Living with breast cancer is challenging, and the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows during treatment adds another hurdle. Although there are well-known solutions like wigs and headwraps, the loss of lashes and brows can present a unique dilemma. These facial features define a person’s appearance and can affect their self-esteem and confidence.
Here, we will explore the many ways people with breast cancer manage thinning or lost eyebrows and eyelashes. We will also discuss the regrowth process and see how members of MyBCTeam have experienced lash and brow loss as a side effect of breast cancer treatment.
For many MyBCTeam members, the loss of their eyelashes and eyebrows came as a shock. Though it is common knowledge that cancer treatments can cause hair loss, losing lashes and brows can be totally unexpected. This loss leaves them unsure of how to address this additional change in their appearance.
“It’s a strange feeling losing not just your hair on your head, but everywhere, which wasn’t explained! Even eyelashes!” wrote one member. Another member shared, “I freaked out more about eyelashes and eyebrows than I did about my hair.”
If you have lost eyelashes and eyebrows to breast cancer treatment, it can be very tough emotionally. As one member admitted, “The eyebrows and eyelashes were the hardest to lose mentally. Mine came out after I finished Taxol.” This hair loss can also have a big impact on self-confidence. “I may be 68,” wrote one member, “but I need to feel good about how I look, and that includes lashes.”
Note that not everyone going through treatment for breast cancer will lose their eyelashes or eyebrows entirely. Some people experience thinning or patchiness, while others don’t lose their lashes or brows at all. Everyone reacts differently to cancer treatments. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapies can affect hair follicles in different ways, which results in various levels of hair loss.
Currently, there are no products or methods proven to effectively preserve eyelashes or eyebrows during chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy drugs are strong and can affect cells in the body that divide quickly, like hair follicles. As a result, many people experience temporary or permanent hair loss, including the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows.
However, some MyBCTeam members have shared their techniques for preventing the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows during chemotherapy. One recommended being “gentle when washing and especially drying your face” to help prevent eyebrow loss. “I recall another BC friend telling me how she kept her eyebrows until the last day of chemo — when she washed her face that night, she rubbed too hard. I kept thinking, ‘I won’t do that!’ — and guess what, one night near the end of chemo, I was in a hurry and dried my face quickly, and off came most of my one eyebrow.”
A couple of other members reported using Brian Joseph’s Lash and Brow Conditioning Gel during chemo and keeping most of their brow hair and lashes. Again, no products have been proven in clinical testing to be capable of preventing this type of hair loss during chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy is a type of breast cancer treatment that aims to kill cancer cells, shrink tumors, and prevent or slow the spread of cancer. One common side effect of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer is the partial or total loss of head hair and body hair, including the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows.
One MyBCTeam member shared that her friend experienced eyelash loss multiple times while on chemo treatment: “I have a friend whose eyelashes have fallen out for the fourth time,” she wrote. “She is on Herceptin every three weeks and anastrozole daily and has Zometa every six months.”
While all chemotherapy drugs have the potential to cause hair loss, certain medications are more likely to result in the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows. The impact can also be influenced by factors such as the dosage, treatment duration, and individual response to the medications.
Paclitaxel is a chemotherapy drug used to treat metastatic breast cancer. It is given after other treatments have failed, and it targets breast cancer cells that have spread from the original site in the breast to other parts of the body. This drug commonly causes a total loss of lashes and brows. Paclitaxel is sold under brand names including Abraxane and Taxol but is usually referred to as Taxol.
AC (doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide), EC (epirubicin and cyclophosphamide), and TC (docetaxel and cyclophosphamide) are three combinations of chemotherapy drugs used to treat breast cancer. Docetaxel is sold under the brand name Taxotere. These three regimens have been known to cause possible lash and brow loss.
Your eyelashes and eyebrows should grow back once you have completed chemotherapy. When lashes and brows do grow back, they may look or feel different than they were before treatment — they may be short, fine, brittle, or lighter in color.
MyBCTeam members have rejoiced when their eyelashes and eyebrows began to return, even if the regrowth phase was awkward. “My eyebrows are coming back now with a hairy vengeance — starting to look like two brown, fuzzy caterpillars,” one member reported. Another member wrote, “My eyelashes are coming back! They’re light, but definitely making their return!”
Another advised fellow MyBCTeam members that eyelash regrowth can feel strange: “Do not be surprised when it is a bit uncomfortable when the lashes come in. For a little while, it felt like something was always in my eye. The stubble sort of pokes at you. Once they grow a bit longer, it goes away.”
Eyelash and eyebrow regrowth after breast cancer treatment varies from person to person. The time it takes for body hair like eyelashes and eyebrows to grow back may also be different from the time it takes for the hair on your head to regrow. “My eyelashes came back quicker than anything!” one member shared, while another noted, “My lashes never came back fully. It has been over two years.” One member even wrote that “the hair on my legs has begun to grow back,” despite starting to lose her eyebrows.
You may find that your eyelashes or brows fall out again after they have grown back. As one member said, “My lashes came back, and then after treatment ended, there was a point where a whole lot of them fell out again, like in a little burst — then they came back again and stayed. Might have just been the body recalibrating itself after all the stuff that was done to it.”
There are many ways to manage the loss of eyelashes and eyebrows during treatment. Some people try to prevent lash and brow loss, while others choose to camouflage the loss with eye makeup, faux lashes or brows, or even tattoos. Others still embrace the changes that chemotherapy causes and focus on staying confident while undergoing treatment.
