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Alopecia (young people)

Eyebrow make-up, tattooing and eyelash extensions with alopecia

Alopecia can affect different parts of the body, including the eyebrows and eyelashes. This can be partial or complete hair loss and it could happen gradually or over a short period. Some of the people we talked to had tried products and procedures to give the appearance of eyelashes and eyebrow hairs.

Eyebrows

Although one or two people who had lost their eyebrows did not look at ways to cover up the hair loss, quite a few talked about using make-up to create eyebrows and getting their eyebrows tattooed on (semi-permanent make-up).

Partial loss of hair on the face could often be covered up by using make-up. As Meghan explained, “when I lost half of an eyebrow, being able to draw one in was great”. Even when there was complete hair loss, some found using make-up worked well because it allowed flexibility and they could change the shape of their eyebrows. Most people found that powder products were more effective and easier to apply than a pencil. Rosie preferred using makeup rather than opting to have her eyebrows tattooed on. Although eyebrow tattoos usually only last a couple of years, she was concerned that it may be permanent and not turn out how she wanted it to.
 

Rosie has make-up techniques to give the impression of having eyelashes and eyebrows.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 12
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So make-up wise, I’m wearing more than I normally would today [laughs]. But normally, at the moment, cos I penc-, well I pencil in my eyebrows because obviously they haven’t grown back so they’re a major feature of my make-up and probably the bane of my make-up process mainly because they’re so difficult to match. So I’ll often find I’ll have one that’s perfect and then one that’s like a couple of inches like higher. I’m thinking ‘oh no, gotta do that again’. So, yeah, with make-up obviously no eyelashes, so I can’t use mascara, which most people wear every day to day if they’re you know, going out. But I’ve found quite a few alternatives to like having that affect. But they’re normally a lot of hassle, so I don’t bother [laughs].

Can you tell me a bit about those?

So, it’s normally just using eyeliner which gives a rough same effect. But if I just put eyeliner where everybody else would, you then have a gap where your eyelashes would normally be. So I normally use a pencil eyeliner to, well it’s called, tight-lining where you are effectively eye line on that bit. Which I nearly always poke myself in the eye doing [laughs]. Yeah, so to sort of do eye make-up it normally is, tight-lining with a pencil and then sort of a pen or gel eyeliner to just finish it off. Eyebrows is normally like a powder and a stencil which is what I currently use. Which is a lot easier than just getting a pencil out, cos I tried that and I could never get the shape right. And then to make that look better, you know, it’s using mixtures of other things like concealer and highlighters and all these ridiculous things I’m not really sure how to use [laughs] to just get it so that they look more defined and a bit more natural than just slapping on you know, powder in a stencil way. 
 

Michael uses make-up to fill in part of his eyebrow.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 13
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When I'm going on a night out I normally shave. Well, I have a shower and brush my teeth and everything, and then I shave my head and face afterwards. And then I, because I have like in partially one eyebrow, I fill that in a bit with make-up. But as it's grown back, that's declined. But that's what I do. And then get ready after that, clothing-wise. Day to day life I normally just get dressed normally, and stick a hat or a cap on, and just get on with it.

I initially tried to fill in my eyebrow using eyebrow pencil, but I was not very good at it. But then my mum took me to her beauticians or whatever, and she showed me how to do it, with the pencil. Since that, I've came to university. The girls in my flat have advised me to use powder instead, because it's better, apparently. And they've showed me how to do it. So I've started using that more recently, and it seems to be going okay, anyway so.
 

Kayla describes when she first lost the hair on her eyebrows and began using make-up. She now has tattooed eyebrows.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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I was like, “What? Nobody told me that I would lose my eyebrows.” So it was quite cool, I looked online and found this lady who does them. I just recently had them touched up. Like it it’s [mm] so painful, don’t voluntarily do it but yeah, it, it was that was not fun ‘cos it was kind of like I’d just got used to wigs and now this happens. And so I was just drawing them on but, because I didn’t realise what was happening until they got really short, I just left them and just kind of thought that, I don’t know, I just didn’t really notice them ‘cos it was quite gradual. Eventually, I saw people that I hadn’t seen in a while and they were like, “Oh, what’s wrong?” It was mainly this one [points to left eyebrow], like it was just one of them. I think that was the reason as well why it was so noticeable, people were like laughing, “Oh where are your eyebrows?” Oh, sensitive subject, guys.

