My Favorite Products for Chemo-Stressed Skin (Think: Insanely Dry and Sensitive)


The upside of chemo was the consistency.  The first three days after each treatment I’d be manic from the steroids.  This is when I would typically go shopping.  (I could distract myself and keep moving – perfect, no?)  And if I was going to get nauseous, the nausea would hit sometime during this period.  But thanks to a drug called Emend, it never really did.  Days Four through Seven I’d be in what I like to call “The Chemo Crush.”  It’s like a really bad, seriously aching, awful bout of the flu.  It sucked.  Dark, dark days.  Day Seven was the day I could expect a little bone pain from the Neulasta shot (used to keep your white blood cell count high).  Oddly enough, Claritan helped prevent bone pain – and worked!  So mine was never too bad.

And by Day Eight I would start to feel miraculously better.  On Day Eight, I knew I would be…ok.  I could even joke.  Gosh, I loved that Day Eight.

But when I woke up on the morning of Day Nine – each of the four times I had chemo – my face would be covered in what looked like horrible, teenage acne.

Welcome to the Day Nine Chemo Rash.

The doctors think the rash may be caused by the steroids you take along with your chemo drugs.  And the good news is that this is a rash, not acne, despite it’s appearance.  I say ‘good news’ because it means that roughly five days later…the rash is gone.  Every. Time.

The chemo rash that popped out after my first treatment was the worst.  It was the most red, the most widespread, and actually hurt – it felt like I had been slapped on both cheeks.  Oh goody – I have a pic:

Photo (100)


After that first treatment, I was able to reduce the severity somewhat by having my docs reduce the steroids and by giving my skincare routine an overhaul.  The main thing when going through chemo?  Hydration.  Drink water* and slather on cream.

*With the taste bud changes and fear of nausea, I found drinking water really hard.  So I started getting an IV of fluids before each chemo and again when I’d go in the following day for a neulasta shot.  It really, really helped.


Hopefully, no one you know will ever need this list.  But sadly, I’ve received enough emails from mamas in the last few months to know that this won’t be falling on deaf ears.  And heck – some of these products are so fabulous for beating dry skin in general that I plan to keep using them.



1. SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Mask

If you do nothing else, get this mask.  This mask is intended to be used for 10 minutes, then washed off.  However, my esthetician recommended sleeping in this mask and rinsing it off in the morning.  It made a world of difference.  I still do this from time-to-time when my skin is dry.  One of my new favs.

2. Pevonia Hydrating Cleanser

This is the only cleanser that didn’t further irritate my rash.  It’s perfect for when water feels too harsh.  You just wet your fingertips, then massage this on to your dry face.  I’d gently wipe off with cotton balls.

3. Pevonia Balancing Combination Skin Cream

This is the impossibly creamy skin cream I’d use every night.  Pevonia does have a cream that’s formulated for sensitive skin, but I actually found this balancing cream to be more soothing.  When I first showed up at the estician’s office in tears – my stinging face covered in chemo rash – she spent 10 minutes gently massaging this product onto my cheeks.  Sting gone.

4. First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream

This product is cheap and amazing.  It even rivaled the Pevonia Balancing Skin Cream, above.  However, it’s much lighter.  So on days I used this cream instead of the Pevonia, I would need to apply multiple layers before my thirsty, irritated skin would calm down.  Also fantastic for my dry, cracked hands.  I’m still using it whenever I feel a little irritated, and it’s worked miracles on Raines’ perpetually wind-burned cheeks.

5. Pevonia Power Repair Hydrating Toner

I ended up using a toner to remove some residual makeup since my skin was too sensitive to rub.  And this toner also helped cool and soothe my itchy, chemo-burned arm.

6. Korres Lip Butter, Guava

Best. Lip Balm. Ever.  My lips were epically chapped during chemo.  I tried everything.  EVERYTHING.  Like, really seriously freaking everything.  The only thing that worked was this unassuming little pot ‘o gold from Korres.  Nothing else was even close.  Shocking, right?  It was the pot that came for free in a set that I bought for the other color.  Go figure.

7 & 8. Jane Iredale Mineral BB Cream and Primer

These products were the only things that were able to successfully camouflage my chemo rash without causing more irritation.  BUT:  The first time I tried the BB Cream, I looked like a mime.  Correct application is key (watch the video on proper technique).  I managed to shortcut this whole thing by mixing a pea-sized amount of primer and BB cream together, which is what I’m still using for foundation now.  This product is astonishing, actually.  Here are a few un-retouched photos of the BB Cream/Primer in action:

10 days after my Second chemo treatment (right in the thick of the chemo rash period)



Now – With a wig and fake eyelashes but HEY my skin looks alright. 




So there you have it.  What doesn’t kill you….right?  You know the rest.



“Having had cancer, one important thing to know is you’re still the same person at the end. You’re stripped down to near zero. But most people come out the other end feeling more like themselves than ever before.”

                                                            — Kylie Minogue


  1. What are your thoughts on the color matching for the foundation? Have you tried the eye concealer? I think I will ask for samples to get correct color matches. I LOVE natural products that actually work..and I thank you for sharing your thoughts on them.

  2. I just had a breast biopsy last week and my appointment to hear the results from pathology is in one hour. Dear God, I hope I don’t need this list.

  3. Yeah…I should’ve mentioned that the color matching isn’t great. The line is very narrow, and seems to be missing a few key colors. That said, I bought #5 and #7 and mix them. (This seems to be a pretty foolproof combo for most people, according to the folks at the spa.)
    But the upside is that I can ‘tweak’ the color easily (and have started adding in more #5 and scaling back on #7 as my summer tan faded). I also use straight #5 (mixed with a tiny bit of primer) under my eyes and then use a 5/7 mix on the rest of my face. So the mixing thing ended up working really well for me. I suspect as we get into summer I’ll transition from a 5/7 mix to just 7.
    (Belinda, this was probably WAY more info than you were looking for, LOL!)

  4. I’ve never seen such dehydrated, chapped lips as on my son this winter. He’s a lip-licker when concentrating and it left his lips so dry we were literally cutting dry flaps of skin off.
    Anyway, all that to say, we finally found Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask at Sephora. And before you say “Holy hell, it’s $26!” let me tell you, Mamas, that this stuff was a LIFE SAVER and I love using it, too! It’s too sticky for me to use during the day, but it seriously made a huge difference in 2 night’s use for my little guy and a little tiny bit goes a loooonnnggg way.

  5. I’ve been 2 years months since my last chemo… I can’t seem to find anything for my face. Thank you for the list – i will definitely find the mask product you suggested. My first chemo was in 2008- 5 rounds, and then again in 2011 5 rounds. My face seems to have aged 20 years on me. I’m 40 and look …augh ! To those of you who are awaiting results, you’re in my prayers. Attitude is EVERYTHING !!! Even when you feel worse than you ever thought possible, think of everything you’re fighting for !!!.

  6. I’m logged in to another WordPress account at the moment, but I’m viewing this post three years after its original publication, and I’m finding it extremely helpful as I begin chemotherapy. Thank you!

  7. A few of these items are sold out/discontinued/no longer available due to the age of this post. Do you know if the pevonia dry skin cleanser is the same as the hydrating cleanser you recommended?

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