Studies have found that the medication Latisse (bimatoprost) can help promote eyelash regrowth. One member shared, “I picked up Latisse and started using it two days ago — let’s see if I keep my eyelashes (and eyebrows too).” Be sure to talk to your dermatologist or oncologist about whether this drug may be a good option for you.
Another member shared the following tip: “Rub some castor oil on them at night. Mine came in so fast and long when I did that. I couldn’t even put mascara on my bottom lashes. It actually made them look too long.” Again, before trying any new treatment, talk to your health care provider to make sure this is a good choice for you.
Many members opt for eyeliner and eyebrow pencils during treatment or as they wait for their eyelashes and eyebrows to grow back. One member wrote, “My eyebrows made me sad — but I found a good pencil that works and had a makeup artist teach me how to make the pencil art look real. It was the Anastasia eyebrow pencil at Sephora.”
Another member recommended a product from the makeup brand Benefit: “They have a cool eyebrow kit that has part powder and part clay-type material that works really well on my eyebrows.” She also wrote that eyeliner could give the illusion of eyelashes: “If you wear a thick eyeliner on top of your eyelid, it kind of looks like mascara.”
The good news is, that if you’re undergoing chemo, there are now more eyebrow kits and products than ever before. Pens, pencils, powders, pomades, and even multiday tints can be purchased at drugstores and other makeup retailers. You can try different formulas or combinations of products to see what works best for you.
Like the member above, you can consult a makeup artist for tips on filling in sparse brows or creating new ones. Both online makeup gurus and makeup retailers can help advise you on the right techniques, shapes, and colors for you.
You can also use eyebrow stencils if you need help to create a realistic or consistent shape. Breast Cancer Now offers some tips for creating a natural brow shape if your eyebrows have fallen out:
Losing your lashes and brows can be upsetting, but you may find that you enjoy the freedom that comes with experimenting with your eyebrow shape. After all, there’s no better time to play around with different lengths, arch shapes, and colors to see what you like best.
False eyelashes (also known as “falsies”) are a popular choice if you have sparse or no eyelashes. “I have two or three really long eyelashes on each eye,” one member explained. “I have a graduation party to go to, and I’m going to see a lot of people. I’m going to have to get fake eyelashes.”
There are many different styles of false lashes, ranging in thickness, length, and color. Some are dramatic and full, while others offer a more natural look. There are also different methods of application: Some false eyelashes are adhered to the eyelid with temporary glue, while others rely on magnetic eyeliner to stick to the lids.
There are also fake eyebrows available that stick directly onto the skin. They are available in many different shapes, colors, and materials (human hair or synthetic). Talk to your doctor about whether the adhesives used in false eyelashes and stick-on eyebrows are safe for you to use.
Many people with sparse eyebrows, even those who have not undergone cancer treatment, try different tattoo techniques to create semipermanent eyebrows. These techniques aim to create the illusion of fuller eyebrows and provide a semipermanent solution.
Microblading is one option. This technique is done by a professional, and it involves tattooing individual lines on the eyebrow area to create the illusion of eyebrow hairs. Microblading doesn’t use a traditional tattoo machine, but rather a special tool with a row of small needles that the artist uses to draw each hair by hand. The result is a natural-looking brow that lasts longer than penciling or filling in with makeup.
Another technique known as micropigmentation or “permanent makeup” can create the look of natural eyebrows on those who have sparse or nonexistent brows. Like microblading, this tattooing technique aims to create a long-lasting, natural-looking eyebrow shape. It can also be used to create semipermanent eyeliner.
Many MyBCTeam members have reported choosing microblading or micropigmentation when their eyebrows have thinned or fallen out. One wrote, “I did microblading on my missing eyebrows — it looks completely natural and lasts about five years.” Another shared, “I had microblading on my eyebrows, and I like the results, but it is painful!”
One member described her experience with microblading: “My hairdresser employed a gal who does microblading, and she showed me the difference in photos, and I was convinced — she color-matched, followed my natural brow line, and made the brows thinner like my natural ones were. Not even my kids knew I had it done until I told them.”
One member noted, “I had my eyebrows microbladed when the fad started. The gal who did mine switched to tattooing. She said that microblading causes scarring, and you can only have it done twice. Tattooing is better. It also heals better and doesn’t hurt as much.”
Note that you should consult your health care team before trying any of the above techniques. As one member wrote, “I considered eyebrow and eyeliner tattoos, but my MO said there would be a higher risk of infection because of my compromised immune system from chemo.” Another shared, “I lost two-thirds of my eyebrows with no signs of them coming back and have been considering microblading. I have to wait until next spring when I’m done with my Kadcyla first due to easy bleeding.”
As Breast Cancer Network Australia notes, losing your eyelashes removes the protection they usually provide your eyes from the environment. Without your eyelashes, it is easier for dust and dirt to enter the eyes. You may want to wear sunglasses when outside to help protect your eyes from irritants. Your health care provider may also recommend rewetting drops or artificial tears to keep you comfortable and help prevent your eyes from drying out.
No matter the state of their eyelashes or eyebrows, MyBCTeam members encourage each other not to get down on themselves. “YES, you ARE BEAUTIFUL!” one member reassured her fellow MyBCTeam members. “Even with your bald head, no eyelashes or eyebrows, those dark circles under your eyes, and that strange yellowish tint to your skin.”
Living with breast cancer means adjusting to many changes. As you go through your journey with breast cancer, it can help to hear from others who have been in your shoes. MyBCTeam is the social network for breast cancer survivors, people living with breast cancer, and their loved ones. Here, more than 63,000 people from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you lost your eyelashes or eyebrows during cancer treatment? How did you manage it? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyBCTeam.