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Everything I Used to Draw My Eyebrows On (When Chemo Made Them Disappear)

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“You will lose your hair,” was one of the first things the doctor said when he told me I’d need chemotherapy to treat my breast cancer. I hadn’t even asked, but I guess everyone does. Friends gave me headscarves and silk pillowcases, nurses talked me through the grim process of wearing a cold cap to freeze my scalp during chemo infusions and reduce hair loss, but nobody — nobody! — mentioned my eyebrows. By the time I realised chemo causes hair loss all over your face and body, not only on your head, it was already happening.

Pre-cancer, my makeup look was very low maintenance, but I realised that was no longer an option. I found it straightforward to compensate for missing eyelashes (Lola’s magnetic false lashes and plenty of good old Rimmel Soft Kohl) but my brows were a different challenge. Until they started disappearing, I had no idea how much my dark eyebrows defined my face, and how much I took them for granted. Without them, my face looked like a misshapen pancake that had splattered onto the floor mid-flip. On reflection, it might have been sensible to have micro-blading before I started chemo. But I’m extremely wary of letting a stranger near my face with a tattoo needle and, anyway, calling the salon was not at the top of my just-diagnosed to-do list. Besides, the whole argument is void because I was diagnosed during lockdown when salons were closed. As a result, I have become an expert at pencilling on a brow where there is none. These are the products that, during chemo, made me feel a bit more like me.

If you’re starting off with barely there brows, I really advise using several products. Natural brows are multifaceted; the hairs are different shades and textures. The key to recreating that is layering up different products, and using only pencil can look a bit … pencilled. From the brow pros formerly known as Blink Brow Bar, this palette comes with two complimentary powder shades and a highlighter. Creating definition is particularly important during chemo, which can make your face swollen and puffy — another one of the many side effects no one mentions until it happens. While a bit of highlighter won’t completely reclaim your original face shape, it certainly helps. I use the highlighter first, underneath the brow and a tiny swipe above (don’t overdo it — a little goes a long way), then I go in with pencil, before coming back to this palette to set my brows with a few strokes of powder.

I never baked a sourdough loaf or organised Zoom drinks, but one lockdown cliché I did buy into was getting heavily into skincare. As a result, a Beauty Pie subscription has been one of my best lockdown investments (other than the De’Longhi coffee machine). This twist-up pencil is the perfect dark brown — not too orangey-brown, not too black-brown — and the ideal consistency for little upward strokes, which are key to creating natural-looking brows. Also, there’s a spoolie on the other end for brushing up any remaining hairs to make them look as bushy as possible.

A friend with excellent brows recommended this after listening to my eyebrow woes over lunch, saying it had changed her life. And it’s true: This is one of the most thoughtfully designed brow pencils I’ve used (and I’ve tried dozens). Cleverly combining powder, wax and pencil in one twist-up tube, it has real staying power. There’s a blunt flat edge for broad strokes plus a pointed tip for doing the finer lines that help recreate natural-looking brow hairs, and it comes in a huge range of shades.

I first bought RevitaBrow back in 2015 after seeing Lena Dunham’s Instagram post declaring her love of it. At the time, Cara Delevingne’s extraordinary brows were on the cover of every magazine and my own, which had been over-plucked as a child of the 90s, felt distinctly sparse. RevitaBrow helped me then, and I’ve been buying it again since chemo. I only just learned that it was developed by founder Dr Michael Brinkenhoff when his wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and the brand still supports cancer charities and funds research — which makes me feel better about forking out for it, because it is not cheap. But it’s worth every penny: My brows are back with a vengeance. I’m sticking with my elaborate routine for now to fill in any gaps, but they actually seem thicker than they were before. Although I wouldn’t recommend chemo as a brow-boosting tip, if you can avoid it.

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When Chemo Made My Eyebrows Vanish, I Used These Products