It is no lie that breast cancer treatment makes us feel utterly rubbish. Actually beyond 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 tips.
1. 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) for ladies 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. I can safely say that the morning I spent at the LGFB course was one of the nicest mornings of my chemo days – chatting with other ladies going through the same thing, having lovely make up tutorials and really looking quite nice by the end of it!
If you live in the London area then the wonderful Kaz at Wigs for Heroes (search her up on Twitter and Instagram, she also has a YouTube channel) puts on makeup days for ladies going through chemo. She also sends free chemo make up packs out to ladies going through chemo. She is an absolute angel! Definitely someone to follow on social media for makeup tips.
2. Sensitive skin. Your skin will be sensitive during and after chemo so use sensitive products and consider cutting out the nasty chemicals in make up by using sensitive, organic or paraben-free makeup products.
3. Blusher and bronzer. Chemo makes us look washed out and pale, so using a blusher and/or bronzer can help us look better instantly.
4. Lips. Keep your lips moisturised with a gentle lip balm. I used Burts Bees which are available in most health shops. 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:
1. If you get a good eyebrow pencil or eyebrow shadow you can pencil them on very realistically. For me, I would say approximately 4 straggling hairs clung on above both eyes which helped me to work out where to draw them and when discussing my lack of eyebrows with people they were always surprised to hear quite how few I had because I had camouflaged it so well. The websites and YouTube channels listed at the end of this section give excellent tutorials on how to do this. You can also get eyebrow stencils which help you get a good shape.
2. 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.
3. Fake eyebrows. There are eyebrow wigs. Yes, I know!! 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.
1. Fake eyelashes. For eyelashes some people suggest using fake eyelashes but I was advised not to do this. The advice I received was that 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, I know some women use them during chemo so I would advise you talk to your chemo nurses.
2. 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
3. Mascara? This is a personal choice. I didn’t use mascara because I had very few eyelashes and those that remained were very stubby. I wanted to make sure they held on so I didn’t use mascara in case it dislodged them (or I dislodged them while removing my mascara)
4. Eyelashes and eyebrows do grow back. It takes around 6-8 weeks for lashes and brows to re-grow after chemo. You can get something called Revitalash which helps your eyelashes and eyebrows to grow back after chemo has finished. It is quite expensive but I have read that it is 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.
1. Keep them short.
2. Use gloves for gardening and kitchen chores like washing up.
3. Use handcream and cuticle oil (consider sensitive, organic or paraben free such as the Defiant Beauty Nail Mask or Nail Oil , or try olive oil or coconut oil).
4. 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.
5. Avoid salon manicures and pedicures during treatment because you risk infection being passed onto you from their implements.
6. Fake nails can trap bacteria between it and the nail, so avoid these. Acrylics, gels and shellac use harsh chemicals and can make your nail health worse so the advice I have had is to avoid them.
7. If you want to wear nail polish then consider using a more gentle brand such as an “free-from” brand (there are a number of brands which have taken out the main nasty chemicals For example, Maggie Anne and Butter) And use a remover that does not contain acetone or other harsh chemicals. Some people suggested to me that wearing a dark colour nail polish would help my nails. I think that 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.
Organic make up and skin care
I took the decision to change my skin care and makeup to more natural and/or organic products. This was my personal decision and I am not telling you to do this but it may be of interest to some of you so I am including some information about it. I did a lot of online research into which products to get and where to get them from. There are a lot of organic make up brands available and the quality of the products was fabulous. I was really surprised. And I came across A LOT of natural and organic beauty bloggers who review organic make up and skin care products. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel so rather than tell you all about the products and give reviews myself, here is a list of my favourite brands, shops and bloggers together with links to their sites.
1. 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.
2. Bloggers (based in the U.K. so reviewing products that you can get in the U.K.):
Online shops selling organic products
There are quite a few, but I have listed the ones I have used.
Organic beauty brands that I have tried and liked
Clothes and what to wear
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. For me, it was comfort over style most of the time (actually who am I kidding, it was all the time). However, being comfortable does not prevent you from also looking stylish. Here are some tips:
1. 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.
2. For ladies having had a mastectomy and looking for underwear and swim wear, Maggies have a super list of places that offer specialist advice and clothing. Breast Cancer Care also have a booklet which offers advice on this.
3. 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.
4. You can go to town with things like hats, scarves, jewellery and shoes. There is a lovely article in Grazia from a few years back (very still very relevant) where two breast cancer patients and bloggers (Jo Taylor and Liz O’Riordan) give advice on feeling good about what you are wearing during the time of cancer treatment.
HELPFUL RESOURCES AND MORE INFORMATION
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.
Baldly Beautiful . A trained make-up artist, Andrea, set up a YouTube channel to give make-up tutorials for women going through chemotherapy. The channel has videos covering topics from eyebrows and skincare to contouring and head scarf tying.
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.
Beauty Despite Cancer has A LOT of advice for skincare and makeup during chemo treatment. Super website.
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 the lovely Kaz who has posted a number of videos about makeup, scarves and wigs. Please do take a look.