Cancer takes a lot from a person. I managed to take it in stride when I lost my breasts and my hair, but when my skin exploded, I completely freaked out.

It felt like happened overnight. My face was a mess. I had sores on my scalp.

It was physically painful, and a huge blow to my self confidence after the other trials of cancer.

I managed to get an appointment with a dermatologist almost immediately. I had previously had skin issues linked to an autoimmune condition. (I’m not sure I’m ready yet to go into a lot of detail on this experience, but I was so ill I had to drop a University class.)

I was terrified that my cancer treatment had somehow affected my hormones in a way that meant this earlier experience would be repeating itself. Fortunately, that was not the case, but it still felt absolutely dreadful.

Bye-bye, Bare Minerals

I think Bare Minerals is great and I had been using this as my go-to foundation for about a decade. But apparently, this is a no-no with this kind of acne. The dermatologist told me I should stop using it, and change out the rest of my makeup as well.

Why? The infection in your skin can get transferred to the makeup brush, and you end up painting your face with this over and over.

Powder foundation was out. But I desperately wanted something to help my skin look a bit more normal.

I’ve always loved makeup, and I made it my mission to find the best way to cover this up.

This was in pre-pandemic days, when people could still go to shopping malls. (Doesn’t that feel like a lifetime ago?) My energy was already starting to flag due to treatment, but this was so important to me I found a way to make it happen.

I used the steroid high from my chemotherapy treatments to fuel more than one trip to the shops.

I went to basically every makeup counter, and got samples to try. I tested them all in artificial and natural light, most more than once. I was SERIOUS about this experiment. (These aren’t affiliate links – just my opinion on what’s good.)

The real issue: texture

My selection criteria came almost entirely down to the way it went on, not the shade of the foundation.

When you have a blemish or something you want to cover up, not so hard to cover it with another colour. It’s much harder to mask uneven texture.

With severe skin problems, texture is the bigger problem. The surface is often uneven or peeling in places, and it’s really easy to have the foundation heighten this.

It’s best to get a foundation that matches your skin, but it’s possible to work around a so-so colour match by blending.

However, if it doesn’t go on smoothly, there is literally nothing you can do to compensate for this. (Well, maybe if you’re a professional makeup artist there is, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to crack this nut in the midst of cancer treatment.)

So these recommendations are based on the consistency, which should hopefully be helpful to other people regardless of skin tone.

Some people get really concerned about only using natural products after a cancer diagnosis, but this wasn’t true for me. I completely get where these folks are coming from, but I felt like I had enough things to worry about already. So if this is really important to you, these recommendations probably won’t be so helpful (sorry!).

Winner: Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation

This was hands-down the winner. It went on so well that even when my skin texture was uneven, it gave a smooth finish. It’s heavy enough to provide really good coverage, but it doesn’t become mask-like.

While it might not match Fenty for shade range (I mean, what does?), it has a pretty wide array, which would make this a good pick for most folks.

Runner up: Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder Foundation

I really thought this coverage was going to be too light to be effective, but it worked really well. I had a lot of my chemo in the warmer summer months, and having a lighter option in my makeup bag was really welcome.

I used this when my skin wasn’t acting up quite so much and I didn’t feel I needed as heavy of a product.

Again, the smoothness was what made this stand out. Irregularities and dry patches were covered really effectively.

Bonus – Concealer: Studio Finish SPF 35 Concealer

This cream comes in a little pot, and reminds me of stage makeup in a really wonderful way. It’s quite thick and gives really good coverage, but blends out so beautifully that it doesn’t look like you’re actually highlighting your pimples (an unfortunate result for some products).

I used this with both the Estee Lauder and the lighter Charlotte Tilbury foundations to go over problem spots.

(It’s worth noting that you could also use this as foundation in its own right if you are looking for really serious coverage.)

Final thoughts

Makeup did wonders to help my self-confidence during my cancer treatment, but makeup isn’t everything. It’s worth asking for help, not just covering things up.

If your skin is causing you problems during chemo, you don’t just have to suffer in silence. Ask for a referral to a skin doctor if you want to talk through your issues and prescribe medications that may help.

Also, there’s something to be said for letting unhappy skin breathe, so skipping the makeup as often as possible is probably a good idea.

The beauty of who we are as people remains no matter what our faces look like.

If you’re suffering, just remember that it will get better. These skin problems feel like a distant dream – but I’m still really enjoying using the wonderful foundations I discovered. (Plus an occasional dip back into the Bare Minerals, which is now happily back in my makeup bag.)

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash