I Have Cancer Skin - This Is How I Navigate the World of Skin Care to Treat It

Natalie FornasierNatalie Fornasier

When I was first diagnosed with metastatic melanoma cancer in 2014, I was 20 - barely able to fulfil my adult walking shoes. As I battled with the overwhelming and often paralysing sense of loss of my identity, I also struggled with my complex relationship with beauty.

As of 2018, I progressed to Stage IV and was put on immunotherapy (an immune-enhancing drug). A common side effect of this cancer therapy is itchy, hot, sensitive, dry skin that's more susceptible to sun damage.

Suddenly, I had a ‘new’ skin condition that wasn’t - isn't - written or talked about. I called it ‘cancer skin’.

My skin had changed due to cancer treatment, so I knew I couldn't put just anything on my face like everyone around me. I didn’t just have sensitive and dry skin; it was something else entirely. It was dull, had patches of pigmentation and would go from oily to dry in a nanosecond.

For weeks, my skin would be robust and tolerate almost anything, then suddenly, start stinging from products I’d used for years. Some of my everyday cleansers began breaking me out, and rashes and lumps appeared and disappeared. And the dryness. My skin constantly feels like the Sahara.

But Google cancer skin and you'll ponder the same question I've asked myself - where's the skincare content for cancer patients? Where are the countless articles that'd come up if I searched for 'how to get rid of blackheads' or 'best vitamin C serum'?

The articles I did read weren’t written by people who had cancer skin, so it didn’t help too much. So, why isn't skincare information for cancer patients a priority?

At the time, I remember searching for something to assist me in navigating the confusing and sometimes very dark, difficult relationship of loving myself and my appearance. Cancer does this facetious thing, where you love your body for working so incredibly hard to keep your heart pumping, but at the same time, you abhor it because it’s the source of all your pain.

It’s a fine line to walk, but the world of skin care opened up a pathway to allow me to enjoy my own reverie. And so, my foray into beauty and skin care as a cancer patient began.

In my endeavour to find products I could use, I became hyper aware of how the beauty industry doesn’t cater to people like me.

Cancer skin isn't talked about online, on YouTube or on my Instagram feed, and in the real world, I’ve been turned away from salons after ticking the cancer box, because the therapists weren't sure if it’s safe to touch my skin.

The advice from my specialists was to use 'gentle products' (aka a blanket term for basic and boring), but I craved to be like everyone else, layering beautiful products and engaging in intimate self-care at such a crucial time in my life. I also just wanted to find the small pocket of solace taking the time to gently pat a serum into my skin could give me.

So, after hours of reading, researching and road-testing, this article is a short summary of what I wanted to find when I first Googled cancer skin. Here's what I've learnt so far.

My Edit of the Best Skincare Products for Cancer Patients.

Skincare Products for Cancer PatientsSkincare Products for Cancer Patients

I reached out to Madona El Machar, Dermal Therapist at Kaelon Beauty Salon, to help me better understand how cancer treatment can affect the skin.

For me, the dryness was (and is) the worst, so why does that happen?

"The natural moisturising factors and hyaluronic acid [in the skin] is degraded as a result of the radioactive emissions or your type of treatment," she said.

"It's important to replace the loss by using humectants, emollients, ceramides, glycerin, shea butter, phospho-lipids and hyaluronic acids. These are all moisturising ingredients that are also very soothing."

Below, you’ll find a curated selection of products that have helped me with my cancer skin. Sure, I still have dark circles that won’t go away. But my pigmentation is clearing up, my skin’s texture is smooth, and my blackheads are minimal. My skin isn’t bone dry all the time. Just sometimes.

A note: Everyone's skin is different, but this is what works for my skin.

1. Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar WaterBioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution is a staple on my dresser. It’s incredibly gentle on the skin while removing makeup, or used as a first cleanse.

The main thing? It doesn’t strip your skin! When the fatigue hits (and boy, can it hit hard), a few gentle swipes of this across my face and my skin feels refreshed and clean.

2. Murad AHA BHA Exfoliating Cleanser.

murad aha/bha cleansermurad aha/bha cleanser

Having cancer skin doesn’t mean I have to miss out on exfoliation. I love a face scrub, so long as you’re not rubbing hard - just enough to buff away dead skin cells.

Formulated with gentle exfoliating AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), Murad Age Reform AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser 200ml has visibly minimised my blackheads, leaving my skin bright and silky smooth with extended use.

3. Avene A-Oxitive Defence Serum.

Avene A-Oxitive Defence SerumAvene A-Oxitive Defence Serum

As cancer skin can be quite lacklustre due to the myriad of treatments, I’ve always relied on the brightening properties of vitamin C. I’ve found getting that glow is achievable when this ingredient is a constant in my routine.

