Brow Advice Before and After Chemo from a Breast Cancer Survivor

Courtesy of Patricia Fox

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I get a lot of compliments on my brows, which feels great because defining my brows and lips are an important part of my beauty routine. My all-time favorite application trick for natural-looking brow definition is to apply to the tail end first, starting from the arch. Then go back and blend the color at the front of the brow. This helps the brow hairs to look natural at the beginning and gives more definition to the arch and tail. It's a trick that works if you have full brows, thin brows, or nonexistent brows, which I know firsthand.

While my brows have always been one of my favorite features, I didn't always have the brow confidence that I have now. I always tried brow trends but often got frustrated when I couldn't recreate a look that I loved more than once. At one point, I was drawing my brows extremely full and blending the front part of my brow nearly into a unibrow. (Yes, this was a trend at one point.)

It was only after I lost my brows that I learned how to make them their best. My learning curve began when I was diagnosed with breast cancer just after my 26th birthday in 2013. Chemotherapy lasted six months, and my brows were completely gone by the end of treatment. My brow hair loss was gradual at first. Then toward the end of Taxol treatments, suddenly, it seemed like they all fell out overnight. I lost the hair on my head and body before losing my brows. However, my lashes and brows went at the same time.

I didn't feel unattractive, however losing the hair on my head and body in stages made the experience of cancer frightening, devastating, and more real. It reinforced that OMG, this is happening, and it's happening to me. I learned an important lesson at how important it was to take care of my needs—praying, resting, asking for help, playing with makeup—and not feeling guilty for any of it.

My brows took about three months to grow back completely. I was so happy to have them I didn't arch tweeze them for nearly another three months! During that time, I discovered new ways to define my brows and many tricks I still use today.

Tip 1: Figure Out Your Shape

After my brows fell out, I relied on brow stencils and brow gel to map out brows on the blank canvas. This was perfect for me, especially in the beginning of mastery brow shaping, because the brow gel would dry and harden quickly on the applicator of the stencil surface. After a while, I noticed my brow muscles when I would raise them, making facial expressions. I was able to identify the beginning, arch, and tail of my brow without a stencil.

Don't have a stencil? Joey Healy, a celebrity brow stylist and owner of Joey Healy Brow Studio in New York City, suggests keeping it simple with a tweezer as a guide. "I pinch it together to create a straight edge then push up against the bridge of the nose; that is where they should start," he says. "If you draw a line from the corner of the nose to the corner of the eye, that's a great place for brows to end. Two-thirds of the way out is the natural place that they arch."

Tip 2: Find Formulas That Last

I wore makeup the entire time during and after chemo, but I had to switch many of the products in my makeup bag, including brow products. Waterproof formulas became important because they can withstand a hot flash (of which I had many) and still remain in place. The trend of layering powder over pencil provides longer wear as well. I also realized the significance of using makeup primers to improve the chances of my brows staying in place all day.

Tip 3: Create Texture

When my brows started to disappear toward the end of my treatment, I considered microblading, a professional semi-permanent tattoo service for brows. Healy encourages survivors to wait and see how their brows grow back first. "Sometimes, the texture is a little different. You want to know what you're working with before you commit to microblading because you can't just remove it," Healy says. Also, he notes that microblading lacks texture, and the color changes over time, so it doesn't produce the most natural results. He suggests opting for professional brow tinting instead. "I treated myself to a brow tinting soon after my eyebrows grew back from chemo," says Rachel Weber, a fellow breast cancer survivor and digital deputy editor at Better Homes & Gardens. "I was pleasantly surprised at how thick my eyebrows were after they had been completely nonexistent months before. The brow tinting made a huge impact and looked completely natural."

A tinted brow gel is the best way to create texture at home, says Healy. "It hugs each individual hair and magnifies texture you might not see like baby hair and some of the peach fuzz even." You can also use a pencil to fake the texture by making small hairlike strokes, he says. I found a brow gel most helpful during this period and used a pencil and powder once I had more hair to work with.

These are some of the brow products I used then and some newer products I have added to my beauty arsenal.

NYX Professional Makeup Eyebrow Gel

NYX Brow Gel is cost efficient and survived the hot flashes I endured multiple times a day. The color is so richly pigmented and lasted me a couple months as a little went a long way. This gel is also fast drying, which was also great because my brows didn't budge after I mapped my brows.

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

Today, one of my favorite go-to products is MILK Makeup Hydro Grip Primer. This primer is suitable for most skin types and really enhances the long wearability of my makeup. When I was going through treatment I shopped for similar products with key ingredients such as hyaluronic acid for my then severely dry skin. Hydration, however, is good for all skin types. This primer absorbs relatively quickly into the skin too, which I love because it creates a seamless makeup process.

Benefit Cosmetics Brow Styler Eyebrow Pencil & Powder Duo

I am a huge fan of the convenience of the Benefit Cosmetics Brow Styler Eyebrow Pencil and Powder Duo; it offers the option to fill the brow with the powder end and draw hair like strokes with the pencil end. I also like Benefit's wide shade range. Depending on the wig, head wrap, or overall look I am wearing that day I may want a softer or warmer tone to my brows.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Classic Stencils

I started using Anastasia Beverly Hills Classic (Brow) Stencils once I realized I needed a little assistance on how to frame my brows on a blank canvas. The stencil kit offers 5 different shapes: petite, slim, thick, medium, and full arch styles. The stencils are flexible and easy to press against the face. They are also super easy to clean after use.

Joey Healy Duo Brow Brush

The Joey Healy Brow Duo Brush is an angled synthetic bristle brush that can be used for powders, both wet and dry, and creams like pomades. I love using the spoolie wand on the opposite end for softening and blending my brow cosmetics to perfection.