Jun 07, 2022

Deanna: Nothing makes you look more alien than not having eyebrows. It just changes your entire face in a way that so clearly signifies to people that you’re sick. Like, even if people don’t notice the hair on your head and not having eyebrows is, like, putting a sticker on your forehead that says, “I am not well.” Even when I lost my hair, and I lost my eyebrows, and I was, like, dealing with three eyelashes, I still put on mascara and, like, added eyeliner. And I needed all of those things because it’s nice to see some semblance of yourself, and that’s really hard to come by when you’re sick, when you’ve lost so many of your unique features. Hi, my name is Deanna. I am a beauty writer in New York, and I’ve had cancer three times.

Caitlin: Cancer is not pretty. The side effects can impact not only how you feel but also how you see yourself. Whether you want help learning how to create eyebrows from scratch, need to know how to treat a radiation burn, or just looking for wig-shopping tips, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Feel More Like You podcast, presented by Walgreens and Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer. I’m the book’s author and your host, Caitlin Kiernan. In each episode, we’ll break down the important information to help you look and feel more like you. In this episode:

Female Voice 1: I just didn’t really have much of a face without eyelashes.

Female Voice 2: I didn’t want to not look like me.

Female Voice 3: Once I started having to learn how to draw on my eyebrows is, like, really, where it all started.

Female Voice 4: It’s what I did today, and they look really natural. It looks really good.

Caitlin: The views, information and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Walgreens and its employees. While we care about you and your health, this podcast is meant for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from a qualified healthcare professional. Walgreens does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be referenced. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare professionals to see what the best treatment is for you.

Caitlin: On today’s episode, we’ll be discussing body hair loss. Before we get into our expert interviews, we want to talk about what to expect when you have to say bye to your brows, lashes and hair down there. To help explore this topic, I’m joined by Walgreens pharmacist Emily Shafer, beauty consultant Laura Catron and health editor Emily Ornberg. Hi, ladies.

Emily S, Laura, Emily O: Hey.

Caitlin: I want to talk to Laura about the significance of brows for

women. I remember when I was diagnosed—and, of course, I was like, “Am I going to lose my hair?” That was, like, the first question. But I really was totally freaked out about doing my brows. ‘Cause I was like, “When my brows are gone, I’m going to look like an alien, and I don’t know how to do a brow even when I have brows.” So what is the significance of brows and, like, what’s your perspective on that?

Laura: That is the most requested thing when someone comes in, going through chemo, is brows. When you lose your hair, you can wear a wig, but, like, what do you do when it’s brows? You know, you never thought that it would make such a big impact, but it does. You know, in the industry, we say brows frame the face, so, no, it’s a huge thing. I think a lot of women just get really nervous about it, and it may seem a little daunting when you have no hair, and so I always say, “Hey, start practicing when you still have a little bit of your hairs left,” and then as they go on, you can always schedule appointments with, like, brow experts and beauty consultants and things like that to learn how to do it.

Caitlin: You know, one thing that’s super popular right now, which I want to get your feedback on, is microblading, which is that cosmetic tattooing procedure to kind of create defined brows. You’ve had yours done, so I think you can speak to it. Tell me about that, what you think about it, and also how does that play into beauty for a cancer patient?

Laura: Look, l love microblading. I—you know, like you said, I have mine. I always tell people it was the third best decision I’ve ever made. But—

Caitlin: It looks so good.

Laura: Thank you. I’m really proud of it. [laughter] But, I— [God 04:26], there’s a time and a place for it. Of course, in my opinion, there’s so many temporary fixes that are less—I’m just going to say—like, harmful. Not that microblading is necessarily harmful, but you’re talking about a blade that is essentially still a tattoo, and so I just say, “Wait, and just go through what’s going on at that moment and don’t worry.”

Caitlin: Like, don’t do anything permanent.

Laura: Yeah. Don’t do anything super drastic.

Caitlin: There’s a lot of great brow kits out there.

Laura: Absolutely.

Caitlin: But I’m curious, from Emily Shafer, our pharmacist, what is the, um, real concern with doing anything like a cosmetic tattooing? 'Cause it—it really is so trendy, and a lot of women are going to look for options.

