Make-up, tattoos and tans – staying ‘you’ through cancer

Makeup, skin tone, piercings and tattoos might be an important part of who you are. Feeling like the decision to make changes to your body is still within your control, even if you have to temporarily put things on hold, can make a big difference to how empowered you feel.

Can I wear make-up during cancer treatment?

Make-up can play an important role in boosting confidence and helping you feel more like yourself. It is normally fine to wear make-up during treatment but you should always check with your care team first. You should also check if you have had treatment to your face or neck or had a skin reaction.

Getting started with make-up

You might not have worn much make-up before. Or you might find your skin tone has changed so you need to try out new products. To help make sure you get the right products you can:

  • Try out products before you buy them at a makeup counter or by ordering samples
  • Check what they look like in natural light
  • Test new products on a small patch of skin.

You should not feel pressured to buy anything. Take your time to decide what is right for you.

Types of make-up

There are lots of different types of make-up you can use to help you feel more confident during or after your cancer treatment. There are products which can help disguise dark circles, rosy skin and the loss of eyebrows and eyelashes. Below are some of the most popular.


A green-tinted primer can help colour correct rosy or flushed skin which is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Primers can also make your make-up last longer. Try to pat the primer onto your skin as rubbing can make redness worse. You do not need to use much. You can then apply foundation or concealer on top. Try to ensure you pick a foundation that is compatible with your primer for the best look. For example, a silicone-based primer paired with a water-based foundation may cause your make up to look patchy.


Dark circles are common whether you have cancer or not. But they can become worse if you are stressed or tired. Concealer is a good way to cover dark circles. Try going for one which is one shade lighter than your skin. This will help brighten your eyes. If concealer alone is not enough, you can apply a colour corrector first. Think of a colour wheel and go for the opposite shade.


Your skin tone can change during cancer treatment which might mean you need to change your foundation. Look for one that is not visible at your jawline. You might want to go for a sheer or light option. Foundations with a dewy finish will help brighten your skin. If your skin is dry you might want to try a tinted moisturiser instead.

Bronzer and blush

Bronzers and blushes can help bring colour to your skin. Cream blushers tend to work better if you are using a creamy foundation. Power products work better with matt foundations. To apply blusher, smile and put a small amount of blusher on the apple of your cheeks. Then blend towards the top of your ear. For bronzer, apply to your forehead, cheeks and down the middle of your nose. Always make sure to buff out well to avoid obvious lines.

Eyebrow and eye pencils

Your cancer treatment might mean you lose your eyebrows and eyelashes. Before treatment starts, take a picture of your eyebrows so you can match their shape. Use an eyebrow pencil in a slightly lighter shade than you would normally use for a more natural look. There are also now eyebrow temporary tattoos which some have found easier than hand drawing!

If you lose your eyelashes, use a soft waterproof eye pencil to avoid irritating the eye. If you still have some lashes, you can lift the eyelid and colour in between them.

Keeping make-up clean

It is even more important than normal to keep your make-up clean during cancer treatment. There are some simple steps you can take to make it is as safe as possible to use your make-up:

  • Wash your hands before applying any make-up
  • Make sure everything is still in date
  • Avoid pumping your mascara wand into the tube
  • Take eye make-up off using a separate cotton pad for each eye
  • Clean your brushes and sponges regularly
  • Always put the tops and lids back on after use

You should also avoid sharing make-up, brushes and flannels.

Extra support with make-up during cancer

Look Good Feel Better is a charity specialising in health and beauty for people with cancer. It offers workshops online, and in hospitals and care centres. It can help with tips on everything from recreating missing eyebrows to colour correction during hot flushes.

We run online groups with Look Good Feel Better. Find out more here.

Make-up counters

Make-up counters can give you advice on the best products for your skin and show you how to apply them. You should tell them if you have had a reaction to any products in the past.

Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors are specially trained to help you manage the visible side effects of treatment. Find out more and check if your local store has one here.


Lots of us feel better when we have a bronzed glow. But you should avoid sunbeds as UV rays increase the risk of skin cancer.

Instead, choose tanning products for sensitive skin. When using products apply them to a small area first to be sure they do not cause a reaction. If you are unsure which products are safe you should always check with your care team.

There’s no need to hide from the sun during cancer treatment. But you should be sensible and protect yourself using products with a high sun protection factor (SPF).

Tattoos and piercings

Tattooing and body piercing can be a great way to express yourself. But you should wait until after your treatment as you’re at a higher risk of picking up infections.

Waiting isn’t fun for anyone but it does give you something to look forward to after your treatment. As Seren explains in her video, waiting might make getting a tattoo more meaningful given what you’ve been through.


Seren talks about her experience of tattoos and piercings during and after her cancer, as well as how she used make-up to make herself feel better on treatment.

Reviewed on May 2023

Next review due 2027

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