We pretty much expect to lose our hair during chemotherapy, but loss of eyebrows and eyelashes can be even more shocking and much harder to deal with for some people! When our hair falls out we can buy cute wigs, wear fun hats, learn creative ways to tie scarves, acquire funky earrings or even walk with our bald heads proudly held high! But what can we do when our eyebrows and lashes fall out? Somehow this loss alters our overall appearance much more and, let’s face it, as a cancer patient, what we really don’t want to look like is a “cancer patient”!
Does everyone lose their eyebrows and eyelashes?
Similarly to head hair loss, your chances of losing your brows and lashes largely depends on the type of chemotherapy you receive. However, generally speaking, loss of all your brows and lashes is less likely to occur than the loss of your head hair. Furthermore, there is a lot of person-to-person variability; some people lose all their brows and lashes while for others there is just thinning so that they appear more sparse. Eyebrow and/or eyelash loss can occur gradually or can occur within as short a period as a week. While the loss usually occurs after the loss of head hair, the time at which it starts can vary and can be delayed until a month or so after the final chemotherapy treatment ends. Towards the end of my chemotherapy I had grown used to having no hair on my head. I was even starting to feel confident going without my wig and was appreciating the positive benefits of hair loss! Getting ready in the morning was a breeze. No more shaving my underarms or legs. Shampooing and blow-drying what? Waxing my bikini line…hmmmm, what bikini line? I was vaguely entertaining the hope that I might be the person for whom head hair grew back thick and luxuriant but body hair would remain persistently absent. Then, unfortunately, a month after chemo treatments ended my leg/underarm hair grew back and my lashes and eyebrows fell out…sigh! I grumpily started to compare myself to ET (bald, no eyebrows). No, I take that back, more like ET needing to shave his underarms! Fortunately, no one was tactless enough to agree with me when I made the comparison! However, while my longer eyebrow hairs were shedding pretty rapidly, I could already see small hairs growing underneath. Unlike your head hair where it takes at least an inch of hair growth to really notice a change, your lashes and brows don’t need to grow back much for you to notice a significant difference. For me, while there were some weeks of little to no lashes and brows, it wasn’t long before I noticed some regrowth.
So is there anything you can do to reduce your chances of losing your brows and lashes?
You can definitely minimize loss by treating them very gently. I would certainly abandon waterproof mascara because it takes much more effort to remove than regular mascara and any rubbing will increase shedding. Treat your lashes/brows very gently and try not to rub or touch them. No fiddling or patting them to see if they are still there!
If in spite of your best efforts you start to see shedding, what can you do?
Eyebrows are the easiest to deal with. If you still have some of your brows, or if you can see small hairs growing back so that the original brow shape is still discernable, then you just need to fill in your sparse hairs with a good brow powder. I would definitely recommend this over an eyebrow pencil because it gives a much more natural look. Brow pencil might be ok if you are just filling in a few gaps in otherwise thick brows but it tends to look rather “drawn on” if you have lost a lot of brow. I like the Colorescience eyebrow powder we have in the LoveHopeThrive Store because it comes in a palette of three colors and you can experiment with different shades to see what looks most natural. Generally, it is best to go with a slightly lighter shade that you would normally use, especially if you have only a few brow hairs or none at all. Apply the powder lightly with a small brush, and if you have lost all your brows, using an older photo of yourself that shows where your brows were located can be an excellent reference to start with. It might take a bit of practice to draw them on but you really want to try to avoid a perpetually surprised, angry or quizzical look! For some, a brow stencil is a great option. It is a simple plastic template that you can position on the brow area and then use brow powder and brush to fill in the cutout area. When using a brow stencil I would definitely recommend that you use a larger, fluffier brush than the smaller one that usually comes with the brow powder because the larger brush creates a softer, more natural look.
