Chemo does not do wonders for your looks!! Understatement. It parches your skin, can give you awful spots and a bright red and round steroid face, it can make you pile on weight and rids you of your girly eyelashes, eyebrows and luscious locks, leaving your appearance a bit frog-like with a definite cancer-patient air. So if we can do small things to make ourselves feel and look a bit more “normal”, along with a bit of well-deserved pampering, it really does help with our confidence and general well-being.
1) Hair. The most obvious concern for those of us trying to retain a bit of normality, femininity and girliness throughout treatment is our hair. Please see K is for…Keeping Hair – Cold Capping for info on scalp-cooling to encourage some of those follicles to hang in there and H is for… Hairloss for those embracing the baldness. For the majority of you who wont want to use the cold cap or do not have the option of doing so, the best options are to invest in a wig or some headwear that makes you feel good, but is also comfortable to wear. Breast Cancer Care run a service called Headstrong, where they show you the alternatives to wigs, and tricks of how to tie scarves in different ways etc. If you do go down the wig route but cannot find a style to suit you, Trevor Sorbie set up a charity called My New Hair who will style your wig for free. You might even get an appointment with the man himself. I was given an appointment with Trevor, but cancelled when I realised the cold cap was working as I never ended up wearing my wig.
2) Eyelashes. Some wont lose all of their eyelashes, but will find that they will thin dramatically. Others (like me) will lose the lot despite using expensive serums such as Revitalash. I managed to hang onto a few until my final chemo session when the last hangers-on deserted me. While you still have a few you can get away with falsies (I liked the Shu Uemura natural lash collection), but they are very difficult to apply once the final lashes desert you. (Although TOWIE’s Sam Faiers seems to be able to apply them despite pulling all of her eyelashes out – maybe we should get her to give us some tips)! As my eyelashes hung around until the end and were only absent for a short time before they grew back, I coped with eyeliner and soft shadows and, once made up, my friends said you couldn’t tell that I had no eyelashes. But they could have just been being kind!! I liked the NARS waterproof eyeliner which stayed put all day long despite watery eyes resulting from the drugs and lack of lashes. To preserve those lashes that are hanging on in there, avoid mascara and eye make-up when possible and use a gentle eye make-up remover like Talika Gentle Eye Cleanser. You might want to consider semi-permanent make up if your budget will stretch to it. The results can be amazing, but as the lack of lashes is a very short term thing, it might not be worth investing in, unless you are one of the unlucky people whose eyelashes don’t make a reappearance. When my eyelashes were growing back I used Revitalash and had the most ridiculously longest, luscious lashes. Ladies at the make-up counters in department stores commented on them and everyone thought I was wearing fake lashes. Unfortunately it’s quite expensive, so once the tube was empty I reverted to my normal, au naturel lashes. I do miss my Revitalash ones though…!
3) Eyebrows. When I lost my eyebrows it was the first time I looked really sick and cancer-patienty and my face looked downright weird! I experimented with lots of different eyebrow palettes and pencils. My faves by far were Benefit Brow Zings, that has some waxy stuff that the powder can stick to, and my trusty Dior Eyebrow Pencil which (after a lesson from Sophie Beresiner and the lovely lady at the Dior counter in Selfridges) I applied in flicky lines between 3 points (lined up as points 1, 2 and 3 as demonstrated by the lovely Angelina!) and then used the brush to blend it. The end result was very natural – but you do have to be careful not to wipe half of an eyebrow off when you rest your head in your hands, or have them melt away and slippy-slide down your face if you’re suffering from hot flushes… You could also go down the semi-permanent make-up route which is much more expensive, but gives great results and wont slide off your face when you’re having a warm moment – but research the salon well as some results are better than others – and you want them to be as natural as possible. I was only eyebrowless for about a month and when they started growing back I also lathered them with Revitalash and they grew back very quickly and thick and dark. I then treated myself to a proper brow-shaping with the amazing Jenna Treat – but unfortunately they thinned as soon as I stopped using the serum and I have gone back to plucking them myself, which doesn’t look nearly as good…
4) MOISTURISE. Chemo is very drying and very aging. My skin was very irritated by heavily perfumed toiletries and I made the decision to avoid products with nasty chemicals in such as parabens and sulphates due to the link with cancer. I stuck to organic and natural products and lathered my body in Defiant Beauty Smooth Skin Oil and Smooth Skin Balm. I was lucky enough to be bought lots of pampering treats as presents, so you don’t have to splash out that much, but do invest in a good moisturiser to look after your skin and give yourself a little bit of pampering. One unexpected and pretty gross side effect I had during TAX was that the skin on the bottom of my feet dried up, then cracked and peeled off. It was quite itchy and painful but my chemo nurse said it was very common and prescribed Daktacort which cleared it up pretty quickly and I moisturised using this Mild Mint Foot Balm and Healing Hand Balm – both of which can be used as a more intensive moisturising treatment by applying a thick layer and wearing cotton gloves or socks .
