This story is part of Survivor's Guide, a series on navigating the impact of breast cancer through beauty and self-care.
There are plenty of questions that might arise with a cancer diagnosis: What will happen? How will my family react? Who will take care of me? What will treatment do to my body? It may feel like your priorities are out of place when you catch yourself worrying about smaller things as something so large and life-changing lies ahead of you, but it's completely natural and understandable. A topic not often discussed, for example, is what happens to eyebrows during cancer treatment.
Depending on the type of cancer as well as the style of treatment, the amount of hair loss (if any) can vary. "During or after cancer treatment, all hair-bearing areas, including eyebrows and eyelashes, may shed at a higher rate than normal," says Bernice Kwong, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at Stanford University. That eyebrow loss may not happen immediately but can occur soon after chemotherapy begins.
It can range from two to four months after the start of treatment and progressively worsen as long as chemotherapy is given and for up to two months after completing chemo, according to Mario E. Lacouture, director of the oncodermatology program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Lacouture says you can expect your brows to start regrowing after three to six months and, in most cases, to appear similar to what they were before.
"In about one out of four patients, eyebrows may not fully recover after chemo and may be more sparse," he says. Radiation will affect eyebrows when it is directed at that specific area or in the general vicinity. "In this case, eyebrow loss will begin after two to four weeks and, in most instances, the eyebrows will not regrow in the area of radiation," says Lacouture.
Hair loss can also be caused by physical stress on the body due to a cancer diagnosis, surgery, or radiation. This can lead to a type of stress-induced hair shedding called telogen effluvium. "This type of eyebrow loss may not occur immediately and typically starts two to four months after diagnosis or treatment," says Kwong, explaining that telogen effluvium usually lasts about six months. Afterward, eyebrows tend to grow back slowly over many months and many patients may find that their eyebrows are not quite as thick as they were before.
Here, experts answer some of the most commonly asked questions about eyebrows and cancer.
This depends on the type of chemotherapy. According to Lacouture, approximately 60 percent of people receiving traditional chemotherapy will lose their eyebrows. Most of the brow loss will be recovered, but in up to 25 percent of patients, their eyebrows will remain sparse and thin.
This could happen if radiation is given to the face, especially in the brow area. "However, anyone going through cancer treatment, including radiotherapy, may experience a temporary increase in hair shedding due to the stress and shock on the body," says Kwong.
Unfortunately, says Kwong, there are no preventative measures approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to curb brow loss. "Ongoing research is needed to help answer questions including whether cooling of the eyebrows with ice packs or other methods during cytotoxic chemotherapy may be helpful to prevent eyebrow loss, or if prescription-based topical therapies such as topical minoxidil or topical bimatoprost can help," says Kwong. Because there aren't any FDA-approved measures yet to prevent that loss of eyebrow hair, there's plenty of work to be done.
There are ways to give yourself the appearance of natural-looking eyebrows. It's okay to wear makeup during treatment, and it should not exacerbate hair loss during treatment. It can even be a wonderful way to treat and extend a little gratitude to yourself. "However, it is important to understand that any topical products on the skin during cancer treatment can potentially cause irritation, as the skin may be more susceptible and sensitive during cancer treatment," says Kwong.
There are more fantastic options for replicating the look of eyebrows than ever before, including drawing them on temporarily with makeup. "Brow pencils and powders are ideal for those who have temporarily lost their hair. Eyebrow stencils can help with shaping brows [and drawing them on] and brow gels are great for when the hair has regrown," says Taymour Hallal, a New York City-based makeup artist. (We like CoverGirl Easy Breezy Brow Draw & Fill Brow Tool and Armani Beauty Smooth Silk Eyebrow Pencil.)
According to makeup artist Tonya Crooks, the two determining factors of trying to enhance brows that are sparse or barely there is to know the proper shape of your brows — whether they're arched, straighter, blocky, etc., as well as knowing their length. Look at photos of yourself to determine the arch and how your muscles work to emote in the face.
The best way to figure out length is to place your eyebrow pencil alongside your nose. Following it straight up, make a small dot, and that's where the inner corner of your brow begins.
To measure the tail of the brow, lay the pencil on an angle alongside the corner of the nose to the outside corner of your eye and make a second dot. That's the endpoint of your brow. Then play connect the dots, Crooks says.
"Starting at the bottom of the brow, sketch small, hairlike strokes connecting the first marked point all the way to the tail," she says. "This is what I call the baseline. Repeat the same steps on the top of the brow. You should end with an outline of your eyebrows' natural shape."
This is a chance to get to know products, be creative, and determine what works best for you in terms of texture. If you're using a powder or a brow brush dipped in gel, use the smallest amount of product to keep your look natural. Draw on brows using short strokes to mimic hairs. "If the brows are sparse [or have fallen out], it's best not to try to make them appear too thick. Less is more,” says Crooks.
For a more permanent solution, microblading and ombré shading are other options, though neither is recommended for anyone currently going through chemotherapy (which can make you more susceptible to infection). After you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor, do your research.
Kwong recommends that patients wait at least a month after completing treatment to do permanent makeup, microblading, or tattooing to allow for healing of the skin. "Furthermore, if there are any signs of slow healing or irritation [due to professional brow services], seek medical attention from a board-certified dermatologist," she says.
Crooks recommends waiting at least three months post-treatment before deciding if semipermanent microblading would be an appropriate option. She encourages her clients to try to regrow their hair as much as possible, using brow cosmetics during the day and enhancement serums at night to repair and nourish the brows. Maybelline New York Tattoo Studio Brow Gel is a semipermanent option. Draw it on (like any brow product) and the pigment lasts for up to two days.
"Permanent makeup, or PMU, tends to look less natural [than tattooed brows], but can also be a great option for some skin types that have a hard time retaining tattoo ink," she says.
Eyebrows are one of the most personal and complicated relationships one can have with their face and to lose them can feel daunting and deeply upsetting. Cancer treatment is hard, but you can absolutely maintain what you love most about yourself during that time. Even your brows.
All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Source: Read Full Article