Battling cancer with your war paint on!

We’re delighted to welcome a new contributor to Happy Magazine this morning – Elfreda McGowan is a breast cancer survivor, make-up artist and beauty therapist and she’ll be joining us regularly to share her best beauty tips for a cancer journey. Today her post is all about a make-up routine for a natural look during chemo.

For me, presenting myself as well as I can is part of my identity. Having worked in the make-up and beauty world for years, I’ve always loved experimenting with new looks, different eye make-up, hair, lip colours etc. Having a diagnosis of breast cancer was the scariest day ever, I felt lost, disconnected from reality and wondering would I ever feel half normal again, I had to stop working and try and get myself better.

The day after my first chemo, my sister-in-law shaved my head, I didn’t actually mind it too much. Although I was used to having long dark hair down my back, I still thought it looked kind of funky, and the 3mm stubble still gave colour around my face, unfortunately that only lasted a couple of weeks before even the stubble fell out, along with my eyelashes and eyebrows. I decided that I felt better by continuing to do my make-up, of course, with a few changes. I found that even having the bald head, gave me a blank canvas, trying to look on the bright side. I could experiment with eye and lip colours and match them depending on the head scarf or wig I wanted to wear. I felt happier facing the world, and didn’t get many of the ‘oh look at that poor girl’ stares. Don’t get me wrong, there were days when I could barely crawl out of bed, and getting into a tracksuit was a win, but I viewed looking after myself that way as an outlet and made me feel less rubbish.

During chemo, we all generally look pale and gaunt and it hard to know where to start, so I’ll give a breakdown of my daily routine for a natural look. At the end, I’ll give the details of where I got the products I used, which are both high street and natural/organic, depending on which you feel comfortable using.


Keeping your skin hydrated is a must. I used a serum, moisturising oil toner twice a day, after cleansing my face with a gentle cream cleanser, absolutely NO FACIAL WIPES, they will just dehydrate your skin even more, and leave a nasty residue of alcohol and dirt sitting on your skin. I haven’t completely switched to natural organic products myself, but do incorporate some of them into my routine. I love Trilogy as a brand, I use their Trilogy Rosehip Radiance Botanical Beauties, it’s a set of serum, rosehip oil, and cleanser for €45.74. They also do Trilogy Hydrating Mist Toner €20.95 which is wonderful and hydrating, the rosehip oil is really nourishing and hydrating and leaves your skin feeling amazing!


After skincare, I used a primer with a little bit of a sheen in it, it brightens the complexion, which is much needed during chemo, it also helps the foundation look and sit better, I love Giorgio Armani Light Master Primer €48 or for anyone who prefers a natural brand, Inika Organic Pure Primer €33.74, will keep your makeup put and your skin feeling great! I used my fingers to apply the primer, and then a flat-headed brush to apply foundation, apply a thin layer starting from the centre of your face and out, making sure to blend it down onto your neck. Pick a foundation, Luminous Silk by Georgio Armani €49 is my favourite, but I also love Lavera Natural Liquid Foundation €12.40 (sale price) which is natural and perfect for sensitive skin and comes in a good range of shades. Choose a shade that is nearest the skin on your jaw, not your hand, checking in the daylight is the best way to make sure a foundation matches. If you prefer a more natural look or don’t like the idea of foundation, there are some fantastic BB creams and tinted day creams on the market, Loreal Nude Magique €14.99 or for natural brand lovers, Dr Hauschka Tinted Day Cream €33.16 is fantastic! A lot of BB creams and tinted day creams have SPF in them also, which is a bonus. Next I applied Korres Black Pine Concealer €23.50 which is light reflective and creamy and offers a medium to high coverage, it has a blurring effect on the skin and is perfect for dark circles under the eyes and covers blemishes perfectly. Finally to set the foundation, I used Mac Mineralize Skin Finish Powder €36.50 or natural brand Korres Natural Wild Rose Brightening Powder €24.02 which comes in a handy compact, it’s great to carry around if you are experiencing hot flashes during chemo.


A nice bit of blusher in a peachy pink tone will lift your complexion and give you a healthy glow which is much needed during chemo. My favourite ones are Too Faced Papa Don’t Peach €30 and natural brand Lavera So Fresh Mineral Rouge Powder in Charming Rose €10.67 (sale price).


For a quick easy fix for the eyes when I was tired, I loved liquid or cream eyeshadows like Charlotte Tilbury Eyes to Mesmerise for €26.00 or a fabulous natural eyeshadow Korres Volcanic Mineral Twist €16.01 which is available in five colours, my favourite one is No. 29 Golden Bronze and I wore it a lot during chemo to give me a lift, they take seconds to apply and don’t crease.

If your eyelashes are falling out or completely gone, you can use false eyelashes if you like, there are hypoallergenic glues available, and you can trim false eyelashes to make them more natural looking too, but its tricky and can take time to master, so a lot of people steer clear of them, if you don’t want the hassle of fiddling around with lashes, you can line your upper and lower eyelids close to the lash line with a soft pencil such as Urban Decay 24/7 Glide On in colour Stash €19.50 or natural brand Korres Volcanic Minerals Eyeliner No. 2 Brown €10.29, smudge the line with an eyeshadow applicator so it’s not as harsh, then go over the line you’ve smudged, with a similar coloured powder eyeshadow in a brown such as Georgio Armani Eyes To Kill Solo No. 4 €32, or Lavera Beautiful Mineral Eyeshadow No. 4 €6.75 (sale price). This will give some much needed colour and texture close to the lash line, which really helps, as a lot of women feel that losing their eyelashes is what actually makes them look as though they’re going through treatment, even more so than their hair, I know I did.


Eyebrows are really important, as they frame the face, when we lose them during chemo, it’s hard to know where to start filling them in. Using a harsh line with a pencil, can look quite artificial, so it’s important to try and get them as natural looking as possible. Use the ridge of your brow bone as a guide. You want to get the brows as even as possible, the first thing to do is to place a dot with the pencil on the brow ridge parallel to the inner corner of your eye. Then put another dot where your natural brow would have ended, usually just past the outer corner of your eye. Using a brown pencil, softly make diagonal hair like lines along ridge of the brow bone between the dots, then brush over it with a brow powder for added texture. This takes practice, and works best if there is still some hair that’s gone a bit sparse. If your eyebrows are completely gone, there are stencils you can buy such as Eylure Taking Shape Brow Stencils €4.87, you can pick the stencil shape you feel happy with, and fill it in with powder. There are other things you can do too, such as semi-permanent makeup, where you get a type of semi permanent tattoo. This can look really natural and takes the hassle out of painting your eyebrows on, but it’s not for the faint hearted. I’ll go through this in more detail another time.


I loved a gloss on my lips, especially during chemo, it’s quick and moisturising and gives a nice shine. I love Bourjois Effect 3D Max Lip Gloss €10.99 or Korres Cherry Lip Gloss €13.72, available in different colours from natural to more bold.

So there you have it, that’s what I did for a natural look during chemo. It might take a little bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll feel like you’re fighting cancer with your war paint on!

The natural products mentioned above are available to buy through the Happy Magazine Shop or all products mentioned are available from the following stockists:

Trilogy, Dr Hauschka –
Georgio Armani Cosmetics –
Inika –
Lavera –
L’Oreal, Bourjois, Eyelure – Boots Ireland
Urban Decay, Too Faced –
Mac, Charlotte Tilbury –
Korres –

In June of 2017, Elfreda found out she had breast cancer, it was a terrible shock but she faced it head on! She has completed chemo and radiation and is still receiving the drug Herceptin until October 2018. Elfreda is a professionally trained make-up artist and beauty therapist, she has vast experience in makeup and beauty and broadened and refined her skills working in salons in Dublin and London. She has worked as a makeup artist for well known brands, most recently, Georgio Armani, and also works freelance, taking part in shoots, weddings and other special occasions. Her passion for all things make-up and beauty-related, and love of helping people feel good about themselves, has her very excited to be able to share her knowledge with the readers of Happy Magazine.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.