It is no lie that breast cancer treatment can make us feel utterly rubbish. And you might think that the combination of hair loss, weight gain and sensitive skin scuppers any chance of us making ourselves look good. However, there are ways to look good and by doing so you can give yourself a little well deserved boost. So don’t feel demoralised and read on for some tips that we’ve put together from our experience as breast cancer patients.
Book yourself onto a Look Good Feel Better workshop. These free workshops are put on around the country (usually in your local hospital or support centre and also held at Future Dreams House in London) for people going through breast cancer treatment. They last a couple of hours and you get a gorgeous goodie bag of makeup and someone to give you advice on applying make up, especially focusing on areas such as how to make it look as if you still have eyebrows and eyelashes.
Sensitive skin. Your skin will be sensitive during and after chemo so use sensitive products and consider cutting out the chemicals in make up by using sensitive, organic or paraben-free makeup products.
Blusher and bronzer. Chemo makes us look washed out and pale, so using a blusher and/or bronzer can help us look better instantly.
Lips. Keep your lips moisturised with a gentle lip balm. Lipsticks are a nice way of giving yourself a lift.
One of the top things about looking chemo crappy is the lack of (or thinning) eyebrows. You can feel that there is nothing to define your face. But there are ways to disguise this:
If you get a good eyebrow pencil or eyebrow shadow you can pencil them on very realistically. For advice on drawing them on see this Breast Cancer Now article. You can also get eyebrow stencils which help you get a good shape.
You can get your eyebrows temporarily tattooed. It is best to do this before your eyebrows start thinning so that the salon can follow the lines of your actual eyebrows. Search for a local reputable salon online, or ideally go with a personal recommendation because once on, they are there for the duration. Check with your chemo nurse/oncologist before getting this done because if you are in chemo then you will need to avoid any risk of infection and it may not be suitable. Cancer Hair Care have a great article on microblading and semi-permanent makeup for eyebrows. Check out the Future Dreams support services for information about services to help with the lack of eyebrows and eyelashes.
Fake eyebrows. There are such things as eyebrow wigs!! They are little eyebrows which you can stick on your thinned or non-existent eyebrows. Before using false eyebrows check with your chemo nurse because the adhesive and remover you will use need may not be suitable for you. Also bear in mind that your newly sensitive skin may not like the adhesive and you may cause an allergic reaction or rash.
Fake eyelashes. Some people like to use fake eyelashes but we’ve heard that these are not always a good option because the fake eyelashes a) need some real eyelashes to attach to and if you only have a few (and stubby ones) then you risk these being pulled out, and b) the adhesive and remover can contain chemicals which may interact with your sensitive skin. However, we know that some women use them during chemo so we advise you talk to your chemo nurses.
Eyeliner. To mask the fact that all, or most, of your eyelashes have fallen out you can draw a line of dark eyeliner or eye shadow across the bottom of your eyelid. There are tutorials in the links below, and one especially about eyes is on the Cancer Research UK website
Mascara? This is a personal choice and dependent upon how many eyelashes you have and whether they are still falling out.
Eyelashes and eyebrows do grow back. It takes around 6-8 weeks for lashes and brows to re-grow after chemo. You can get serums that promote growth of eyelashes and eyebrows, for example Revitalash, which helps your eyelashes and eyebrows to grow back after chemo has finished. It is quite expensive but you might find it worth the investment if you are particularly upset by losing your eyelashes and eyebrows.
Our poor nails take a real battering from chemo. They can flake, become brittle, break easily, ridge, fall off, discolour and get infected. So it is really important to look after your nails.
Keep them short.
Use gloves for gardening and kitchen chores like washing up.
Use handcream and cuticle oil (consider sensitive, organic or paraben free such as the Jennifer Young Defiant Beauty Nail Mask or Nail Oil , or try olive oil or coconut oil).
Do not pull at a hangnail because it may lead to infection which could be problematic if you are a) going through chemo and have a low immunity, and b) at risk of lymphoedema in that arm. Seek medical advice straight away if you have a hangnail that looks infected.