But yeah, I don’t know, I slowly got better and better at drawing them on but then it started taking me like half an hour in the morning and it was kind of like, ah, so I looked into getting them and ‘cos they just kept falling out. Like this one’s [gestures to left eyebrow] got practically nothing now. It’s just a little bit of hair and then this one [gestures to right eyebrow] is the opposite, it’s got none here and all this so it’s like, I was like oh, just get them tattooed on ‘cos I was thinking of summer coming up as well. I wanna go to like Greece and stuff. I wanna be able to swim. I don’t wanna have to draw my eyebrows on every day and not be able to go swimming. So there’s always ways around it.
But it was, it’s expensive and it was quite, just not what I, not good timing but yeah, it all worked out. It’s fine now [laughs].
However, some people found that having to apply eyebrows with make-up every day was time consuming. A few people said they were worried about accidentally rubbing their eyebrows off when they went swimming or became sweaty. Beth now has her eyebrows tattooed, but remembers when she used to “draw them in” and they would “come off” when she was in the gym or fade slowly and need topping up. 

Getting eyebrows tattooed on could feel daunting and some were not sure how “real” it would look. However, most people we talked to had good experiences of getting their eyebrow tattoos done and were happy with the difference it made. While very few people talked about the cost involved, Krista thought it would be £250, which she said was too much, but a tattooist friend offered to do it for free.
 

For Hannah, although getting her eyebrows tattooed was “nerve wracking” at first, it has made a big difference.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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That was really cool, it was really nerve wracking though. I actually looked for four years until I actually got them done. And it was only because I had a really lovely lady contact me and just say, my, like, one of my friends had had their eyebrows done by them. And she just contacted me and said, ‘You know, your friend’s mentioned you, would you like your eyebrows done for free?’ Which really took me by surprise, because eyebrow tattooing was a lot like, can be a lot of money. And being a student, I’ve not got that money to kinda spend, especially with wigs, they cost quite a lot anyway; if I want quite a nice human hair wig or anything. So I always put it off. But, since having my eyebrows done and my friend’s said it too, would never turn back, cos it’s so much better. It’s easier than, y’know, the worry of if you go swimming or anything or if you get too hot and sweaty or if you wipe your eyebrow. I used to always wipe my face and then realise I’ve wiped my eyebrows off. And so, and also it’s really like time consuming, so, like I’d spend like hours sometimes trying to get perfect eyebrows and that was very like it had a big impact on my like, y’know, my self-esteem and everything, because I was nervous about how it looked or anything and I’d always bug people and be like ‘are you sure they’re okay?’ before I’d even walked out the door. So, yeah, I’m so happy I’ve got them.
 

Emma thinks it’s important to go to someone with a lot of experience of eyebrow tattooing.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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Where did you first hear about sort of semi-permanent make-up like the tattoos?

I the lady I get my wigs from, who’s from [place name], and she’s like brilliant and I always go back to her. And she gave me her, her details cos she always recommends her to like her clients and stuff. And she was from the same area and she was, worked with the NHS as well, so she, she was just very sort of specialised in what she did. So I, I got the information from the lady I get my wigs from. And she was really professional and, you know, she, you could just tell she knew what she was doing. Cos I didn’t really want to go to some like hair and beauty like college person, who a lot of my friends had said to go to. Cos I think like it’s something that’s gonna be on your face for a long time. If they do it wrong, it’s just gonna make you look a bit silly. So I’d rather, you know, go to somebody who knows, I pay a little bit more, and knows what they’re doing and had lots of experience with like alopecia and whatnot. So, yeah, like she was, she was really good. I would definitely go back to her as well.
The process of the tattooing could be painful, but many said they were glad they had it done because it was quicker and easier than using make-up to apply eyebrows every day. It could make a big difference to a person’s self-esteem and how they felt about their physical appearance. Krista says it was “amazing how much more confidence that brought back”. However, tattoos could fade and their colour could change so they usually needed to be ‘topped up’. Emma uses a henna pen to pencil over her eyebrow tattoos since they have started to fade.
 

