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How to look after your skin during cancer treatment

Finding out you have cancer is life changing and the added stress of the appearance related side-effects can feel overwhelming.

Your appearance-based side-effects will vary depending on the type of treatment you are receiving and your body’s individual response. Some of the most common ways that your skin will be affected are:

  • Skin tone changes: skin may become sallow or reddish during treatment
  • Skin blotchiness or flushing
  • Skin dryness, itchiness and flaking
  • Increased sensitivity to the sun
  • Dark circles or puffiness under the eyes

You may only experience a few of these side effects and they will usually only be temporary. The following list explains how to best use cleanser, toner, sunscreen, foundation, concealer and other products, to help you look good and feel better…


After chemotherapy treatment, your skin is likely to be drier and more sensitive than normal. If you are having radiotherapy, you will probably find that the skin in the area being treated becomes very sore and sensitive for a while.

Cleansing your skin properly is vital at any time. During and after treatment it’s very important to use gentle cleansing products and not to rub or drag the skin. A good cleansing routine includes eye make-up removal, skin cleansing and toning:

The product advice below applies to people who are not having radiotherapy to the face or neck. 

Eye make-up remover:

It’s best to use an oil-based product which can gently dissolve make-up in the delicate eye area without rubbing or dragging the skin.  Using a large cotton wool pad for each eye, soak with your make-up remover; hold over the closed eyes for 2-3 seconds, then sweep gently from the outer corner of the eye to remove all traces of make-up.

Cream cleanser:

A gentle cream cleanser is much kinder to skin than water. Steer clear of any products that are described as ‘energizing’ or ‘invigorating’, as they may be too harsh. Don’t use ‘exfoliating’ products during treatment, even if your skin is flaky – again, they will be much too harsh. Again, use cotton wool pads to apply and remove the cleanser, use light massaging movements to stimulate circulation.

Use light, circular massaging movements for cleanser and also for toner.


To refresh the skin and remove any final make-up residue, it also helps moisturiser to be absorbed. If your skin becomes dry or sensitive, an alcohol-free toner for sensitive skin is best.

There are now lots of multi-use products on the market that will remove make-up, cleanse and tone all in one. These are fine to use but just make sure you select a product that is suitable for sensitive skin and use the same techniques as above.


Fight dryness and create a lovely smooth surface for makeup. Apply moisturiser to your face with light massaging movements – and don’t forget your neck! Let the moisturiser settle into your skin before starting to apply foundation.

If it soaks in very quickly, apply a little more.

Regular moisturising is essential during and after treatment as chemotherapy can leave even the oiliest skin with dryness and flakiness. You may find that you need a heavier moisturiser than usual until your skin recovers its natural moisture.

Night cream:

Another wonderful way for soothing and moisturising the skin. Many people find it very comforting to treat the skin like this at the end of the day.


If you are having chemotherapy, your skin is likely to become more sensitive to the sun during treatment and for several weeks afterwards. It’s advisable to stay out of the sun as much as possible and to cover up with hats and loose clothing if you are in strong sunshine. You will need to wear a sunscreen of SPF 30+ on your face, head and any other exposed areas during treatment — don’t forget the back of your neck and the tops of your ears!

Many moisturisers and foundations now include some sun protection but most will not provide enough protection on their own.

If you are having radiotherapy, the skin in the treated area will be very sensitive and need extra protection from the sun for at least a year after treatment.

Foundation will even out skin tone and achieve a uniform ‘canvas’ for defining other features.


Helpful for correcting dark shadows under the eyes and for covering blemishes and flushing. There are several different types of concealer and it’s important to choose the right product for the job. For dark circles beneath the eyes, you will need a highlighting concealer – choose a product that is slightly lighter than your normal skin tone.

Highlighting concealers usually come in a pen style form and contain small pigments that reflect the light which will lift the tone under your eyes and nose. These are great to use as their texture is light and won’t look obvious on the skin. When going through treatment the skin tends to become drier and makeup can look more obvious on the skin. If you have redness or blemishes on your skin use an opaque concealer to conceal them. If your complexion has developed a high colour, apply a little colour correcting ‘green’ concealer to the cheeks and round the nose to tone down redness.


If you want to even out skin tone and achieve a uniform ‘canvas’ for defining other features. Treatment will probably make your skin drier, so choose a moisturising or hydrating foundation: avoiding products labelled ‘oil-free’ or ‘mattifying’. Tinted moisturisers, creams and liquids are best for dry skins; mineral make-up is a popular alternative but some powder textures may leave your skin looking a little dry.

Find the best shade by trying products along your jawline in natural light – the right shade will blend into your skin, giving really natural looking coverage. If medication gives your skin a pinky flush, select a yellow toned foundation which will help to neutralise the flushing.

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