Drugs That Induce Hair Color Changes

Updated on July 29, 2019
Sherry H profile image

Sherry Haynes is currently pursuing a PharmD degree and has experience in both the clinical and management sides of pharmacy.

Many skin and internal organ diseases have been known to change hair colour. Some of them like Addison’s disease and neurodermatitis cause hair darkening while hair lightening is observed in hyperthyroidism, vitiligo, and genetic disorders like Werner’s syndrome and Waardenburg syndrome.

Hair loss or excessive hair-growth are frequently caused side-effects of systemic medicines while hair colour change is uncommon.

Some drugs can induce hair colour changes such as darkening of the original hair colour or repigmentation of grey hair in older people, lightening/bleaching (from black or brown to blond hair), greying, reddening or even a complete colour change. These changes can affect scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, moustaches or all body hair.

Of a wide variety of drugs implicated in causing hair colour changes very few are supported by evidence. Chloroquine and chemotherapeutic drugs have the best evidence to support the true link between drugs and colour changes.

Changes in hair colour may result from biochemical interaction within the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) of hair follicle causing a reduction or an increase in the pigment production. Drugs may also alter the mechanism by which the pigment is incorporated into the hair fibres. Interestingly, drug minoxidil has been known to alter the physical properties of hair affecting light reflectance. The amount of reflected light can give an impression of a significant change in hair colour to the observer.


Keep in Mind

Remember, the names mentioned in the list below are generic names of the drugs. If you are not sure of the generic name of your medication- check on the medication box or simply google it. For example, to find out the generic name of the drug Plaquenil type "generic name of plaquenil" and there you go, the search result will show hydroxychloroquine.

1. Chloroquine

It is a drug approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the treatment of lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. This drug has been known to induce lightening on the hair scalp, and rarely on the eyelashes, eyebrows, moustache, and body hair at a dosage starting from 250 mg daily.

According to report, brightening of hair colour occurred from 4 weeks up to 12 months after treatment initiation and was reversible after discontinuation of the treatment or with dosage reduction. Rarely, skin hypopigmented maculae associated with hair lightening have been reported.

Chloroquine seems to show greater interaction with pheomelanin rather than eumelanin as hypopigmentation was more common in patients with blond, light brown, or red hair. However, even those with darker hair may experience hair lightening.

Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors (TKI)

These drugs inhibit c-kithe t signalling pathway that is involved in production of melanin and hair pigmentation. To be specific, they do this through the downstream activation of MAP kinase Erk-2 and phosphorylation of microphthalmia transcription factor. However, the complete mechanism is not clearly understood. Also, it is not clear why c-kit inhibitors may cause both hypopigmentation and hyperpigmentation.

2. Imatinib

Imatinib is an oral TKI that inhibits BCR-ABL, PDGFR and c-kit. It is approved by FDA and EMA to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), gastrointestinal stromal tumour, metastatic dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, and other chronic myeloproliferative diseases.

Hair lightening as well as darkening have been reported during imatinib treatment at a dosage of 300–800 mg daily that occurs after 1 to 14 months range following treatment initiation. After drug withdrawal, the changed colour can get back to normal.
Additionally, cases of diffuse skin depigmentation and cutaneous, nail, or gingival hyperpigmentation have been shown.

3. Sunitinib

It is an oral TKI approved by FDA and EMA for the treatment of, metastatic renal cell carcinoma, pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours, and imatinib-resistant GIST. It exhibits direct antiproliferative activity by inhiniting PDGFR, VEGFR, and c-kit.

Bleaching/greying of hair on the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or body hair is dose-dependent side effect reported in 7–14% patients at lower dose (50 mg daily) and up to 64% patients at a higher dose (>50mg daily). The effect started between week 1 and 18 of treatment. In all cases, it was reversible after discontinuation of the drug.

Hair loss is seen in 6% patients, and the hair that may regrow is more brittle, curly and darker than the original hair. Yellowish appearance on the face has also been reported at dosage >50 mg daily.