Beth had her eyebrows tattooed in the Philippines some years ago. She is thinking about getting them topped up.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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So when we were out in the Philippines they were really, really cheap to get done. So we got-, so I was just like, 'actually, I'll just do them' cos I think it was about £100 or so and they last for about five years. It was such a weird-, it was a really weird experience. Cos obviously the added thing of none of them spoke English [laughs] really. So, that was quite peculiar. What did they do? They like laid me down, and put this like numbing cream on it, that like- I think it swelled it up, and then they drew the stencil on and said, "Okay, this is what's going to happen, are you happy with them?" Which obviously at the time you're kind of like, "Well I'm not really sure, but yeah, go for it." And Yeah. So they, yeah. It lasted only, it was only a few hours. It didn't really hurt, it kind of felt like a toothbrush on your face. At the corner, it did hurt slightly, but it was only a little sting. And then the worst bit was, was when afterwards it kind of clumped up. And went all kind of like crusty. But it was the colour, and like you weren't allowed to touch it, or sleeping was quite difficult because obviously if you sleep on your front and half your eyebrow goes, it's a bit like 'oh, now what have I done?' [Laugh] I wasn't, you're not allowed to go like swimming or anything like that with it. Yeah. And then it kind of, the scab gradually fell off. And then you had eyebrows [laughs]. Which was quite nice. But yeah, I would-, I'd recommend it to anyone. They're really, yeah, good. And obviously then you don't have to worry too much about getting up in the morning and drawing them on, and they're always there. So, yeah.

Did you say that you're thinking about getting them topped up again?

Yeah. Just cos they, yeah they gradually- I think it's like a tattoo, they go down in shade. So at the moment they're quite purple, so I'm like drawing back on with just like eyeshadow almost, or whatever. But yeah, so I'm going to go back and top back up, fingers crossed, again [laughs].

Is that your only experience of tattooing or have you had before and after?

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I've never had a tattoo, so [laughs]. Yeah, but. Yeah, it was cool though. And it's a nice thing to- it made a lot of difference to how you feel, as well. So it's always like people are like, "Arr, your eyebrows look nice," like, "Thanks" [laughs]. Yeah. So it's, yeah, nice.
 

Hannah talks about what it was like to getting her eyebrows tattooed.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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What was the process like when you went to get them done?

It was really quick and easy actually. It was, it was literally you just like, I met her and went into this like nice room and laid there and she like drew free hand what I’d like them. So she looked at some photos of like where I’ve drawn on my eyebrows and like said, y’know, I quite like this shape and this is what they were before and she looked at them all and she said, ‘This suits your face shape.’ And we agreed on what I kinda would liked. So then she pencilled them in to how I’d like them. And then, I got to keep looking and kind of y’know, helped her maybe if I wanted it a bit lower, I’d say ‘oh, can I have this part lower?’ And then she started to tattoo them. So once she’d drawn them on, it was just a matter of kinda putting the ink on and that was it, really. And so, yeah, I’m really happy with them [laugh]. Then we had, it was two, it was a two part process, so I had them done and then I think it was two months later, I think, I had to go back and get them recoloured basically, because they fade. It’s really weird, cos the pigment of the skin you kind of get your, like get your eyebrows tattooed on and then they can fade a lot and then you’ve got to go get them redone and it depends how your skin takes to it, because she doesn’t like, she asks you, y’know, ‘does your skin-, how’s your skin affected in some situations?’ So it kind of helps her know how dark she needs to go or how much ink she needs to put on. 
 

Krista found getting her eyebrows tattooed a bit painful.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 22
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I was scared. I’ve got normal tattoos and I was scared that it was gonna, cos obviously with it being so on a bone as well I was scared that it was really gonna hurt. she put like an anti, not an antiseptic and anaesthetic cream just on my eyes and it didn’t hurt at first, I was quite surprised but then as the anaesthetic cream started to wear off it got more and more painful. and she topped it up once but after it just, just didn’t feel the same It was so, especially this eyebrow especially for some reason every time she went over it with the needle I wanted to sneeze but she said that happens to quite a lot of people when they have their right eye done [laughs].

