Be the Boss Over Cancer

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Cancer treatments can present extra challenges when it comes to makeup and cosmetics. Normally oily skin can become temporarily dry and flaky. Even your skin tone can change, making you look more ruddy, sallow or tanned. And because cancer treatments further weaken your immune system, special care needs to be taken when choosing and applying cosmetics. A few general tricks of the trade can help.


  • Use an antibacterial hand gel after riding the subway or bus or taking a cab. Dry skin can crack and flake, allowing bacteria to enter your system and cause infection, the last thing you need at this time.
  • Choose products designed for sensitive skin, such as the entire Almay line. You may be sensitive to certain smells and harsh or drying ingredients, such as alcohol.
  • Wash your hands meticulously before applying makeup, and replace products regularly.
  • Moisturize frequently, which will make your makeup look more natural.
  • Don't share makeup or applicators with others. Whenever possible, use disposable cotton pads, swabs and sponges and discard reusable applicators.



Because of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the skin on your face may be dry, sensitive, discolored or sallow. Choose products specially designed for the way your skin feels now. The foundation color, though, should match your normal, healthy skin tone to help even out your complexion, mask imperfections and prevent conspicuous flaking.

Sun protection

Many foundations include an SPF; if yours does not, apply sun protection before foundation with an SPF of 15 or higher. Use products made specifically for the face to avoid clogged pores, such as the sun care lines by Estée Lauder and Clarins.
Discoloration: If your skin looks blotchy or sallow, try going a half shade lighter with your foundation for a fresh, bright look. There are also many undercoats available in shades of green, lavender and yellow to help brighten skin — green counteracts redness, and lavender works for sallowness.


Cover dark circles and other discoloration with a creamy cover stick or concealer. Avoid powder, which can lodge in wrinkles and make dry, flaky skin more obvious.



Blush can really brighten a pale, sallow or tired complexion and make your face look healthy and vibrant. Try one of the new cream blushes that come in old-style compacts, or use modern sticks and crayons. Cream is a much better choice than powder, as powdery formulas tend to collect in creases and wrinkles and draw attention to dry, flaky skin. Make sure you blend the blush firmly into your skin to avoid a paint-by-numbers effect. And steer clear of pinky-pinks of the genre favored by teenagers — a neutral mauve or pinky-brown will work best to flatter your work look.


If you feel unnaturally pale, you could try a bronze-hued blush such as Clinique's bronzing gel or even a self-tanner, but avoid those with strong scents that can make even healthy people nauseous.

Tinted moisturizer

Ultima II makes a tinted moisturizer called Glowtion that is good for stressed and listless skin and can be used in lieu of blush.



Eyebrows may fall out due to chemotherapy. Here's a simple step-by-step for natural looking brows.

  1. Apply foundation to create a base for eyebrow pencil or powder.
  2. Match the shade you choose to your natural hair or wig color as best you can, erring on the side of lightness.
  3. Hold the pencil or brush vertically against your nose to determine where each brow should start. Make dots with the pencil or powder to mark the spot.
  4. Hold the pencil or brush next to your nose, just to the outside of each iris, to determine where the arch should fall; use the outside corner of your eye to determine the end of each brow.
  5. Apply the pencil or powder with feathery strokes, then pat translucent powder on top to set. If you have trouble creating the right shape, try an eyebrow stencil available in eyebrow kits or sold seperately at most drugstores.

Face Stockholm and Origins both have a number of great products for brows. Having brows tattooed on once you've been diagnosed with cancer is not a wise idea due to the possibility of infection because of your weakened immune system.


False eyelashes have come a long way since the Liza Minelli days. Today's are thinner, lighter, shorter and easier to affix. There are two basic types: the strip and individual lashes.

  • Strip --This is the quickest solution. Buy a set in your natural lash color and trim with nail scissors to your preferred length. Most already have an adhesive along the base and need only be carefully applied to the lashline. If they do not, apply a tiny line of adhesive — available at any drug store — and place the strip along the lashline. Remove with an oil-based eye makeup remover, such as Lancôme's.
  • Individual lashes --Choose individual lashes when you have the time to apply them for the most natural look. Most come with adhesive at the base of each lash; if not, apply a tiny dab of adhesive and place along the eyelid with tweezers. Most day spas and beauty salons have a makeup expert on staff who can apply false lashes for special occasions or work functions.


Use a subtle, neutral-colored eyeliner to accentuate your lash line and create the appearance of lashes. Then, apply a moisturizer designed for the always-fragile eye area. Use a light, non-sparkly shade of eyeshadow to brighten up your face — glittery shadow is unprofessional and can get in your eyes, causing irritation and even tearing. Stick to creamy eyeshadow formulas, which are much less apt to get caught in the creases and folds of the eyelid; Benefit has a wide variety of colors. Be sure to blend well.



Keeps lips well moisturized to avoid flaking and chapping, which can occur as a result of chemotherapy and/or radiation. Choose creamy, moisturizing lipsticks as opposed to matte long-lasting formulas, which can accentuate and even exacerbate dryness. Club Monaco makes intense yet natural and flattering colors in a rich, moisturizing formula.


Even if you don't usually wear it, lipliner can prevent creamy lipsticks from bleeding, which happens when lips and the surrounding skin are especially dry. Don't forget that your lips need sun protection too. Choose products with an SPF of 15 or higher.

Other Resources


Beauty & Cancer: A Woman's Guide to Looking Great While Experiencing the Side Effects of Cancer Therapy, by Diana Doan Noyes.

Look Good...Feel Better Program

A free program to help women offset appearance-related changes from cancer treatment. They operate two-hour, hands-on workshops which include a 12-step skin care/make-up application lesson, demonstration of options for dealing with hair loss, and nair care techniques. Patients in various stages of treatment receive make-over tips and personal attention from professionals trained to meet their needs, and they are also given complimentary cosmetic kits to use in class and take home. For dates and locations, please call 1-800-395-LOOK; website: