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!

By Sarah London

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 contain harsh ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, retinol and salicylic acid that will only dry out and irritate your complexion further.

How to treat acne during chemotherapy

When I was going through my own leukaemia battle 9 years ago, my sister Sarah used her extensive skin knowledge and expertise to formulate innovative plant-based oils that soothed my chemo-induced, irritated skin. Having completely transformed my sore, red and reactive skin, these very same blends 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 London is about" – Roseanna Croft, Feefo review

Free from essential oils and fragrance – and with the full ingredients list on the front label of every product – the entire By Sarah London collection is safe to use during and after chemotherapy treatment.

Just massaging in Sarah's plant-based blends, knowing they weren't going to cause my reactive skin to flare up, brought me so much joy. I looked forward to my 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 By Sarah London Balancer Oil-to-milk 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 London Balancer oil to milk cleanser

2. Target bumps or blemishes

Instead of aggressive spot-blitzing ingredients, our multi award-winning Ally Blemish Recovery Oil boasts upcycled hemp seed oil – a gentle and sustainable salicylic acid alternative. This healing blend 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. Apply a few drops all over or gently pat and press it into smaller clusters of spots.

By Sarah London Ally Blemish Recovery Oil

3. For extra replenishment

Our Ally Blemish Recovery Oil can be used both morning and night – or if your skin feels on the drier side, swap your morning application for our much-loved Hero Facial Oil. Another hard-working blend, this contains Sweet Almond Oil, Apricot Oil and Pumpkin Seed Oil to plump, soothe and nourish.

By Sarah London Hero facial oil

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 before your chosen oil – to leave skin balanced, radiant and restored.

By Sarah London Reviver Hydrating Mist

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


Written by: Lauren, Co-Founder, By Sarah London.

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