Emily Shafer: Sure. Well, I mean, really to echo what Laura already spoke about, this is a tattoo. This is a needle. You’re putting more stress on your body as your body’s already working to fight the cancer. Bottom line, if you talk to your doctor, and if you’re doctor signs off on it, wonderful. Go for it. Keep in mind that the ink used is not regulated by the FDA, so it’s not an FDA-approved, like, medication. Cosmetics are not approved by the FDA, so that’s something that gives the healthcare, you know, professionals—

Emily Shafer: Yeah. A little bit of pause.

Caitlin: And why you’ve got to use your judgment.

Emily Shafer: Yeah. And it’s very individualized. And so anyone listening out there that’s interested, find out, talk to your doctor and see what’s best for you. Well—and, Caitlin, I’m sure you can attest to this, your hair grows back differently after treatment.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Emily Shafer: So, like, give it a chance to come back and see what it’s going to look like then before you make a permanent decision.

 Caitlin: Yeah. And, also, a lot of people don’t realize that when your brows and lashes come back, they also fall out one or two more times after that because the chemo is cycling through your body. So, all of a sudden, your brows come back, and you’re like, “Yeah, my brows are back,” and then they’re gone. So it’s, like, you got to, like, just give it a beat. Like, you know, use that brow pencil, but, like, gives us the takeaway. What’s your takeaway tip, Laura?

Laura: You know, my—my biggest tip, I would say, is just to be patient with yourself, and just experiment with some new styles and what’s best for you, and, you know, just practice. A lot of people are really intimidated by makeup, but it just takes practice.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Laura: I mean, I wasn’t a pro-makeup artist overnight. It took me a while.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Laura: And so just get comfortable with your new face, with the textures of your skin, with, you know, just those changes, and then practice, and then see a professional. Um, you can make appointments with the beauty consultants at Walgreens and, you know, just—just learn those tips and tricks.

Caitlin: Yeah. Emily?

Emily Ornberg: I would say, just like the hair on your head, don’t discount those feelings of loss of identity that comes with body hair loss. Recognizing yourself in the mirror is something that we might take for granted, but it can really impact the way that you heal and the way that you feel like yourself. So getting used to your changing body, it can really help to find different ways to reconnect with yourself and different parts of your personality, and, maybe, it’s time to experiment with different ways you express yourself or the way you see yourself. And what would your tip be, pharmacist Emily?

Emily Shafer: In general, with body hair loss, realize it’s hair, and it will grow back.

Caitlin: Yeah.

Emily Shafer: Um, but it’s interesting, you know, areas of your body that maybe you didn’t expect to lose it and then the effects of that, for instance, your nose hairs. You don’t have any nose hairs tohold on when you have a runny nose. [laughter] It’s just going to start flowing, so that’s something that, you know, being aware of and, and knowing how to, uh, take care of that. If you have a cold, you’re going to need those tissues, or you’re going to chemotherapy, and you don’t have the little hairs on your body to keep you warm, make sure you’re bringing a blanket or you’re dressing in layers where you’re going because you may get cold faster this time, you know.

Caitlin: You know, Emily, you mentioned the nose hairs, and it reminded me of something. You’re—you’re also going to lose those baby hairs on your face, so your makeup is going to take completely differently to your skin, so you want to look at this, like primers and setting sprays, because the hairs are actually what can hold a lot of that makeup on. So it’s not that it’s not going to stay on. You just have to approach it a little bit differently.

Emily Shafer: You got to help it.

Caitlin: Yeah. Just give it a little—a little nudge.

Emily Shafer: A little—a little help.

Caitlin: I don’t know what my tip is. I mean, my tip is, like, “Listen, it’s hair. It’s—like what Emily said. It’s going to grow back. Be patient. Don’t do anything permanent. It’ll be back before you know it. OK, ladies, great stuff. Thanks so much again for joining me.

Caitlin: Now, let’s hear from our survivor sisters. How did you cope when you lost your lashes and brows?