How about eyelashes? Some people just use a light coat of regular mascara to give some definition while they still have lashes. If your lashes are completely gone you can draw a thin line of soft eye pencil where your lashes were, but you will need to experiment to get a natural look. Definitely try to keep make-up out of your eyes and replace mascara and eye pencil much more frequently than usual in order to avoid anything that could cause infection. Some people use false lashes and hypoallergenic adhesive. But again be careful, it is a good idea to ask your oncology nurse/doctor what they recommend.
What can you do to encourage regrowth after chemotherapy is over?
The good news is that most people do regrow their lashes and brows after treatment. While mine did grow back, they weren’t quite as thick as they had been before. I grew impatient after a while so I tried quite a few different products to encourage growth. I will share my experience but caution that this isn’t much of trial when you have a sample size of one – me! Nor am I endorsing or promoting any particular products, just sharing my own experience. If anyone has tried these or other products, please comment so that we can all benefit from each other’s experiences. The first product I tried on my lashes was Enormous Lash – this did cause some growth, I would give it 2 stars out of 5. However, it wasn’t quite the growth I was hoping for so I purchased some Latisse and used on both my lashes and brows. I would definitely give this product 5 stars out of 5 for hair growth but decided against using it long-term – it tended to irritate my eyes so they looked red a lot of the time. Additionally, in some people, like me, it can cause darkening of the skin where it is applied. This can look kind of cool, sort of like subtle purple eyeliner above the upper lashes. However, after a while I noticed the darkening below my lower lashes also, even though I hadn’t applied the Latisse to this area, and it was starting to give me an owlish appearance. The good news is that the shading around my eyes eventually went away but the bad news is that so did my ultra long lashes – you need to keep using the Latisse if you want to keep those thick lashes. Then I tried Smart Lash. Unfortunately, I would give this product 0 stars as my lashes actually fell out while using it! At first I thought that perhaps I just needed to use it longer but after 4 weeks I grew tired of the lash loss and stopped using it. Another product I tried, Talika Lipocils, also earns 2 stars out of 5 for both lash and brow growth as it definitely gave some improvement. Rapid Lash XL was probably my favorite of the products. I would give it 3 out of 5 stars for lash and brow growth and for me at least it was non-irritating. For those of you interested in a home-remedy, coconut oil made my eyebrows grow. I applied this to my face at night for a while when I was looking for a good, natural night-time treatment for dry skin and was fascinated to discover that my eyebrows grew thicker while I was using it. I do not know the ingredients of any of the above products, so, as always, check with your oncology nurse/doctor about any new products before you use them.
Once my lashes had grown back in, I found that Jane Iredale’s PureLash Conditioner followed by her PureLash Mascara were great at maximizing my lashes. I also really liked Physician’s Formula’s Eye Booster: 2 in 1 Boosting Eyeliner & Serum and felt that this also helped my lashes grow longer. It is an eyeliner so be careful that it doesn’t look too hard. I got around this by using a soft eyeliner pencil first and smudging the line and then following with a very thin line of the eyeliner. These together with the conditioner and mascara really help my lashes and eyes look great!
For persistent brow and lash loss, there is always the option of permanent make-up i.e. tattooing brows and eyeliner. Please make sure that you choose an experienced practitioner who specializes in natural results and ask to see before and after photographs or else meet first-hand a client who has had that type of permanent make-up application so that you can decide if this is for you.
Is it true that eyelashes/brows sometimes fall out a second time?
I don’t think this is the case for most people. However, it did happen to me and I have heard about this happening to other people, too. I suspect that this is more likely to happen if all your eyelashes/brows fall out within a short period of time as opposed to happening gradually. Perhaps this synchronizes your hair growth cycle so that the new hairs reach the end of their cycle and shed at the same time. However, before you get too alarmed, the second shedding, which in my case occurred about 3 months after the first, was significantly less. Also, the cycles of regrowth become unsynchronized as time goes by, so while I did get some shedding again 3 month later, it was barely noticeable.
Remember, don’t fiddle with your eyebrows/lashes, use powder on your brows to fill in the bare patches and know that ultimately they will grow again. Good luck! If you have any feedback, tips or products that worked for you, please don’t hesitate to post a comment; we would love to hear from you!