As well as the hair on your head, some chemotherapy drugs can cause loss of eyebrows and eyelashes too.
How does cancer treatment affect your brows and lashes?
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy work by killing off cells when they are dividing and multiplying. So as well as killing cancer cells, these treatments will affect normal cells that tend to multiply frequently. This includes hair, nails, skin cells and the lining of the mouth and digestive system.
Your brows and lashes may not be affected at all, may get thinner or fall out completely. Everyone reacts differently so you won’t know in advance how your treatment is going to affect you. Brows and lashes tend to be affected later in treatment than head hair.
Radiotherapy only affects the area of the body that’s treated. As your eyes are sensitive to radiation, they are likely to be excluded from the treatment area if at all possible so brow and lash loss is less likely.
The good news is that hair loss from cancer treatment is temporary – everything will grow back once your treatment has finished.
Some targeted and biological cancer drugs can make your eyebrows and lashes grow longer than normal. If you feel they need trimming, don’t try and do it yourself. Ask your nurse or a beautician to do it for you.
What can I do to prevent eyebrow and eyelash loss?
Unfortunately there isn’t really any way of preventing brows or lashes falling out. You may be able to wear a scalp cooling hat to try and prevent hair loss. These work by reducing blood flow so less of the drug gets to the hair follicles. Some of these are quite low on the brow so may cover your eyebrows and help to stop them falling out. But that won’t help you to keep your eyelashes and you can’t always use scalp cooling. It’s not recommended for leukaemias or lymphomas. And some doctors don’t like their patients to use them for any type of cancer because they think there is a risk of cancer cells in the scalp surviving the treatment.
What can I do to help my brows and lashes grow back?
Your lashes and brows will start to grow back after your course of treatment has ended. How long this takes varies from person to person. There isn’t anything you can do to make this happen more quickly. But you can take care not to disturb the regrowth, for example by rubbing your face when you wash or by pulling off false lashes.
What can I do in the meantime to help with brow and lash loss?
There are various make-up techniques you can use to disguise thinning or lost eyebrows. There is more eyebrow make-up around than ever before. If your brows have thinned, use light strokes with an eyebrow pencil or powder to fill them in. Don’t be heavy handed. The idea is to build up feather-light strokes until you get the effect you want.
If you have complete eyebrow loss, there are stencil kits available. These take practice but you should be able to get a good result. Cancer Research UK has a good video on how to use brow stencil kits.
If you’ve lost your lashes, you could wear false ones. It’s probably not a good idea to try and wear them all the time as the glue may irritate your skin. They may also not stay on so well if you have no natural lashes or have watery eyes. It can be better to use a water-resistant eyeliner to give your eyes some definition until they grow back. Again, this takes practice. Cancer Research UK also has a video showing you how to put on eyeliner.
Eyelashes that are growing back can be brittle and easily damaged. There are various serums and oils specially designed for eyelashes that may help to condition them and stop them breaking so easily.
A charity organisation called Look Good Feel Better run workshops around the country for people having cancer treatment. They also have a series of online tutorials on different make-up techniques.