5) Enrol on a Look Good Feel Better Course. It’s free and not only do you get some fantastic make up tips from drawing in your eyebrows and eyelashes to applying green primer to reduce the steroid-induced redness, you also get to meet other women going through the same thing AND you get to keep the goody bag full of top-branded make-up such as Clinique, Estee Lauder, Clarins and even a bottle of perfume! It is a real confidence and morale boost.
6) Face. Apply green primer to combat steroid-induced redness. Yes, you apply this green stuff under your foundation in order to eliminate the redness. I like Smashbox Colour Correcting Foundation Primer. You can buy it in a travel size tube which should be plenty for your redder days during chemo. Foundation-wise I wanted something moisturising and light that injected a bit of brightness into my face. I really liked Laura Mercier’s Tinted Moisturiser which also has a high SPF – useful particularly in the summer.
7) Nails. Chemo effects the nails causing ridging, brittleness and some drugs, like TAX can make them fall off. I was lucky and my nails stayed put despite not doing anything special to them – just lucky I guess. Some girls I have met along the way had gel nails or painted their nails in dark nail varnishes, however, some of them still lost their nails so I suspect you either will…or wont lose them. I had an prominent ridge for every session of chemo, but just covered them up with some pretty nail varnish. I like Chanel‘s range of colours. If you’re having chemo you’re not meant to have manicures – but I think that as long as you tell them and they disinfect their equipment properly and don’t cut you with cuticle clippers, you should be fine. I also used Defiant Beauty’s Nail Oil which helped with the brittleness.
8) Lips. Some of my BC girly pals who lost all of their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes embraced bold and bright lipsticks to add a much-needed girly boost and splash of colour. You do still have your lips to play with at least!! They’re not going anywhere. They looked fab. I, personally, prefer a more understated look and swear by Benefit’s Posietint which is a lip and cheek stain so you don’t have to worry about it smudging or getting all over your teeth – and I love the pretty pink colour. Be aware that your lips can get very dry too so use a good lip balm if so (I just Defiant Beauty’s Lip Balm – I find other lip balms tend to dry my lips out even more) – and if you are prone to cold-sores that these are more likely to pop up as your immune system too.
9) Body Image. Your body image and body confidence can be severely influenced by the type of surgery you have, whether you have reconstruction or not and whether, like me, you pile on steroid-induced weight, feeling rather lardy but too exhausted to exercise properly. (See my post on W is for…Weighty Issues). However, try not to get too upset and hung up by the weight gain during treatment. You will be able to concentrate on shifting the chemo weight once the treatment has finished. See W is for… Weighty Issues. During chemo, try not to be too harsh on yourself, listen to your body, but try and eat healthily when you feel up to it, and maybe treat yourself to a spot of shopping (online or in the real world) to get a few bits of clothing that you feel comfortable and confident wearing. Failing that – how about a nice new pair of shoes…?!!
10) Steering clear of nasties. The jury’s out on whether parabens and sulphates actually cause diseases like cancer or can encourage them to spread. Many are convinced it does, but others refute the “evidence”. However, with so many lovely natural parabens-free, sulphates-free and synthetic fragrance-free toiletries and cosmetics around, it doesn’t hurt to go a bit more natural. The most natural and organic range I have found is Defiant Beauty – which is specifically designed for cancer patients, but I also love Ren and Burt’s Bees, and the Cowshed products as they are gorgeous and pampering and smell divine. They also cover the full pampering and skincare range from body scrubs to body lotions to cleansers, face creams, face masks, serums and eye balms.