Virginia: Hi, I’m Virginia. I live in New York City. I’m an actress, and I am a two-time survivor of breast cancer. I lost body hair everywhere, which was fine. I wouldn’t mind, you know, if it never came back, but it did. You know, having no eyelashes, really, that made me feel like not me. I like my eyes. I like to wear makeup on them. I like them to look nice, and I felt like I just didn’t really have much of a face without eyelashes. I would say whatever makes you feel better, go for it. I mean, they have wonderful eyelash extension places now where they look amazing, and go have somebody do your makeup.

Christine: Hi, my name is Christine. I’m a high school science teacher. I have ovarian cancer, and cancer picked the wrong woman to mess with. I didn’t want to not look like me, and I wasn’t going to become this person that just, like, gobbed on makeup and, you know, was unrecognizable. I still wanted to look and feel like myself. I definitely learned a lot of tricks, and I honestly practiced a lot at home. I mean, I would look in the mirror and practice, and I would draw on eyebrows, and be like, “Oh, my, that’s not a good look,” and wash my face and do it again. I mean, in the beginning, I got my eyebrows wrong more than I did right. And now I feel like I’ve got it a little bit more under control. I would say if you have a friend that, kind of, always seems to have a full face, ask them for some tips or even ask them to, like, do a little makeover on you, talk to them about it while they’re doing it, ask them, like, “How did you do that?” If they do one eyebrow, do the other one and have them give you some tips while you do it. You know, I mean, you figure it out. You just—you can’t give up. You have to keep practicing.

Brianna: Hi, I’m Brianna. I’m a writer and a comedian, and I survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Um, before treatment, I never really wore makeup. Once I started having to learn how to draw on my eyebrows was, like, really where it all started. Through my treatment, and after, I fell in love with doing my makeup. It’s, like, so much fun to try on all the different colors, and when you’re sick too, you can kind of get away with anything ‘cause people are like, “She’s just trying to have a good time. Like, she can try out this crazy glitter eyeshadow if she wants to.”

Emily: Hi, I’m Emily, and I’m a math teacher, a mother, a wife, and I have breast cancer. Yeah, the eyelashes are tough, and the eyebrows were hard too. You just look sickly, I guess, and again, the sympathy stares, and, yeah, I don’t really have very thick eyelashes anyway, but when I couldn’t put on mascara, it was just like I was in a different world. The weirdest thing is your nostril hairs. Your nose runs constantly, um, and there’s nothing to stop it. Uh, I didn’t even think about that, you know. And, um, yeah, I didn’t have—I don’t have very hairy arms anyway, but, yeah, you don’t—I haven’t shaved in five months. It’s interesting. [laughter] But, thankfully, they do grow back, so, you know—

Carin: Hi, I’m Carin. I am a BRAC1 positive woman. I’m a feminist, lesbian, actor, teacher, artist. I also do some photography, and I’ve been taking headshots for years, and this woman, Wendy,

I’ve seen her do makeup on my clients before, and so I—I’ve gotten some really good advice from her. And how to apply makeup to deal with certain issues can be really great, especially, if you’re losing eyebrow hair. And having somebody who really—an expert who can help you draw them on really beautifully. Like, I learned that combining products helps a lot for eyebrows. Like, I have really thin eyebrows because I overplucked in the ‘80s, and Wendy, she showed me how you can start with a pencil, just, like, use these little pencil strokes, and then fill in with this powder, and that’s what I did today, and they look really natural. It looks really good.

Emily Ornberg: When Deanna lost her eyebrows to chemotherapy in 2015, she had almost every makeup product at her fingertips. She was a beauty editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. But without any hair left on her face, the brows she’d usually apply with her favorite gel would wipe right off.

Deanna: I just, like, didn’t want to change yet another part of my day for cancer. It would feel like almost accommodating it, but in retrospect, I probably should’ve used a pencil to fill them in. In photos, when I look back, it’s very alarming to see how little effort I put in to, kind of, restore that normal balance to the face.

Emily Ornberg: To help other survivors like her, Deanna helped create a new way to get realistic brows that’s as easy as popping on a wig by making the first ever brow wigs.

Deanna: This is after I had finished chemo, but it was something that had stuck really close with me just because I feel like the brows do make such a big difference in your face and recognizing yourself in the mirror.

Emily Ornberg: She promoted this idea on the crowd source company Volition Beauty, which lets users vote on product ideas and puts the winning bids into production. They teamed up to create a prototype, and every detail of these brow wigs had to be perfect. As a beauty editor, she had high standards.

