changes to body hair

Some cancer treatments may cause your body hair to fall out or change.

To cope with changes to your eyebrows and eyelashes:

  • Redraw your eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil or eyeshadow. Use a lighter shade than your natural hair.
  • Trim your eyebrows if they grow thicker.
  • Use a soft eyeliner or shadow to create the illusion of eyelashes.
  • If you have short or fine lashes, use a mascara with short bristles.
  • Don’t rub your eyes.
  • Avoid eyelash curlers and waterproof mascara.
  • Use false eyelashes, but check with your nurse whether the glue will irritate you first.
  • If your eyelashes have grown very long or inwards, have them trimmed by a nurse.

If you lose your beard or moustache, you may find replacements in make-up or theatrical shops that can be specially tailored.

You may lose hair from other parts of your body, including pubic hair. This can be upsetting and you may worry it will affect your sex life. If you have a partner, talk to them about how you feel.

Changes to eyebrows and eyelashes during treatment

Some cancer treatments may cause your eyelashes and eyebrows to become thinner or fall out completely.

Losing your eyebrows and eyelashes can change your appearance, and this can be upsetting. But remember that eyebrows and eyelashes usually grow back.

The amount of hair that falls out depends on the type or combination of drugs used, the dose, and how the drugs affect you personally.

You may find that you lose your eyelashes and eyebrows later than the hair on your head - perhaps after treatment has ended. Or it can happen more gradually during treatment.

You can learn to create new eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil if you want to, or use false eyelashes.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors can help you with the techniques described below. You can also watch videos from Boots UK containing tips for how to manage some of the visible side effects of cancer treatment.


Eyebrows

You can redraw eyebrows with an eyebrow pencil that is slightly lighter than your normal hair colour. Another natural-looking way to redraw the eyebrows is by applying eyeshadow powder with a make-up brush.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors can show you how to redraw your eyebrows, as it can be daunting to try this at first if you’re not used to it.

Creating natural-looking eyebrows

  • If possible, practise drawing on your eyebrows before your treatment begins so you can get used to following the shape and arch of your brow. You may want to take a close-up photo of yourself before your treatment, so you can remember exactly where your eyebrows were and what they looked like.
  • Try drawing a dot of colour above the outer and inner corners of each eye, and a dot where you think you’ll create any arch. This way, you can then check for symmetry before you start drawing (see the illustration below).

Creating eyebrows 1
Creating eyebrows 1

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Step 1: Redrawing eyebrows

  • Use your brow bone and your eyes to identify where your brows should be. Place the brow pencil alongside your nose and skirt the outer corner of your eye at a 45°angle (see the illustration below). This shows where a natural brow would start and finish.

creating eyebrows 2
creating eyebrows 2

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Step 2: Redrawing eyebrows

  • Use a lighter pencil than your normal hair colour. Draw from the centre of the brow line outward, using light, feathery strokes (see the illustration below). Plenty of tiny strokes with the pencil will look more realistic than a single line.

Creating eyebrows 3
Creating eyebrows 3

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Step 3: Redrawing eyebrows

  • Create a brow that’s thicker-looking at the inner end (nearest to the nose) and thinner at the outer edge.
  • Light pressure is all that’s needed, and then comb through the colour with an eyebrow wand to give a more natural appearance.
  • Check for symmetry when you move on to your other eye (see the illustration below). Remember though that no two brows are identical, so just make them look more or less the same, not identical.

creating eyebrows 4
creating eyebrows 4

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Step 4: Redrawing eyebrows

  • Some people choose to have permanent or temporary tattooing to create new eyebrows. This should not be done during treatment. For more information, see our information about hair loss or call the Macmillan Support Line.

Long and thick eyebrows

If you’re receiving certain types of targeted therapy, your eyebrows may grow long and thick. It’s fine to trim them if this happens.


Eyelashes

If your eyelashes have become thinner or have fallen out completely, there are a number of things you could try:

  • Use a soft eyeliner and smudger to define your eyes and create the illusion of eyelashes.
  • Lift the skin at your eyebrow when applying the make-up (see the illustration below). This will tighten your skin and make the pencil easier to apply.

Creating eyelashes 1
Creating eyelashes 1

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  • Use soft strokes along the eyelash line, by applying a smudger to soften the line and push colour further into the lashes.
  • Apply the make-up lightly to ensure the eyelashes are well defined and look natural (see the illustration below).

Creating eyelashes 2
Creating eyelashes 2

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Step 2: Creating natural looking eyelashes

  • If you have eyelashes, use a gentle teasing action when applying mascara.
  • You may find that using a mascara wand with short bristles is easier to use on short and sparse eyelashes than a longer, eyelash-extending wand.

Long or inward-growing eyelashes

If your eyelashes grow very long or grow inwards, it can irritate your eye and you may need to have your eyelashes trimmed by a nurse. You should never try to do this yourself, but always get advice from your doctor or nurse.

What you can do

  • Avoid eyelash curlers, as they can damage fragile eyelashes.
  • To remove eye make-up, hold a cotton pad soaked in eye make-up remover to the eye for a couple of seconds, before gently wiping away. This avoids unnecessary pulling of the lashes.
  • Consider using mascara that will dissolve in warm water if your eyes are sensitive.
  • Avoid waterproof mascara, as it can be harder to remove.
  • To prevent eyelash loss, try not to rub your eyes.
  • Using make-up may be the easiest way to disguise thin eyelashes.
  • If you want to wear false eyelashes, check with your cancer nurse specialist or oncology team first, as the glue may irritate sensitive skin.

“I was concerned about losing my eyelashes and eyebrows, as they frame your face so much and I knew I’d really see the difference when they were gone. Making an effort with my appearance was a way of keeping a sense of normality for myself.”

Jeni Reeves, 44, from Kent


Losing other body hair

Eyelashes

False eyelashes can be used to give a natural appearance. These are available from many beauty departments along with the adhesive that’s used to attach them. Many department stores have private rooms where staff can show you how to apply the eyelashes.

Moustaches and beards

Losing a moustache or a beard can be very difficult to deal with. Facial hair can be an important part of a man’s identity. Some make-up shops or theatrical shops sell moustaches or beards. Some of these can be tailored specially, but this can be very expensive.

Pubic hair

Some people temporarily lose their pubic hair. This can be upsetting and you may worry about how you look. If you have a partner you may also be concerned about what they think and worry that it could affect your sex life. Try to be open with your partner and talk about how you feel. Often by talking you’ll find that it’s not such a problem after all.


Back to Changes during treatment

What might happen

Cancer treatments may cause changes in your appearance. The effects will depend on the type of treatment you’re having.

Caring for skin and nails

Your skin and nails may change during cancer treatment. There are ways you can look after them.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors can help you manage the visible effects of cancer treatment.