“I just got my first haircut in two years, which is great, but it’s coming in so thin,” says Jeri Brown, a 51-year-old Los Angeles resident who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer that has metastasized into her spine. She catches her self-critical tone and digresses. “See, I’m complaining, but really, it’s like, thank God I have hair. It used to be so healthy, it would bounce, and now it’s like straw, but you know what, it’s there.”
The problems with hair loss during chemotherapy treatments are well known. But like many patients, Brown has also experienced a number of other effects on her looks too, including loss of her eyebrows, a grayish pallor and dry skin.
The beauty issues facing women undergoing chemotherapy may seem trivial in light of the big picture, but they definitely are a concern. Though appearance is not the key to recovery, it can affect a patient’s mood and motivation. “Everyone I have the chemo conversation with wants to know how it will affect their appearance,” says Dr. Lawrence D. Piro of the Angeles Clinic and Research Institute in West L.A. “It’s a conversation worth having, and you can’t trivialize or judge someone for it because what lifts somebody up is different for everyone.”
Celebrity makeup artist Tim Quinn of Armani Beauty — a cancer survivor himself — works with the National Cancer Research Foundation as well as the Farrah Fawcett Foundation to help women throughout the country who are dealing with chemo-related beauty issues. With Brown as his model, Quinn shared some tips for battling dryness, properly drawing in eyebrows and putting some luster back into the skin.
First, Quinn recommends a deep clean with a tool such a Clarisonic brush in order to slough off any ashy, dry skin, stimulate collagen and help remove toxins. Then use a hydrating moisturizer — select a formula that works best with the condition of your skin and that wears well under makeup.
On Brown he started with a light-reflecting skin highlighter containing pink and blue molecules that boost luster in skin tone. He applied the highlighter to the entire face using the tips of his fingers. Then with a flat foundation brush, Quinn swept Brown’s face with an Armani sheer luminous foundation to build on the bright glow of the highlighter.
Use a light-reflecting concealer, such as YSL Touche E’clat, to combat dark circles and bring some light to the under-eye area. Quinn applied a lighter color to Brown’s under-eye and then used a heavier, more opaque concealer for blemishes and dark spots throughout the rest of the face. “Some areas get discolored,” Quinn says. “It can change weekly. Suddenly one side of your face is different than the other or you have an odd breakout. So concealer can become your best friend.” He adds that using oil-free cosmetics can be helpful since body temperature can rise, making makeup feel heavy. “Sometimes [during chemotherapy] I’d feel like I was melting from the top of my head down,” Quinn says.
Drawing on or filling in eyebrows can be tricky, since it is hard to make them look natural. Brown recalls attempting to draw on brows, but she was never quite comfortable with the heavy look that came from a pencil. “I did draw them in, which looked ridiculous,” she says. “At night it was OK, but they really looked like the McDonald’s arches brows from back in my mom’s era.”
Quinn advises penciling in the eyebrows in 45-degree increments to make sure the shape is as natural and flattering to the face as possible. First start by placing the pencil vertically at the side of the nose, so that the end of the pencil is at the start of your inner eyebrow. Start shading in the area lightly. To locate the arch, line up the pencil against the side of the nose again and rotate the top 45 degrees toward your temple. This is your next marker point; fill in the brow to reach that spot. Line up the pencil at the side of the nose once more and rotate the top 45 degrees from the arch toward the temple, to find where the brow should naturally end. This should create a basic outline. Feather in color with an eyebrow pencil that’s dark enough to add a little definition to the brow area but not too dark or intense for your skin tone.
To build up some contour and color, Quinn applied a cream bronzer into the top of the cheekbone and a little across the forehead and chin. “Bronzer should be a tone warmer than your natural color,” he says. Quinn also stresses the importance of adding some color back into the cheeks, and recommends a rose gold tone to counterbalance what he says is an “odd green, ashy undertone” that he often sees in chemotherapy patients. He swept a golden pink cream blush over the apples of Brown’s cheeks, starting a rosy color palette for the entire face.
To make the eyes pop and look brighter, Quinn advises contouring the crease of the eye with a dark, warm color. He applied a taupe brown to Brown’s eyes to create some depth. “This also makes the whites of the eyes look whiter,” he says. To further define the eyes, he lined the rim of the eyes with a chocolate brown liner but warns that for women who have thinning eyelashes, a hard line can look too dark. “You don’t want a stark line, especially as lashes are growing back,” Quinn says.
He recommends using the liner to fill in any bald spots, drawing the line as close to the inner lid as possible, rather than drawing a thick, black line across the top of the lid. If the eyelashes are sparse, a heavy black line will be too much. For eyelashes, use a primer to gain some fullness, then sweep mascara over the lashes. If lashes are sparse, using a dark brown mascara will look less harsh than black. Individual false lashes are great to fill in any thinning areas, but if applying lashes is a daunting prospect, the eyeliner alone should do wonders to define the eye area.
“Sometimes you just need to take an honest assessment of where you’re at,” Quinn says. “I remember at one point, I only had five eyelashes. I mean I could count them all!”
Continue the rosy hue on the lips. Start by filling in the lips with a pencil in a color that’s similar to your own lip tone. This boosts your natural color and helps lipstick wear more evenly. Mix a rose-toned lipstick on your hand with a gloss of a similar shade that has a shimmer to it, and apply it all over the lips. Quinn is adamant about staying away from matte lipstick because it can exaggerate the dryness of the skin. The same goes for a pressed powder on the face. The skin should be as glowing and illuminated as possible.
To get Brown’s chemo-dulled skin just a little bit brighter, Quinn swept Armani Fluid Sheer highlighter over her face to pump up the luster even more. Take a highlighter across the top of the cheekbone, top of the nose and across the top of the apples of the cheeks. Also, dust it on collarbones for a little sheen should you be wearing an open neckline, as Brown did recently when attending a formal event.
“You do what you can to feel better,” Brown says. “Sometimes it’s the last thing on your mind and you can’t deal with makeup or nails. That lasts for a little while and then you go, OK, I’ll do it again, and of course it makes you feel better.”