Makeup + cancer: The one tip women going through chemo really want

If you read my post last week on Makeup + Depression you’re probably thinking ‘Jeez Louise’ (yup, I’m on a roll ;)…but hear me out. This is important.

I want to share a conversation I had recently with a wonderful lady who’s undergoing chemo.

The lady in question runs a B&B in Guernsey (which, by the way, was the best god darn B&B I’ve ever stayed in. To protect her privacy I shan’t mention her name, or the name of the B&B, but if you’re thinking about visiting Guernsey anytime soon, inbox me!).

Laura* and I got to talking after a delicious breakfast**. I knew she was undergoing chemo because she wore a scarf tied several times around her head and had no eyebrows (and I suspected no lashes although was never close enough to see).

Not that you would know Laura had cancer…she was one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met.

* Not her real name
** Full English, fresh coffee, homemade lemon curd(!!) served in a crystal condiment thingy (technical term), muesli and Guernsey milk which, quite frankly, should be illegal.



How much makeup is too much?

Laura and I soon got chatting about makeup (she’d sweetly enquired what I did for a living) and I told her I’d volunteered a couple of years ago for Look Good Feel Better – the charity that provides hair, makeup and beauty lessons for women undergoing treatment for cancer. She’d also experienced a session as a participant.

I did two sessions with the charity and after each one I remember feeling inspired and confused; inspired because the sessions were full of the most extraordinary, talented, strong, beautiful, broken-but-not-beaten women; and confused because the makeup look we taught involved learning something like thirteen (or was it ten?) steps: skin, base, concealing, eye shadow, eye liner, brow pencil, bronzer, blush, lip liner, lipstick…and so on.

Is this what women undergoing chemo really want? To learn how to do a full face of makeup? Laura’s response to my recounting the steps was most humbling.

The reality

Laura said she can map how she’ll be feeling according to the weeks pre- and post- her cancer treatment. Week one (post-chemo) is spent desperately trying to muster the energy to get out of bed (no mean feat for a lady who runs a busy B&B!). Week two sees the arrival of a bit more energy but makeup is far down the list of priorities. Week three (the week before the next chemo treatment) and she’s just starting to feel like herself again. Chemo and repeat.

I’d rather concentrate on my skin during chemo, not my makeup….because when my skin’s looking good, I feel good’.




Skin deep

When a person’s body is being hammered by chemicals one of the first places this will show (in addition to hair loss) is their skin.

Rather than covering up very dry, itchy, red and sometimes flaky skin with makeup it seems what women with cancer would much rather focus on are the products that will help to calm their skin and edge it back to looking more vital. I’m not saying LGFB classes don’t teach good skincare, they certainly cover this at the beginning of their sessions, but if this is the one thing women (and men) with cancer can find the energy to do during chemo then I wonder whether there should be more of a focus on skincare and less on makeup?

Little makeup, huge difference

I can imagine that, like Laura, once a person’s skin is feeling calmer (less red and more hydrated), applying one, maybe two items of makeup would feel doable.

If I were to pick three makeup items I thought would give someone going through cancer a little bit more confidence during treatment I’d have to say:

  1. A waxy brow pencil (or Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade which is regularly hailed by Beauty Bloggers although I’m yet to try it)
  2. Concealer (preferably with a slight peachy hue to counteract dark circles (e.g. Bobbi Brown Tinted Eye Brightener which has a touch of corrector in it to help tone down dark cricles)
  3. Creme blush (Stila’s Convertible Colour would be perfect on dry skin as it’s lovely and hydrating. Tip: Be sure to tone down any visible redness on the cheeks first with a light tinted moisturiser or concealer/foundation).
More skincare tips

If you’d like to know more about how to look after your skin during cancer I really liked this post. It mentions things like choosing hypoallergenic products over ones that are overly perfumed and advises when to apply products after washing (within 3 minutes is good apparently!).

Meeting Laura inspired this post and really opened my eyes to the kinds of ‘beauty’ tips women living with cancer are really after. I hope this post will inspire you to talk to your friends or perhaps someone you know, male or female, who’s currently undergoing chemo and could do with some skincare or light makeup tips.

As always, thank you for reading.

Please note: It is not my intention with this post to disrespect or to criticise the wonderful work Look Good Feel Better undergoes and the difference it makes to the lives of those dealing with cancer.

Image credits and with grateful thanks to:

Erin (surname unknown):

Claire Featherstone

Sharon Blynn

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