Some chemo nurses recommend that you avoid salon manicures and pedicures during treatment because you can risk infection being passed onto you from their implements. If you really want a salon treatment check with your medical team.
Fake nails can trap bacteria between it and the nail, so the advice is to avoid these. Acrylics, gels and shellac use harsh chemicals and can make your nail health worse so the advice is also to avoid them during treatment.
If you want to wear nail polish then consider using a more gentle brand such as an “free-from” brand. And use a remover that does not contain acetone or other harsh chemicals. Some people suggest that wearing a dark colour nail polish can help protect your nails when you’re having a particular type of chemotherapy: the theory behind it is that some chemo drugs cause sensitivity to light and by putting dark nail polish on your nails you are blocking the light from reaching the nail and the nail bed, thus adding a layer of protection. We don’t know if this is true but you can try it if you like wearing nail polish.
Some people decide to change their skin care and makeup to more natural and/or organic products. There are a lot of organic make up brands available and the quality of the products is fabulous. For more information about such products have a look at The Nature of Beauty by Imelda Burke . Imelda set up Content Beauty and Wellbeing which is a shop (in London and online). The book “teaches you how to recognise what your skin needs and how to shop the best products for you. It offers both time-honoured and modern techniques, tips and guidance for all ages, and showcases the powerful ingredients and brands that you need to know about.” And the shop stocks many organic brands.
During chemo we have to deal with weight gain and low energy which is not a great combination for looking good during these months. Many breast cancer patients also have to adapt after mastectomies. Here are some tips:
Wear what you want – whether that is slouchy comfy clothes (see below) or getting dressed up in smart clothes. It’s all down to what you want to do.
If you want to wear slouchy loungewear (and it’s likely that you will do at some point during treatment) invest in some comfortable, larger than usual, baggy bottoms – tracksuit bottoms, leggings, lounging pants. Primark, H&M and New Look all have a great selection at a reasonable cost. It’s the kind of thing you’ll buy for going through cancer treatment and then want to throw out when it is over, so you don’t want to spend a lot.
For those of you having had a mastectomy and looking for underwear and swim wear, Breast Cancer Care have a booklet which offers advice on this.
While feeling grotty, it can feel like a bit of a treat to wear something like a nice soft jumper, warm fluffy socks, a soft pashmina or stylish wrap.
You can go to town with things like hats, scarves, jewellry and shoes.
Look good feel better. Book yourself on one of their workshops through this website. The website also has a load of helpful information about applying makeup, tying head scarves, hair care and so on.
Recognise yourself: beauty despite cancer. A practical guide to maintaining your appearance and well-being as you go through surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or experience hair loss.
YouTube There are loads of make up tutorials for chemo patients on YouTube so have a little browse around and find one that suits your own style. If you search on the internet for “chemo make up tutorial” loads will come up. In particular do a search for “Wigs for Heroes” and you will come across Kaz who has posted a number of videos about makeup, scarves and wigs.
Future Dreams put on workshops at their London based House. Look Good Feel Better, Headwrappers and a whole host of other people hold workshops to help you feel better about the way you look and increase your confidence. Check out this page for more information.
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Reviewed February 2023
The information and content provided on this page has been written from a patient’s perspective then reviewed by a breast care nurse and it is intended for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please contact your medical team for advice on anything covered in this article and/or in relation to your personal situation. The links and/or recommendations in this article to third-party resources are for your information and we take no responsibility for the content contained in those third-party resources. Any product recommendations made in this article are not product endorsements and unless otherwise stated, they are made without any affiliation to the brand of that product. We ask you to note that there may be other similar products available.
Sylvie and Danielle began Future Dreams with just £100 in 2008. They believed nobody should face breast cancer alone. Their legacy lives on in Future Dreams House. We couldn’t continue to fund support services for those touched by breast cancer, raise awareness of breast cancer and promote early diagnosis and advance research into secondary breast cancer without your help. Please consider partnering with us or making a donation.