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Makeup for Clients With Cancer

Contact Author Morag Currin July 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Thank you for your inquiry. Please note that the author cannot provide individual medical advice. Also, if you have a customer service question, email customer service at

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This cancer patient was treated at Celilo Cancer Center in The Dalles, Oregon, and received <br/>a makeover from makeup artist Annette Goodman using La Bella Donna makeup.

This cancer patient was treated at Celilo Cancer Center in The Dalles, Oregon, and received
a makeover from makeup artist Annette Goodman using La Bella Donna makeup.

Cancer treatments can wreak havoc with the skin, the body’s largest organ. With this type of challenge, how can skin care professionals help clients who are undergoing cancer treatments overcome the debilitating changes to the skin?

Cancer treatments include the following.

Chemotherapy—Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, meaning it can attack cells throughout the whole body, including all skin cells of the epidermis and dermis. Very often, the skin becomes extremely dry and sensitive.

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Localized radiation—Localized radiation affects cancer cells in the part of the body being treated. It also affects healthy, growing cells in the area being treated, and damage to the healthy cells can cause side effects, such as erythema.

Total body irradiation (TBI)—TBI gives a dose of radiation to the whole body. It can eliminate cancer cells throughout the body, and it also destroys the immune system so that it will not attack the donor’s cells during a transplant. In doing so, the skin barrier and immune cells in the skin are affected.

Biological therapy—This uses portions of the body’s natural immune system to treat a disease. Side effects depend on the type of treatment; however, many affect the skin with a rash. A rash is considered an inflammatory condition of the skin, and there are numerous types of rashes.

Clients will encounter a difficult and emotional time once they have been diagnosed with cancer, and they have to learn how to handle this challenge with grace and positivity. As a skin care professional, what can you do for these clients that will make a difference?

Attitude affects recovery

How your clients look affects how they feel about themselves, and how they feel about themselves can dramatically affect how they feel physically. This is more than a logical argument; it is a proven fact. The significance of the relationship between self-esteem and physical well-being is important to recovering cancer patients. Attitude plays a vital role in recovery. Cancer clients who take control of their appearance can reap rewards that are more than skin deep. Added benefits can include enhanced self-esteem, relief from depression and renewed motivation.

As clients conquer their beauty challenges, each small success is a stepping stone to another small success. Success breeds success, and conquering beauty challenges provides motivation to attack other challenges, the result of which is a resumption of life as they knew it before cancer, or a new and improved version of life as they want it to be from that point forward.

Stress from a cancer diagnosis and treatment has a huge effect on a person as a whole, and with the overall skin condition. A reduction of stress can help improve skin issues. Reducing and controlling stress will aid in the overall improvement of a client’s skin condition. Not only does stress affect skin condition, but it also affects a person’s facial expressions. Consider a tranquil, optimistic person, and note what you see in her face and eyes when compared to a harried, stressed individual. Restore inner calm to repair outer beauty.

Makeup and other accessories

When clients are not feeling well, they do not have the energy to spend hours in front of the mirror doing their makeup on a daily basis. This may require some effort from the client; however, from a psychological standpoint, they may feel a lot better once they have created a look for themselves that boosts their confidence. Also note that not every women who gets cancer uses makeup. There are women that stick to the natural look, and apply minimal makeup. Some may just use lipstick for some color.

It is ideal to keep any makeover natural and healthy-looking. Women undergoing cancer treatment are going to want to look normal under all circumstances, particularly if they are still working during their treatment. As a skin care professional or makeup artist, it is very important to avoid overcompensating by applying heavy makeup, because this will result in an unnatural look. Apply makeup with a light touch. To project a radiant, healthy look, accentuate the positive and conceal the negative.

Some clients will feel more confident if attention is directed away from their lack of eyebrows and hair. There are multiple ways to change this emphasis. Suggest the addition of:

  • Jewelry, such as noticeable earrings, necklaces and rings;
  • Different colors of makeup to emphasize the eyes or lips; or
  • An item of clothing that provides confidence, such as a new scarf, hat or shawl that can attract positive attention.

Boost their confidence

It is always important to care for the skin before adding makeup. Consider these makeup tips when working with the following common skin conditions
for clients with cancer.

Dry and sensitive skin—Ensure the skin itself is sufficiently moisturized before a makeup application, and also confirm that all skin care products and makeup used are formulations with no harmful, toxic or irritating ingredients.

Erythema—This can successfully be covered with the right concealer and foundation. Note that areas of erythema from localized radiation can have tissue changes.

Immunosuppressed client—Sanitation is imperative when working with a client who is immunosuppressed. Makeup should not be dragged on the skin, and it is highly recommended that the skin care professional wear gloves during a makeup application with this type of client. It is also crucial that disposable items are used in the correct manner.

