Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can leave your lips very dry and cracked. Here are tips for coping plus the best recommended lipsticks...

Who doesn’t feel better for a touch of lippy? Our Community Forum and Facebook group members would definitely agree that lipstick always makes a difference. As Elaine T says: ‘Red lipstick can help you through the worst of days!’ 

But cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy can leave your lips dry and cracked – ‘feeling like leather or sandpaper’, as one member puts it. So, how do you choose the right lipstick when you are going through treatment or have just finished? And what can you do to help keep your lips in good condition and looking their best?

Which ingredients to avoid in a lipstick - always check the small print

Six years ago, the University of California published the results of research into the metal content of lipsticks. This revealed the presence of up to eight metals, including aluminium, cadmium, chromium, lead and manganese in the 32 lipsticks and lip glosses tested. It triggered a run of articles warning about the dangers of lipstick – and a parallel run assuring people that using lipstick was fine… The jury still seems to be out on this but, here at Live Better With, we tend to the view that it’s a sensible precaution to avoid using cosmetics that contain metals, especially when you are going through, or are recovering from, cancer treatment.

But many lipsticks don’t just contain heavy metals, there are other ingredients that are best avoided too, such as petroleum, or petroleum-derivatives. So before buying any lipstick, check the ingredients; the main ones to look out for – and avoid - are:

  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
  • dyes and colourants such as D&C Red 22 Aluminium Lake and D&C Red 36
  • lead (and other metals such as mercury and those listed above)
  • methylparaben
  • mineral oils (derived from petroleum)
  • petrolatum (petroleum)
  • polyparaben 
  • retinyl palmitate 
  • tocopheryl acetate

What to look for in a lipstick 

The more natural the list of ingredients, the better and, if they are organic or predominantly organic, that’s better still. Look for certification by organisations such as NATRUE, which is committed to protecting and promoting natural and organic cosmetics. (You can download NATRUE’s current product criteria here.)

Our top lipstick buy for dry, chapped lips

‘I got the light pink and its a very pretty colour and hasn't dried my lips out at all like normal lipsticks have.’ 

One of our favourite make-up brands is Lavera - not only is it NATRUE certified but none of its products are tested on animals.

Lavera Colour Intense Lipstick is a soft, creamy and organic formula that moisturises the lips, prevents them from drying, and keeps them soft and smooth for long lasting care. This makes it ideal if you are going through chemo but want to continue wearing lipstick, which can often be very drying. It’s available in our online shop in three colours: Frosty Pink Red 19, Secret 24 and Caramel Glam 21.

Here’s why Lavera lipstick ticks all the boxes:

  • 100% certified natural cosmetics with high quality organic plant ingredients
  • 100% free of silicone, paraffin, phthalate, plastic microbeads and mineral oil
  • 100% free of parabens, GMO free
  • 100% free of synthetic fragrances, colourants and preservatives
  • skin compatibility - dermatologically approved
  • no animal testing



Learn how to apply lipstick perfectly!

Breast Cancer Care has some great online video tutorials to show you how to make the most of makeup. These include advice on applying lipstick and lip gloss and how to stop lipstick from bleeding, which you’ll find here.

Our top tips for lip care during cancer treatment

  • Get into the habit of applying a good quality lip balm, morning and evening. As well as soothing and protecting your lips, it acts as a good base for lipstick. Read our article on lip balms here.
  • Gently exfoliate your lips once or twice a week to get rid of dry, dead skin. You don’t need to buy any special products, try an olive oil and sugar scrub like this one, which you can use on your face and body too – it’s one of the best-kept beauty secrets! If you’re not keen on olive oil, use almond oil instead. 
  • Aloe vera is one of nature’s best moisturisers and contains vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Keep a plant at home - they’re very low maintenance - and use the gel from inside a leaf to soothe and rehydrate dry, chapped lips. 
  • If your lips are extremely cracked and dry, try applying organic honey (manuka honey is ideal); it works as a deep-acting moisturiser and helps to prevent infection.
  • Cucumber slices are not just for the eyes! Cucumber is a natural gentle moisturiser so pat a few onto your lips, while you are relaxing or when you are in the bath.
  • Green tea is full of antioxidants, minerals and polyphenols, which reduce inflammation. Try soaking an organic green tea bag in warm water and rub gently across your lips; it works as an extra gentle exfoliant and will soften and remove excess dry skin.

Have you suffered from dry and cracked lips during cancer treatment? Are you looking for advice on lipstick and lip care or do you have tips you’d like to share? Why not join the Live Better With Cancer Community Forum?