Avène A-Oxitive Antioxidant Defence Serum 30ml has a high concentration of vitamin C that is delivered into the skin gradually, which, in short, is perfect for skin like mine. It’s a milky texture and goes on like a dream.

4. Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum.

 Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum

Murad Revitalixir Recovery Serum is one of my holy grail products. It’s been designed to combat the signs of ageing caused by stress. As stress is my middle name, no wonder I love this product so much.

This hydrating serum just Does. It. All. It has some of my all-time favourite ingredients like cannabis sativa seed oil, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide to refine skin tone, and caffeine to reduce puffiness – it revitalises and plumps my very thirsty skin. I love it.

5. La Roche-Posay Ciciplast Baume B5 Balm.

moisturisermoisturiser

If there was ever a product to write a love letter to, La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Soothing Repairing Balm would be it. This balm is amazing for soothing compromised skin, and has outstanding barrier repair capabilities.

Cancer therapy often leaves my skin feeling bone dry and sometimes, even sore. This brings it back to life.

6. Société Transforming Skin Complex.

Société Transforming Skin ComplexSociété Transforming Skin Complex

I somehow stumbled across Société Transforming Skin Complex and now I’ve tried it, I must always have it in my arsenal. It’s a lighter moisturiser packed with a rich blend of antioxidants, vitamins and botanical extracts.

I've noticed a huge difference in my skin since I started using it daily. Not only is it suitable for sensitive skin types, but it brightens, plumps, banishes dullness and rebuilds the skin barrier.

7. Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF 50+.

Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF 50Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF 50

A little PSA for all: sunscreen isn’t just for the beach. It’s for every day and everyone. Ever since Ultra Violette Lean Screen SPF50+ Sunscreen 75ml came out, I’ve been using it non-stop.

This zinc-only mineral sunscreen has a thicker texture, but once rubbed in, it's glow city! Cancer skin is particularly susceptible to sun damage so sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and covered shoulders always, please!

Two other products I have to mention are Plunketts Vita E Pure Vitamin E Oil and QV Intensive with Ceramides.

To put it very simply: if you have scars on your body, Plunketts Vitamin E Oil is for you. And the QV ointment formulated with ceramides to replenish the skin is the best thing for dry, itchy, scaly skin. Basically, it’s what you need if you have cracked skin on your heels or elbows from wearing compression garments – it will work miracles.

What I Want You to Know About Cancer Skin.

Over time, I’ve become a skincare aficionado, despite being told the narrative that people with cancer can’t participate in beauty.

This rhetoric teaches us that these skin conditions, illnesses or even disabilities are things to be afraid of. Only to be talked about in closed groups. Never have I wanted to change something more, to break that narrative and carve out a space for myself and everyone like me.

Cancer shouldn’t be hidden away, especially by the beauty industry. It should be embraced with open arms. Having cancer isn’t anyone’s fault – it happens. We need to embrace it and different standards of beauty, especially when one in two people will experience a form of cancer in their lifetime.

You can hear more from Natalie, and listen to her passion and generous storytelling in this episode of the Beauty IQ Uncensored podcast below.

This article is one thing, but for someone new to the cancer club who doesn’t have any knowledge, there are so many other pieces that need to come together in order to help people like me navigate the world of skin care.

As El Machar agreed, “We need to continue to raise awareness and equip therapists with the knowledge and understanding required to be able to treat and advise cancer patients on beauty related questions."

"It will require a collaborative effort between oncologists, GPs and the beauty industry. The responsibility also lies with brands and their efforts in developing an inclusive offering, so no client gets turned away."

Cancer skin isn’t just my skin condition, it’s the skin condition of all who live with this awful disease. And regardless of ability or skin condition, we should all be able to participate in the therapeutic ritual of skin care as self-care.

And maybe even one day, see ourselves reflected in it.

This article is one woman's experience. For professional, personalised medical advice, please see your GP or health professional.

Want more content on sensitive skin? Check out these stories from the Adore Beauty team below!

*SPF is only one part of sun protection! Always seek shade, and wear sunnies, a hat and protective clothing. Use sufficient sunscreen for all unprotected areas and reapply sunscreen as directed. Always read the label. Relating to testimonial-like content around SPF products, these opinions are solely those of the individuals involved, and not of Adore Beauty as a business. Testimonial-style content around SPF, supplements and selected devices from Adore Beauty staff are in full compliance with TGA guidelines.

    Join Now >
    Filled with the usual things we know you'll love, and surprises you might not expect, it's real rewards, really simple.