4. Sorafenib

This is an FDA and EMA approved drug used for the treatment of thyroid cancer refractory to radioactive iodine treatment, renal cell carcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma. It targets VEGFR, BRAF, and RET tyrosine kinase inhibiting the proliferation and angiogenesis of cancer cells.

Hair loss is reported in up to 27% patients, from 2–6 weeks after treatment initiation. Hair may regrow even while the patient is still receiving sorafenib treatment, although the newly grown hair is more brittle and curly, and occasionally darker than the original hair.


Did You Know?

Long term contact with swimming pool water containing chemicals that kill algae can cause green hair discoloration.

5. Pazopanib

Pazopanib is an oral selective TKI approved by both FDA and EMA for treating advanced renal cell carcinoma and advanced soft tissue sarcoma. This drug inhibits tumour growth and angiogenesis by inhibiting VEGFR, PDGFR alpha and beta, and c-kit.

Hair depigmentation (of both scalp and body hair) is seen in 32–44% patients sometimes associated with skin hypopigmentation. This reversible effect is seen within the first two months of treatment initiation.

6. Dasatinib

It is an oral TKI approved by the FDA and EMA as a first-line treatment for CML Philadelphia chromosome-positive in the chronic phase and as a second line treatment for CML in chronic, accelerated or blast phases and for chromosome-positive ALL. It inhibits bcr-abl, Src family kinase and to a lesser degree, c-kit, PDGFR, and ephrin-A receptor kinase.

Only a few cases of depigmentation have been reported, probably due to its lower affinity for c-kit and PDGFR and less common administration of this drug. Vitiligo-like skin patches have been described associated with isolated hair depigmentation at a dosage more than 100 mg daily. The effect is fully reversible.

7. Valproic acid (VPA)

It is an antiepileptic drug, approved by the FDA and EMA. It is widely used for seizures and bipolar disorder. The drug has pleiotropic effects on the GABA receptor, as well as on membrane conductance and metabolic pathways.

Reversible hair loss has been described in up to 20% of patients, while the changes in hair colour and texture are rare. Both bleaching and darkening on the scalp hair have been described after 5–10 months of treatment initiation. No skin colour changes have been reported so far.

8. Phenytoin

It is an anticonvulsant drug used in the management of partial seizures and tonic-clonic seizures. Hair depigmentation due to toxic epidermal necrolysis was reported in one patient.

9. Phenobarbital

This anticonvulsant drug was reported to cause black to blond hair colour change due to Lyell’s syndrome in one patient. The skin also showed depigmentation in this case.

10. Cisplatin

Post-hair-loss, regrowth of hair with both lighter and darker colour has been shown with this anticancer agent.

11. Tamoxifen, Busulfan, Cyclofosfamide, Vincristine, bleomycin, 5-Fluorouracil and other antimetabolites

Theses drugs showed hair colour change from black to red (vincristine, bleomycin), blond to dark brown (5-Fluorouracil), or red to black.

12. Cyclosporine

It is an immunosuppressant drug. Excessive hair growth (hypertrichosis) is a well-known side effect of cyclosporine occurring in up to half of the patients who take a higher dosage of the drug. In two cases, hair darkening was reported.

13. Acitretin and Etretinate

These are vitamin A derivatives. Sporadic cases of hair whitening/discoloration have been described with the use of these drugs.

14. Verapamil

A case of hair darkening was reported with the use of verapamil after 12 months of treatment initiation.

15. Mephesin

Four cases of hair discoloration occurring after 3–4 months of treatment initiation were reported with the use of mephesin.

16. P- Amino benzoic acid (PABA)

Reversal from grey to original hair colour was reported in four cases that occurred between 2–12 months of treatment.

17. Interferon low dose

Depigmentation was reported in six cases. The effect was reversible after stopping the treatment.

How these drugs can induce hair colour changes is not clear, and this association is often hard to prove. The above list is not comprehensive, so if you notice your hair colour change and suspect a drug, consult your doctor.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • My husband has been taking cyclosporine for a couple of years. I noticed his gray hair is getting darker in places. He is 56 and been gray since his late 20s early 30s. Is this normal?

