Ruth Silverton | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Beauty Hacks To Help While You’re Going Through Chemo

The Debrief: It took Ruth Silverton a few cycles to find the ideal ‘chemo beauty regime’ but here's everything that helped her feel like her

I couldn’t quite believe that, having been told I’d need to start IV chemotherapy, the first thing I thought about was losing my hair. Is that normal? Was I a terrible, superficial person? Or was I focusing on the trivial to avoid the sinister and serious? 

My job is as a bloody doctor. Few cancer patients would have understood better than I did the risks of not having treatment, and the implications of the treatment itself, yet for some reason, all I could think about was how it was going to affect how I looked.  18 months on I can give myself a break; now I know what a huge impact the changes in my appearance have had on me, and how they've affected both my state of mind and the ability to carry on with treatment. 

In 2011 I was diagnosed with a tumour in my abdomen (the left side of my, barely there, six pack had become a solid lump). A couple of months after my diagnosis I donned a hospital gown, said goodbye to the prospect of the perfect, pinterest-able body, and had surgery to remove the whole thing. Having just got back into the swing of work post-op, the niggling pain returned and the scan showed that the whole thing had recurred.

Over the past couple of years I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to experience a whole cocktail of treatments, all of which have had some pretty unpleasant side effects. From being menopausal at 28 to the joys of a ‘cold cap’ and IV chemo, I feel pretty well equipped to give you the beauty low-down on cancer, chemo and keeping your cool throughout.

The combination of drugs and no hormones got me from all angles; my skin became dry, dull and grey, the hot flushes I was having meant that my normal make-up wasn’t lasting the day, or covering up the redness, and the texture of my hair became brittle and coarse. Life felt totally out of my control and all the changes going on with my appearance were making it ten times worse. 
So, here’s what I’ve learnt so far:


You don’t have to spend a fortune on moisturiser, but you do need to spend the time. I’d never had to bother with much on my face or body before treatment, but I quickly realised that I was going to have to. Initially I threw money at the problem, but was relieved to discover that a big tub of E45, a healthy slathering of Oilatum face cream and a shiny new water bottle does the job brilliantly. Staying hydrated whilst you’re having chemotherapy is massively important for your skin, to keep your kidneys happy and make sure you’re flushing out any toxins that are building up. 

My magpie tendencies meant that getting a shiny new water bottle helped up my water intake (you’ve got to take the little pleasures in a situation like this). 
Another thing to remember is that your skin might be more sensitive with new medications on board. Mine was, and the fewer ingredients in the products you use, the less likely you are to have a reaction. After every shower, and before bed every night, I hydrated my skin like I was holding on to the last of a summer’s tan (you know what I mean, we’ve all done it...), and aside from upping the regularity of sheet changes, it was a pretty low maintenance way to keep a handle on all things skin.


They do say the grass is always greener and I went from cursing the need to wash my greasy hair every other day, to realising I wasn't producing any oil, at all. On the plus side I could go a week without shampooing, but my hair quickly began to resemble straw. For some women (and men) there’s the option of something called a ‘cold cap’ during chemotherapy. The idea is that you keep your scalp so cold whilst the drugs go in that the blood vessels shrink to be teeny tiny; less chemo gets to your roots, and the hair doesn't die. It worked wonders for me, and I only lost around 20%, but in combination with the medication, freezing my hair for 6 hours was making things worse. The fancy treatments at the salon did the job, but not as well as slathering my hair in coconut oil overnight before a wash.


I discovered the joys of primers. Not only did they help keep my foundation on through the sweats (super attractive), but I was able to use a green-based one to counteract the redness. My eyelashes took a pretty big hit and I couldn't maintain the layers of mascara because of the effects of removing it (the loss of, what seemed to be, 100s of lashes per day). So I became the world’s biggest Kohl eyeliner advocate. It’s amazing what a difference a 90’s style ring of black can make, and since I already had the hair (and mood) to match, I think I rocked the ‘grunge’ look pretty well!

All jokes aside, when you’re dealing with something like cancer it’s important to give yourself a break and take each day as it comes. Sometimes I needed to spend an hour in front of the mirror before I could face the world, confident no one would know what was going on. Other days I felt comfortable going out red faced, straw haired, and happy to talk about why to anyone who asked. It’s totally individual and a massive learning curve, one that I don’t claim to be at the top of. What I do know now is that I need to focus on what makes me feel happy and beautiful in that moment, and not what insta-filtered version of perfect I think I should be, cancer or no cancer. 

If you have a friend who might be going through a similar experience with cancer and you’re thinking of something to buy them to make them feel better, here are some of the products that helped me:

Lush Ro’s Argan In-Shower Body Conditioner

Smells amazing, locks the moisture in and doesn’t have any harsh chemicals in.

Origins Checks and Balances Cleanser and Drink It Up mask

A brilliant combo, the cleanser got my face squeaky clean and the mask works as an amazing hydrator (a perfect product to pamper yourself with during chemo infusions).

The Balm's Mary-Lou Manizer

Gave me a glow even on the days I felt a million miles away from ‘fresh’.

Clarins Instant Light Natural Lip Perfector

Am now the proud owner of every colour; hydration, pigment and gloss all in one, and they smell amazing.

The Body Shop's Vitamin E Overnight Serum-In-Oil 

Pure magic, haven’t stopped using it since!

Avalon Organics Shampoo

Ace at cleansing delicate hair without stripping it.

Charles Worthington Strength & Repair, Longer & Stronger Hair Masque

A splurge, but worth it, your hair needs some love during chemo. 

No 7 Colour Calming Primer

The green helped to counteract the redness, and there was so much redness.

You might also be interested in: 

Viagra, Balld Balls And Bruises: How Your Sex life Changes When Your Boyfriend Has Cancer

My Best Friend Got Breast Cancer And I Didn't Know How To Deal With It

Skin Cancer Rise Is Partly Down To Young Tan Seekers, Experts Claim... 

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Picture: Maggy Van Eijk 

Tags: Beautification