Deanna: I wanted to make sure they were reusable; they were durable. I didn’t want someone to have to worry about it raining, and—and the wigs, like, sliding down their face.

Emily Ornberg: And as a survivor, she wanted to provide authenticity.

Deanna: I wanted them to look very realistic just because when I first lost

my hair, and before I had told many people that I was sick, I once had a coworker ask if I was wearing a wig. I wanted to make sure that they would never have to run into that where someone is like, “Oh, are those fake eyebrows?”

Emily Ornberg: After months of testing prototypes, they settled on the perfect brow wigs, made with 100 percent human hair and various shapes and shades to match anyone’s original brows. They come with nonirritating glue that’s perfect to keep them on through any rainstorm.

Deanna: And the best part about it is that as part of this project, the founders of Volition wanted to have part of the profits go to a charity of my choosing. It was a nice, little full-circle moment, um, to know that it would be directly benefitting other cancer survivors.

Laura: Hey, it’s Laura. All right, let’s talk about brows. Now, during this time, I know it seems like they are the first thing that either want to go or thin out, so don’t give up. We can get through this together. So some tips and tricks that you can take with you, when needing a fuller-looking brow, are stencils. Guys, stencils are so easy. All you have to do is just hold them up and lightly fill in.

Now, there’s a couple of different products that you can use when it comes to needing that fuller brow. You can do anything from a pencil, a pomade. Even now, they have those markers that you can use that have the natural hairlike flicks to them, but how do you know which one to use?

Well, if you were completely losing your brow at that point, there is really nothing for the product to hold onto. So that’s when I would suggest using one of those markers or a pomade. But when you’re using a pomade, the best tip that I could give is using a small, small brush and just doing stamp-like motions to where you can get it to actually look like brow hairs, kind of, like microblading but with makeup. Think of having a really light application and doing hairlike strokes. If you do it that way, it’s going to be the easiest way for you. And, remember, it’s easier to add to than take away, so start off with just a little bit, step back, take a look in the mirror

a little bit further away so you can kind of see your shape.


A little fun trick that you can do if you need it to just look a little bit lighter, you can dust a little bit of powder right on top, and it’ll soften it up a bit. So another fun trick that you can do when it comes to the lashes, if we don’t have any lashes at that point, what I would definitely suggest doing is getting an eyeliner— again, you want to stay sanitary with it, but when you’re applying your liner, you want to stay as close to the lash line as possible on the lid. Now, the fun trick is called tight lining. So tight lining is where you actually line the bottom part of your upper lid, so, kind of, like when you put your eyeliner on your eyeline, you can do that on the top. Because if your eye actually tilts back a little bit, you’ll be able to see that light space that is right underneath your lash line, and so filling that in can really deepen that eye look. You know, during something like this, try to add a little bit fun to it, so maybe do a blue liner, right? Maybe add a little pop of color to it. Put a little bit of a shimmer or something a little bit lighter on the inner corner of your eye. So these are just fun ways that you can bring that excitement back to your makeup.

Caitlin: Thanks for listening. Be sure to rate and subscribe and tune in next time to hear:

Female Voice 5: “I felt like I was in high school and had acne. It was, like, embarrassing to be a grown woman and have really horrible skin. Like, it was very dry, very flaky. I broke out almost immediately when I got, like, my new infusion.”

Female Voice 6: “I have less scar from my port, and there are so many things you could do to, like, cover up scars, but I love having mine. It just feels like my badge of honor.”

Female Voice 7: “It makes you feel good. It makes your skin feel soft. I feel like my skin looks really good right now.”

Emily Ornberg: Special thanks to the survivors for sharing their stories. This Walgreens podcast was clinically reviewed by Emily Shafer. It was written, reported and produced by me, Emily Ornberg, with Taylor Banasik, Lauria Locsmondy and Stefan Clark. It was coproduced by Caitlin Kiernan, author of Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer. Follow her on social media at @caitkiernan. Recording and mixing by Matthew Lejeune with Connor Boyle at Chicago Recording Company. For more oncology side-effect help, visit to find oncology-trained pharmacists and beauty consultants in your area.