurred through chemotherapy will only last until the medications are stopped, which can be anywhere from 3 months to 18 months depending on your cancer affliction. Transient hair loss as caused by chemotherapy should not be mistaken for male pattern baldness, which is a genetic hair loss condition affecting almost all men in their late age and that is characterized by a slow recessing of the hair line and thinning of the vertex. See illustration B below for a better visualization of how male pattern baldness affects the hair of men as they age and the hairline recedes.

Illustration B

The Norwood male pattern baldness model

In both cancer-induced chemotherapy and male pattern baldness the follicles are reduced in size but in male pattern baldness the follicle is shut off from all blood supply and thus permanently miniaturized while in chemotherapy-induced hair loss the follicles still have a supply of blood but the follicles will remain miniaturized until the intake of the chemotherapy medications ceases. Illustration A above shows a section of the scalp with the hair follicles and you can see how the follicles are connected to capillaries and vessels so that the hair follicles can get the right nutrients to grow healthy hair.

Once your hair starts to grow again after chemotherapy, you should make sure to have a sound diet to not only fortify your body but also fortify and increase the overall size of your follicles. Such a diet will be usually designed by a qualified nutritionist or your own doctor himself/herself.

Hair growing curly or in a different hair type

Other than the transient hair loss of the chemotherapy, you will quite likely find that your hair grows curly or kinky looking (sometimes called “wiry”). The change of hair type towards the curly type after chemotherapy still remains a mystery although it is believed that the chemotherapy medications cause the follicles to alter in shape as they are miniaturized. Since the curliness of your hair is dictated inside the follicle and as it grows from the follicle, your hair will be naturally curving and thus be curly as it grows again after the chemotherapy.

Having curly hair after chemotherapy is perfectly normal and you will still have healthy hair only that your hair will not be a different shape. As a male, the only thing you may consider doing is changing your hairstyle and seeking a curly hairstyle that suits your new hair type and style. Your hair will grow slower than usual in the beginning stages so you will have short hair whether you get a haircut or not in the first 6 months so consider a short curly men’s hairstyle that you think would suit you. The site linked above contains different hairstyles for curly hair men that will help you with the styling part of your new hair.

Will there be any other changes in your hair?

No. As said your hair will start growing back after chemotherapy and despite your hair will now grow back as curly hair, your hair will still be healthy and strong, provided that you follow your newly grown curly hair with sound nutrition and the right curly hairstyle.

Despite the above tips, if you do find that your hair starts to fall off once you have grown your hair again or you find your hair to be itchy, covered in white particles or thinning, you should consult your doctor, if possible the same doctor who has overseen your whole treatment.

Best wishes

Sebastian