The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Medications Change Hair Color or Curl Your Hair?

When you think of changing hair color you probably consider hair dye. What if your oral cholesterol medicine or RA drugs turned gray hair black or curly?

We are always intrigued to read about medications that change hair. Usually people complain that beta blocker heart medicines like propranolol or metoprolol lead to thinning hair or hair loss. Others want to know if the medicine they are taking could change hair color. Several years ago we heard from a woman who was upset that rosuvastatin (Crestor) changed her hair color:

“I have had gray hair since I was thirty-five and over the years it has turned white. Now I have black hair growing from the roots and it seems to grow every day. I am very unhappy about this, as I have never had black hair.”

Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs and Hair Color:

We have heard from other people that statins such as simvastatin can alter hair color. One woman wrote about her mother’s experience:

“My 84-year-old mother let her naturally black hair go silver gray about ten years ago. Several years later she began taking Zocor and after about a year she noticed the roots of the new growth were black! She is not pleased about this because it makes her otherwise lovely silver hair look ‘dirty!’”

There is very little in the prescribing information about statins and hair color changes. The simvastatin (Zocor) label offers this: “changes to hair/nails.” Pretty ambiguous, eh? There is no mention of hair when it comes to atorvastatin (Lipitor) or rosuvastatin (Crestor). 

Gleevec (Imatinib) and Hair Color Changes:

One of the more important cancer breakthroughs has been the development of imatinib (Gleevec). It changed the course of treatment for people with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). It can do some strange things to hair. Some people report depigmentation of hair while others regained color.

French cancer doctors treating CML patients with Gleevec reported (New England Journal of Medicine, Aug. 8, 2002): 

“Among these 133 patients, 5 men and 4 women (median age, 63.4 years; range, 53 to 75) with gray hair before treatment had progressive repigmentation of the hair (on the head in 8 patients and on the body and head in 1) during treatment.”

“How imatinib mesylate might induce hair repigmentation is a mystery. We would be interested to know whether other groups have observed this peculiar side effect.”

As far as we can tell, researchers have not been interested enough to study this intriguing side effect. A reader of our syndicated newspaper column wants to know about a different kind of side effect: curly hair.

Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis and Curly Hair:

Q. I’ve been on medications (Plaquenil, methotrexate, Medrol and folic acid) since around 2000 to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA). My former rheumatologist kept me on these old medications since he was conservative in what he prescribed.

A new rheumatologist has recommended going on the biologics. My question is: since I was on the old standard medications, my hair has curled and I love it. If I go on a biologic and stop taking my old meds, will my hair revert to its former straight look?

A. There is nothing in the medical literature about your medications making hair curl. Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) can cause hair changes, and some people have reported curling, even though it is not in the prescribing information.

Hair loss appears more common than curling, though, even with the new biologics for RA. It is hard to predict how your hair would react to drugs like adalimumab (Humira) or etanercept (Enbrel).

If any readers have experienced hair color changes or curling, we would love to hear about them. Please share your story in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

Bimatoprost and Longer Eye Lashes:

One final note about drugs and hair. A glaucoma medicine called bimatoprost was found to stimulate the growth of eyelashes. One reader offered this anecdote:

“My sister has been on Lumigan for glaucoma and her eyelashes are amazing–long and thick! What a nice side effect! I would love to have my eyelashes grow but I think it would be irresponsible to take a prescription medication just for that.”

There is now an FDA-approved version of bimatoprost for eyelashes. It is called Latisse. When this liquid solution is applied to the base of the eyelashes they grow thicker and longer. One less desirable side effect of bimatoprost: it may make blue eyes turn brown. Latisse is also pricey. A 5 ml bottle can cost between $170-$230.

If you are interested in this repurposing of bimatoprost for longer eyelashes, here is a link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Before my mother died her gray hair had started to turn black like it had been when she was young. I never knew her that way because she was already gray by the time she had me at age 25. She used to joke that she was getting younger while I was getting older! Thanks for reminding me of that time in my life!

I’m not alone! Thank you People’s Pharmacy! I’ve long had what I’ve labeled wavy hair. Then started on methotrexate and high dose prednisone for autoimmune diseases. Hair thinned for while, then grew back undeniably curly. Switched from mtx to azathioprine over a year ago and take 10 mg prednisone daily, and curls continue. (Plus now biologic Benlysta 4+ months.) Rheumatologist and neurologist somewhat baffled/amused.

Additional weird “benefit” is that I no longer need shave my armpits They are pre-pubescent bare since shortly after starting mtx and pred years ago. Almost makes up for the increased facial hair due to prednisone. ;)

When I’m on higher dose Prednisone ( 20 – 60 mg./day) for lupus flares, my hair gets curlier in a dose-dependent manner. Family at first thought I was getting perms …

I’ve observed that the individual hair shafts also thin (hair becomes finer) while on the higher dose Pred. Perhaps that allows my naturally minimally wavy hair to be curlier?

Sadly, the curls fade as I wean down on the pred. No joy with my regular 5 mg./day dose.

When my daughter was 4 years old she had a prolonged grand mal seizure as a result of a spiked fever. She was on Depakote for 2 years. Her hair went from wavy to tight curls in that time. When the Depakote was discontinued, her hair returned to the previous waves.

I stopped dying my hair in 2014 and went completely naturally white in 13 months , which made me very happy because I get compliments everywhere I go. About 9 months ago, I started getting a very dark streak in the front of my hair, and my hairdresser was baffled that the new hair coming in at my temples are very dark brown. My doctor went over every medication I take and couldn’t explain it. I’ve taken simvastatin for a few years now, and the drugstore sells from different generic makers all the time. I’m so relieved that I’m not the only person this has happened to!

I was put on to Methotrexate (with Folate) ten years ago for RA. Before long it became apparent that my head hair had acquired some wave as it grew longer between cuts. It had been thin and completely straight for the 63 years prior. There’s still a hint of curl at the ends now that I’ve quit Methotrexate some 10 months ago.

I was on weekly methotrexate for 3 years for rheumatic symptoms. My hair permanently changed both color (from blond to brown) and texture (slightly wavy to quite curly).

My hair was always been really straight,, and then a few years ago it went real wavy/curly. Don’t know if it’s the medication or not. I am on a statin, a blood pressure med, a thyroid med, and Warfarin. Now I wonder if it was a medication that did this.

It is well-known that optic prostaglandins (for optic hypertension which could lead to glaucoma) will irreversibly change eye (iris) color from blue or green to dark brown. It is in the patient insert for drugs like Latanoprost and Travatan.

Of course the ophthamologist may not tell you this until after the change has taken place.

As to the hair-thinning effects of beta-blockers: I experienced this when my eye doctor prescribed an additional eyedrop, Cosopt, for my worsening glaucoma (was already on one drop but my pressure began rising in spite of that). After about two weeks, I saw significant hair loss with a balding spot on the top of my head. I found a discussion about beta blockers online with a suggestion to take Vitamin B12 orally. I did that (1,000 mg. daily), and within one week the hair loss stopped. Still taking the B12; the thinned area has now grown back.

I had a liver transplant last year. Consequently I am on a medley of drugs, including rosuvastatin-. My hair has always been stick straight.To give it body, I have always had a perm every 3-4 months. Last time I went to the hairdresser, about 4 months after my last perm, she commented that I still had a lot of body. Then as she trimmed it she said, “I think your hair has turned curly,”. I said I had wondered about that myself. Now, a month later, it is still curly”. She may be right!

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