Cosmetics and Cancer Therapy: What You Need to Know


When you undergo cancer treatment, your skin can become dry, fragile, sensitive, or irritated. Skin cells are growing and replenishing themselves all the time, and that makes them targets for the ravages of chemotherapy, targeted therapies, radiation, and stem cell therapies. These issues go beyond cosmetic concerns—you’re at a higher risk of infection when your skin and immune system are compromised. Certain ingredients in cosmetics can further irritate your skin during cancer therapy.

That’s why you must take extra care of your skin and choose products wisely. When choosing cosmetics and skincare products, there are three important priorities to keep in mind: 

  1. Safety and protection 
  2. Effectiveness
  3. Simple and uplifting

Select Safe Cosmetics

Search for safe cosmetic products that are gentle, hydrating, hypoallergenic, and provide sun protection. Avoid those with harsh exfoliators, fragrances, alcohol, parabens, preservatives, and other possible irritants. See the specific list of seven ingredients oncologists and oncology dermatologists recommend avoiding while undergoing cancer therapy. 

If you are looking for makeup, there are a handful of clean beauty companies that create conscientious, safe cosmetics. BeautyCounter creates non-toxic skincare and makeup products for everyone, not just people with sensitive skin.

If you want to use cosmetics to hide side effects like skin discoloration, pimples, or dark circles, try one product at a time and use it for several days before adding another product. Monitor each cosmetic for any rash or other skin reaction before adding new products to your routine.

Another important rule of thumb is to change your cosmetics every few months to prevent infection. This table serves as a guide for how long to keep different products:


Identify Effective Products

After finding products that are safe for your skin, identify which products are the most effective. Try to use powder-based products rather than liquids, as well as makeup that will easily wash off with only water and a lukewarm towel.

With sensitive skin, it’s important to find a good moisturizer for your face. Some cosmetics can dry out skin, and dry skin often leads to wrinkles or blemishes. One of the side effects of cancer therapy is increased dryness or redness—using hypoallergenic, fragrance-free moisturizers will improve the overall texture and appearance of your skin.

If you are applying several products to your skin, it’s best to follow the sequence shown below:

Step 1: Hydrate with FaceRx Hydrating Gel

Hydrate the deeper skin layers with a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free face gel or serum. 

Step 2: Conserve moisture with FaceRx Moisturizing Cream

Lock in moisture and protect your skin from free radicals with a soothing, moisturizing cream. 

Step 3: Protect your skin with sunscreen

Apply a mineral-based sunscreen with 30 or greater SPF. Re-apply every couple of hours if you’ll be directly exposed to sunlight.

Step 4: Apply safe, gentle makeup

Look Good and Feel Better

Cancer treatment can cause many uncomfortable side effects like discoloration, adult acne, and redness. Many people say that looking better during this process helps them feel better. From a mental health standpoint, feeling happier and more confident can make the entire therapy process more manageable. 

If your doctor tells you that your chemotherapy or targeted therapy doesn’t lead to skin side effects, there’s no reason why you can’t continue using cosmetics during treatment. However, it’s important to tell your doctor or nurse if an area where you have been applying a cosmetic shows any of the signs of an allergy or infection, like redness, swelling, itching, discharge, or pain. 

When choosing cosmetics, make sure the ingredients are safe, gentle, and effective for your sensitive skin, but also prioritize how these products make you feel. If wearing makeup doesn’t make you feel better, then keep it simple and focus on a safe moisturizer and sunscreen to protect your skin.