Rashes—Refer clients to a dermatologist for assessment if a rash crops up. If the client has received the go-ahead for a makeup application, ensure you know what rash you are dealing with and use the correct products for the specific rash.

Clients who are undergoing cancer treatment are going to be very appreciative of any skills you can teach them, and a makeup application is certainly going to boost their confidence to face each day. You can use your knowledge to help them stay beautiful inside and out.


J Sadr, I Jarudi and S Pawan, The role of eyebrows in face recognition, Perception 32 3 285–293 (2003)

Be The Match Foundation: (Accessed May 2, 2012)

Morag Currin has more than 16 years of spa industry experience, including training and management, and has pioneered an oncology esthetics certification for estheticians. Students learn to incorporate massage techniques for people undergoing cancer therapies, to screen for cancerous skin lesions and to bring cancer survivors’ skin back into balance. Currin developed TecNiche, a skin care line for health-challenged skin, and is the author of two textbooks on oncology esthetics, including Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner’s Guide (Alluredbooks, 2009).

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about skin care for clients with cancer? Morag Currin’s book, Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner’s Guide (Alluredbooks, 2009) can be purchased online at

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How-to: Cancer Client Makeover

Step 1: Start with clean, moisturized skin, then apply a layer of primer. Silicone-based primers create a web over the skin that serves a multitude of purposes, such as evening out minor texture issues, helping foundation cling more easily, preventing the skin’s natural oils from mixing with other products, and diffusing light and products to give skin a more airbrushed look. Please note: There is a negative and positive aspect with regard to silicone on clients undergoing cancer treatment. A silicone-based primer can provide a smooth, soft feel and won’t pull at fragile skin, and the silicone can also act as an occlusive barrier, helping keep moisture in the skin. However, any toxic waste from medications that may be excreted through the skin, together with any bacteria, may be trapped in the skin due to silicone’s occlusive action. Removing makeup properly after a period of time is necessary.

Step 2: Apply a color-correcting moisturizer or concealer. Green tints neutralize red skin, and lavender tints neutralize yellow skin. When using a concealer, it is very important to use the correct color. Using the wrong color can draw attention to the problem rather than concealing it. Make sure to have color-correcting concealers, as well as natural skin tone concealers available for purchase in your retail section. Color-correcting concealers are more opaque than color-correcting moisturizers, and they can cover more pronounced color imperfections. When applying concealer, use the stippling technique, which is done by applying a small dot of concealer, and using a sponge to blot and blend it on the skin rather than applying one heavy amount of concealer. Continue to apply small dots and to stipple until the imperfection has been covered. Although stippling can be done with a synthetic stippling brush, brushes can also be a problem to sanitize, so disposable sponges are highly recommended.

Step 3: If using a foundation on the client, let it set for approximately 3–5 minutes. Blot all over the client’s face with a tissue, avoiding the nose if it has large pores. Some foundations can present oxidation issues, and very possibly a person undergoing cancer treatment may have a reaction on her skin to the foundation ingredients where oxidation may occur, and a change of color could result. Pay special attention to the eyelids, the lines under the eyes and the corners of the eyes where excess product may crease and collect. If the foundation tends to set into the smile lines, buff very lightly over this area once more.

Step 4: If you apply eye liner, use a soft pencil and draw a thin line from the inside corner of the upper and lower lash line to the outer corner. Smudge the eye liner for a natural look.

Step 5: According to a study performed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, eyebrows are very important for conveying emotions and other nonverbal signals. They serve as a stable feature on the face, and are considered a robust and consistent facial feature. An unnatural appearance caused by lack of eyebrows due to chemotherapy drugs may cause recognition difficulty. Thinning or nonexistent eyebrows can be compensated for by using eyebrow pencils. This does require practice by the client herself, but the results are well worth the effort.

To recreate the brow, start by making three dots. Place a pencil in a straight vertical line from the nose to the inside corner of the eye. Make a dot with the eyebrow pencil at the eyebrow line. Next, place the pencil horizontally at the top of the brow line. Make a dot at the very top of the brow line. Finally, place the pencil at the bottom of the nose, and move the pencil diagonally until you’ve reached the outer corner of the eye. Make a dot at the end of the eyebrow. Using two complementary shades of eyebrow color that match the client’s hair or wig shade, connect the dots using short, feathery strokes. The connected dots form the upper edge of the eyebrow line. For the inner half of the brow, use upward strokes, and for the outer half of the brow, use diagonal or horizontal strokes.

Step 6: Finish off the makeover by applying a natural lip color that complements the client’s overall skin tone. A creamy finish is recommended over a matte finish.

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