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How to treat acne during chemotherapy: the best products and ingredients

Most people are familiar with the idea of hair loss during cancer treatment but what about the other beauty-related battles it brings? Did you know – along with skin dryness, irritation, chapped lips and even red hands and feet – acne breakouts can be a side effect of cancer medication?

While some patients may experience an increase in blemishes, an acne-like rash – dubbed 'chemo rash' or 'chemo acne' – is even more common. And because this kind isn't actually formed from spots and zits as we know them, treating it calls for a totally different routine and army of products altogether.

Read on to discover how...

What is chemo acne?

If you've been plagued by a crop of red spots following cancer treatment, chances are you're suffering from 'chemo acne' that's caused by chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and stem cell transplants. It comes under an umbrella of side effects known as 'skin toxicity' and can show up as pus-filled pimple-like bumps or blisters on your face, neck, chest or back.

While it's often said that this is a sign your cancer treatment is working, it doesn't make it any easier to cope with when you're feeling itchy and sore. The good bit? We've got your back!

Acne ingredients to avoid during cancer treatment

When you've been hit by the red bumpy skin you last encountered as a teen, your first thought is probably to reach for the same potent zit-zappers? It's best to avoid many of these as common anti-acne products, including benzoyl peroxide that will only dry out and irritate your complexion further.

How to treat acne during chemotherapy

When our co-founder Lauren was going through her own leukaemia battle in 2012, her sister Sarah used her extensive skin knowledge and expertise to develop innovative plant-based skincare that soothed her chemo-induced, irritated skin. Having completely transformed her sore, red and reactive skin, those very same skincare formulas now make up our multi award-winning collection that's loved by so many other cancer patients.

"The products are incredible. I have just started chemotherapy and my skin has never felt better. I’m so glad I found these amazing products. The customer service is also amazing. I so love everything By Sarah is about" – Roseanna Croft, Feefo review

The full By Sarah skincare range is Dermatologically Approved for Sensitive Skin. We avoid synthetic fragrances, essential oils and ingredients known to irritate sensitive skin – the entire By Sarah range is safe to use during and after chemotherapy treatment.

Gently applying Sarah's formulations, knowing they weren't going to cause Lauren's reactive skin to flare up, brought her so much joy. She looked forward to her morning and evening skincare rituals that helped inject structure and fun to days laden with treatment, fatigue and, at times, frustration.

Try this simple chemo acne-fighting routine for yourself...

Chemo acne skincare routine

1. The best gentle cleanse

Cancer treatment can leave skin unbelievably sensitive and fragile so steer clear of alcohol-loaded face wipes and foaming face washes containing drying sulphates (like sodium laurel sulphate or SLS). Instead choose our Balancer Cream Cleanser that whisks away makeup, SPF and sweat (thanks hot flashes!) without stripping skin. Simply massage it in using circular motions then wash away with warm water to remove.

By Sarah Balancer Cream Cleanser

2. Target bumps or blemishes

Instead of aggressive spot-blitzing ingredients, our multi award-winning Ally Recovery Facial Oil boasts hemp seed oil, jojoba and papaya. This healing, lightweight facial oil cleverly brings the skin's disrupted microbiome into balance (a common effect of chemo) while reducing inflammation and bacterial infection. The result? Redness is eased and skin feels calmer, smoother, clearer and more comfortable. Massage a few drops into cleansed, damp skin or after your moisturiser.

By Sarah Ally Recovery Facial Oil

3. For extra replenishment

Our Ally Recovery Facial Oil can be enjoyed both morning and night. For extra nourishment, massage your face oil into skin after enjoying the Maven Daily Moisturiser - clinically proven to hydrate, soothe and nourish.

By Sarah Maven Daily Moisturiser

Our Reviver Hydrating Mist is another chemo skin superstar. It specifically cares for your skin's microbiome and protective barrier - both of which can take a hit during cancer treatment. Simply veil on throughout the day – or after cleansing and before applying your moisturiser and face oil – to leave skin balanced, radiant and restored.

By Sarah Reviver Hydrating Mist

4. Enjoy a gentle boost

Don't miss out on the best actives. Supercharge your skincare with the Vitamin C+E Booster and Bakuchiol Booster, designed for all skin types and Dermatologically Approved for Sensitive Skin. The final “boosted” step in your daily morning and evening skincare routine has just got better.

The Vitamin C+E Booster is the ultimate wake-up call – brightening skin and protecting against pollution and UV damage. As the day draws to an end, reach for the Bakuchiol Booster, formulated with a phyto-retinol, plant-based alternative to retinol that's scientifically proven to combat hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles.

By Sarah Vitamin C+E Booster

Please note: You should always seek medical assistance if you experience any new rashes, peeling or redness following cancer treatment. 


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