Makeup tips in ‘The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer’

I was delighted when my niece Nicola Bourne asked me to write some beauty tips for the updated version of her book “A Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer”.  I had to call in some help so thank you to Anna-Marie Solowij for the edit, to Esme Winterflood for the eyelash advice and Dr Michele Sayag for medical advice.

Having been a make-up artist for 30 years, I know the power of make-up. From the merest sweep of lipstick to a full on look for an evening out, it can make you feel amazing, ready to take on the world and even face up to life’s more serious dramas, such as cancer, with renewed energy. How we feel is completely tied up with how we look: it’s a known fact that make-up is psychologically uplifting; it’s our armour.

For women who are at any stage of cancer, having some make-up in your arsenal – as well as the other things that make you feel good – is vital to living with and beyond cancer.
Here are my top tips …

If you’re having chemotherapy, your skin may feel extra dry and irritated so it’s even more important to moisturise regularly.

My advice is to use hypoallergenic products which are formulated without common allegens and, ideally, those without fragrances or parabens as these may also irritate sensitive skin. It’s best to take advice from your oncologist about any specific products to avoid but those I recommend are Atoderm by Bioderma for body dryness and Toleriane by La Roche Posay for the face.  Manuka Secrets from New Zealand is another brand I rate which is made with Manuka honey that’s known to quicken the healing of wounds and burns and to reduce scarring.

Eyebrows are a feature that defines the face but the fashion for bleached brows is fairly constant so that if yours are lost or sparse, you could easily use fashion as an excuse.  If you want to define your eyebrows and make them look as they used to, pre chemo, there is nothing easier.  You can use a stencil to help you find the shape you want or draw them in free-hand.  Fill in the stencil with an eyeshadow to match your natural hair colour. Then draw over using small upward strokes with a pencil for a more textured look.  Pixiwoo does a great makeup tutorial for cancer fighters showing you how to use the eyebrow stencils, search ‘Pixiwoo’ on YouTube for all their online tutorials.

For this area of expertise I reached out to Esme Winterflood who is  an eyelash expert and here’s what she had to say:

Losing your lashes is one of the big visual reminders of cancer, and of course it’s actually the chemo that causes the hair to fall out. I have had a couple of women wanting to do lash extensions whilst they have chemo, but because the extensions are attached to the lashes themselves and not the eyelid, the extensions will simply shed with the lashes. Whilst you go through chemo, applying semi permanent strip or cluster lashes is your best option.

The good news is that once you finish treatment and your hair starts to grow again, you can do a few things. Latisse is the strongest prescription lash conditioner and although it can irritate sensitive eyes, it really works to speed up lash growth and health. I have seen amazing results! Once a clients lashes start to grow back in, we start by using very fine extensions (real mink lashes are great). By enhancing your lashes, women find they start to look like themselves again, their eyes look defined and bright and most importantly, they get their confidence back.

The lash conditioners start taking noticeable effect after about 5-6 weeks (the full length of a natural lash cycle) and we can start putting on slightly thicker or longer extensions as time goes on. After some months, I recommend the client begin using a less powerful lash conditioner and just a few times a week rather than every night. You can still apply the product on the lash line whilst wearing extensions, just not in the first 24 hours while the glue on the extensions is bonding. I usually stock Nouriche (it used to be called Revitalash) because it is slightly less powerful but still works well and if you are looking for an organic product, Lash Food is a good option.

These brands also offer brow conditioning products, so if your brows have also thinned out you can apply the brow conditioner every night (and then after 5-6 weeks go down to a few times a week). These products aren’t cheap but they work amazingly!

Once your lashes are back to normal, most people like to continue with their lash extensions but you can also do a lash lift which is more low maintenance (it’s like a modern day lash perm but looks much better!) or even just a lash tint.

Visit Esme’s website for more information about lashes and services.

With sparse lashes, enhancing the eyes is essential. Use a waterproof pencil eyeliner or a liquid or gel eyeliner and draw a fine line along the lash line for a natural look. You could also use the tip of the pencil and dot colour into the lash roots for natural-looking defnition. There are so many colours and finishes including matt, metallic, sparkling and pearl finishes so be brave and try a few different pencils. My favourites are from Glo&Ray.

If your lips are extra dry due to treatment, try using a lip liner to define and shade them in, then use a lip balm on top so you get color and care in one. If you wear no other makeup, a bold lip or a natural lip color will boost your confidence and looks great with no hair, a headscarf or a wig.

Nicola Bourne

For more beauty tips get your copy of Nicola Bourne’s “The Fabulous Woman’s Guide Through Cancer” at AMAZON and follow Nicola’s blog at