    There are reports that tell us about hair darkening caused due to cyclosporine, especially in the psoriasis treatment. So I believe this is normal. If you want to be sure, do remember to mention this when you visit the doctor.

  • Will being on mycophenolate cause red hair dye to not stay in the hair?

    Has your hair become thinner than before? The information provided so far about mycophenolate mofetil is that it can cause hair loss or thinning. Most times, the thinning of hair will result in it not taking up the dye, so this might be a reason hair dye is not staying in your hair.

    The hair may become normal in some time even if you continue the treatment, but it is advised to avoid hair dyes or perms for the first few months as your hair will be weaker than usual.

  • Pills exist for people to lighten & darken their skin. Are there pills we can take to change our hair color & eye color, that leaves our skin color the same? People in the Soleman Islands have dark skin & blonde hair, I'd like to keep my skin dark but have blonde or red hair without using hair dye or bleach.

    Pills to lighten or darken skin? Do you mean the likes of "tanning pills". Tanning pills are not FDA approved. They contain canthaxanthins, a type of color additives used in food substances. Canthaxanthines are not harmful when used in small amounts as present in food additives. But in tanning pills, these are present in large amounts that are harmful to the consumers.

    Coming to the next part of your question, there are no pills to change eye color or hair color. Few medicines change the color of your hair and skin and even eye but only as a side effect. To use such drugs with the sole purpose of changing hair color would be totally inappropriate and dangerous.

    I would like to add that, medicines are not meant to change the physical appearance of a person. They are just intended to treat or prevent diseases. For changing hair color, a hair dye with perfect care would be always a better option in my opinion.

  • I have dark blackish-red skin discoloration patches between mouth and chin area. The doctor prescribed Alercet tab (Cetirizine), Icoz tab (Itraconazole), Becadexamin Capsule(multi-vit & multi-mineral capsule) and Limcee+ vit C tab (health supplement). Can it cause hair greying? I am 19 and a half years old, male.

    If I understood your question correctly, you have a fungal-like infection on your chin area and you were prescribed Cetirizine, Itraconazole and vitamin supplements. I found no reported hair greying reactions linked with the use of these drugs. So, you can be assured that these medicines are safe in that matter.

    Since you have asked this question, did you see your hair turning grey? Do you suspect these medicines?

    If you do then send me an e-mail or ask another question in this section with the details of your symptoms, date of initiating these medicines, date of when you noticed your hair turn grey, and other related things like if you dye your hair and if you are on any hormonal medicines.

  • I take levetiracetam and carbamazepine medicine for my seizures. Can it cause greying hair?

    I could not find any such documented reports of Carbamazepine and Levetiracetam causing hair discoloration. However, both drugs rarely cause hair loss and one report suggest levetiracetam causing skin hyperpigmentation.

    To find out a true causal relationship between these drugs and your hair greying I will need to know many more details related to your medicine administration, dosage, date of initiating the medicines in relation to date of you observing grey hair and the likes. Your pharmacist might help you determine the causality and help you report it if it is found to be true.

© 2018 Sherry Haynes


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    • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Haynes 

      6 months ago

      Hi June!

      Tamoxifen is one of the most commonly blamed drugs for hair loss. 1 in 3 women see hair loss after using tamoxifen. Before I can tell you anything I will need to know for how long you have been using the drug and whether you see a change in the texture of the hair or may be loss of hair in some areas.

      If you feel like everything is alright after been used the drug for a long time, you may go for coloring your hair but generally I would prefer to avoid it for at least a few months of the therapy.

    • profile image


      8 months ago

      I am taking 5 mg Tamoxifen. I was wondering can I color my hair at a salon.

      Will it fall out.

    • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Haynes 

      18 months ago

      Thanks, Liz W.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      This is an interesting article. Next time I am prescribed a drug I shall be checking out this list.

    • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

      Sherry Haynes 

      21 months ago

      If she can rule out other things that can have such effect, meds could be suspected. Thanks for reading it.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      21 months ago from Sunny Florida

      My mother complains about how oxygen is making her hair darker, but I never thought about meds changing hair color. Interesting article.


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