For many women, losing the hair on their heads is one of the most emotionally difficult parts of the cancer-treatment process. But thinning brows and eyelashes—even more than missing locks—can signal an illness to others, and their absence is a lot harder to disguise.
"More than losing the hair on your head, losing your brows and lashes is a bigger giveaway that you're going through cancer," says Ramy Gafni, a cancer survivor and the author of Ramy Gafni's Beauty Therapy: The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Great While Living With Cancer.
The good news is that women are less likely to lose lashes and brows than the hair on their heads. "Brows and lashes have different durations of hair growth cycles, which make them less susceptible [than head hair] to the inhibitor effect of chemo," says Mario Lacouture, MD, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center's Dermatologic Care Center at Northwestern University in Chicago. What's more, the regrowth of brows and lashes is more noticeable than that of head hair since brows and lashes only need to grow less than an inch.
Melissa Graves, 40, of College Station, Texas, started losing her hair about two weeks after she began chemotherapy, but her eyelashes started falling out much later. Her eyebrows thinned, but she didn't lose them completely. She tried lots of eyeliner and fake lashes on her top lids to minimize the treatment's effects on her appearance.
Valerie Sarnelle, a Beverly Hills–based celebrity makeup artist and the founder of Valerie Beverly Hills, suggests that women experiment with false eyelashes, eyebrow stencils, and eyeliner. Below, her tips.
- False lashes are fine; try a hypoallergenic adhesive for everyday use. Since they can often look too long, trim false lashes to about a third of an inch to mimic natural lashes.
- You can also line the outer rim of your upper and lower lids with waterproof eyeliner, then trace over it with matching powder to add texture.
- Eyebrow stencils, which come in many shapes and sizes, can help you re-create a thicker brow line that looks very natural, as opposed to just using an eyebrow pencil that can look harsh and artificial. "Pick the shape closest to your own, center the stencil on the ridge of your brow bone, and fill it in with brow powder or gel," says Sarnelle, who began designing stencils after a client lost her brows during breast cancer treatment. "Her brows were one of her best features," recalls Sarnelle, "so I designed the stencils that would give her the brows that she was afraid of losing."
- Brow liners work fine without a stencil. Use the ridge of your brow bone as a guide. To make sure the brows are symmetrical, first make a dot on each brow ridge right at the point parallel to the inner corner of your eye. Place a second dot past the outer corner of the eye, where you estimate your real brow line stopped. Using a brown or taupe pencil, diagonally feather tiny hair-like flecks along the prominent ridge of the brow bone, then brush over it with a brow powder for added texture and dimension. "Brow powders look great if there is hair to fill in between, when the brows are starting to grow in and hair can look sparse," Sarnelle explains. "If you are going through chemo and have no hair, then the stencil is a must."
- Brow wigs—human-hair brows with a temporary glue adhesive—can be irritating, so it's best to save them for special occasions.
In addition to these tips, Look Good...Feel Better offers instructions for filling in eyebrows and other hair help.