That’s strange.

Strangely, I don’t know why [laughs]. But it was painful and it hurt afterwards as well you couldn’t wash your face for 24 hours so I always had make-up on at the time so I had to sort of baby wipe all my face. You couldn’t get them wet for 24 hours and then they scabbed over obviously like normal tattoos do so they didn’t look too great when they scabbed over obviously cos I wore make-up so you could see the scabs. but they were really, really tender so probably about, even now sort of [daughter’s name] might, can catch me with a nail and even now it’s still tender And I would have never had it done obviously I, when I saw all these semi-permanent brows becoming all the sort of fashion I used to think well why you’ve got eyebrows just go and have them styled why would you ever have that done but now I had no choice and I had to have it done.
Eyelashes 

As well as changing a person’s physical appearance, not having eyelashes could be physically uncomfortable. Beth remembers waking up with her eyelids “swollen” quite often and having to just wait for them to return to normal. She found it difficult to explain to people why she didn’t have eyelashes.

False eyelashes could be used, but were not necessarily seen as a good solution. Rosie prefers to use make-up to give the impression of having eyelashes.
 

Emma talks about losing her eyelashes and the difficulties she has had with false eyelashes.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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I mean my eyebrows are tattooed on, so I’m not really bothered about them growing back. But I do hope my eyelashes grow back just because like doing my make-up’s quite difficult. I just think, you know, when you’re going out your eyelashes are like a big part of sort of your outfit really. Cos, you know, they make you just feel a bit more like pretty. And I never wear like eye make-up apart from mascara. And I’m awful at doing make-up as well. So, you know, doing my eye make-up, like I just don’t know what to do. So that’s like, and you get quite a lot of eye infections as well, cos obviously your eyelashes aren’t just for putting mascara on. They have a function to like protect your eyes. They’ll often get like styes in them just from bits getting in them. Which is, I think the wind as well, like your eyes just like [squints] get like that. But, so, yeah, like I, I want my eyelashes to grow back pretty quick. But, you know, if not, then it’s just, you, you know, it’s, you just have to like live with it really. You can get like the ones that you can attach on, which you can wear for going out. And they have like a bigger base. Obviously you don’t have to, you can’t stick them on to any like, the lashes that are already there. But I wore them for a while when I first lost them a few years ago, but I thought they were just more of a hindrance. I think that you’re very like conscious of them sort of looking wonky or like being on your upper lip or whatever when you’re too drunk. So, but, so I’d rather just sort of get, trying packs for my make-up and just try and just make my eye make-up look as though I’ve got eyelashes without putting eyelashes on. 
 

Sometimes things get in Rosie’s eyes because she has no eyelashes.

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Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 12
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I don’t get sore eyes but I get a lot of stuff that goes in my eyes. Cos obviously your eyelashes, they’re sort of your defence mechanisms, they’re getting things out of your eyes and keeping things out. So when I first started wearing wigs, for example, I had a fringe and it would constantly be in my eye. And because I didn’t have any eyelashes, it was a matter of flicking it out manually and it would just stay stuck in your eye. And you just think ‘oh my God, that hurts’. But yeah and things like grit or anything, like if you’re cycling, you know, you’ve got things flying all around in the air, like if anything sort of went near my face it would normally go straight for my eyes, so I’d get grit and bugs occasionally [laughs] and all sorts of things. But I’ve sort of adjusted to that quite quickly. 
 
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Beth worried that wearing false eyelashes would stop her eyelashes from growing back.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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When I lost my eyelashes, I could put fake ones on. So it was kind of like they were still there. But then I got really worried that if I put fake ones on, and then you know, they always- like a few tend to fall out when you do it, so I then stopped doing it, because I thought actually you might be killing the new baby ones coming through. But my eyelashes have only really got back to probably what they were from four years ago. So it was- took a long time. And that was really- that was one of the worst things to lose, out of- like even like your hair, you can cover up. Eyelashes were really hard, because it's an obvious thing. Especially when you don't really wanna wear permanent eyelashes, to have gone, so-. And like things get in your eye, and stuff, and that [laugh].
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