Mirrors Aren’t Your Friend. You No Longer Need Shampoo. And Other Beauty Lessons You Learn Going Through Chemotherapy

Amy Williams was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in May this year. And now she's speaking out about the unexpected truths of being a cancer patient


by Clare Thorp |
Published on

Hair loss, brittle nails, disappearing eyebrows and dry, pale skin - chemotherapy has a whole heap of crappy side effects that affect how you look. So what happens to your hair and make up routine when you’re going through it?

Amy Williams was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in May this year, after finding two lumps in her right breast. After having a mastectomy she’s now currently mid-way through four and a half months of chemotherapy. Which, as she recounts, has had an unexpected impact on her beauty regime…

You might need to rethink your look

‘I used to wear very dark, smokey eyes and lots of eyeliner, but I can’t do my eyes too heavy any more because it looks silly with no hair. Also, mascara makes your eyelashes fall out even more. So I have to save it for big nights out only now. Instead, I’ve discovered lipstick for the first time. I never used to wear it, but you need to emphasis a feature.’

READ MORE: Here's Why You Need To Stand Up To Cancer And Join March On Cancer

Amy before treatment
Amy before treatment

There are a few things you won’t need any more

‘I used to have bleached-blonde hair, which I straightened. Obviously that’s all gone out the window. My hair started to fall out within four weeks. I had it cut into a short pixie cut before shaving it off completely. I don’t have to buy any shampoo and conditioner, or any hair products now. It’s very weird.’

It’s OK to look like you’ve got cancer

‘When I started treatment, I went crazy and bought loads of headscarves and hats and wanted to still try and look glamorous once my hair fell out. But in the end, I got tired with it. So now I just go out with bald head. Some days it takes every bit of energy to be bothered and face the world.

You can’t physically do it every day. I have to be going on a big night with the girls now for me to go all out.’

Amy during treatment

Old habits are hard to shake

‘I don’t have to shave my armpits anymore – that was the first hair to go. I used to do them religiously every other day and I still found myself reaching for the razor. I had to snap myself out of it. I just did it because it was routine. I even still shampoo my head a little bit sometimes on the off chance it might encourage my hair to grow back quicker. Desperate measures and all that.’

Night-out rituals can suddenly seem redundant

‘Just after I’d shaved my hair off – four weeks into my treatment – I was out with some friends and we went to the ladies. I came out the loo and the girls were there brushing their hair in front of the mirror. I was just stood there thinking “OK, what do I do now…stroke my bandana?”’

Mirrors aren’t your friend

‘The less time you spend putting your make up on, the less time you spend standing in front of the mirror dealing with how you look. I think that’s one of the reasons I stopped wearing bandanas and just decided to go bald – because there’s less time in front of the mirror dealing with it.’

You’ll get some interesting compliments

"You’ve got a really good shaped head”. I get that one pretty much every day since shaving my hair off. And when I wear make-up, people say I look healthy – but compared to what I used to look like, I definitely don’t. Before I got cancer, I used to wear fake tan all the time because I thought I looked ill without it. Now I actually am ill, I don’t wear it any more. Vanity goes out the window a bit.’

Bye-bye nail-polish, hello hand cream

‘Chemo can cause really brittle nails that sometimes fall off but mine have survived because I’ve done as little as possible to them. Your hands and feet get really sore during chemo, so I use loads of hand cream now. The skin on my face is a lot drier, too. Before I used to use anti-wrinkle cream just on the lines on my forehead – now it goes all over my face. I have stopped getting spots, though!’

You’ll get obsessed with how fast hair grows

‘I’m just spending all my time working out how long it’s going to take for me to have normal hair that might look girlie again. You see a lot of people on forums asking the same question – they say six weeks after chemo, it starts to grow back. I do find myself comparing myself to women in the street. The other day I was going to Brighton and there was a girl on the train with gorgeous long brown hair. It’s hard sometimes.’

On Saturday 11 October at 7:30pm, Stand Up To Cancer is organising a nationwide March On Cancer to raise valuable funds for essential research. For more details and to register for the March On Cancer, click her to visit the website.

Follow Clare on Twitter @thorpers

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us