Chemo Induced Facial Acne and Remedies

by Brian English

Chemotherapy is notorious for its side effects. But while hair loss, vomiting, and diarrhea get all the attention, there’s one lesser-known side effect that can be just as tough: acne.

Chemo Induced Facial Acne

It’s true: your chemo treatment might end up taking your face on a time trip back to those thrilling days of puberty. Who says chemo can’t make you feel young again?

It might seem minor, but the reemergence of facial acne during cancer treatment is an added source of low self-esteem for patients. You can get a wig, a scarf, or a ball cap to cover hair loss; facial acne is tough to hide.

“Since I've started chemo, I've started breaking out with acne,”  “Sore zits, mainly around my chin. Another woman I spoke with, said she has them on her cheek bones.” writes WhatNexter SnoopyMoody.

To be sure, facial acne during treatment is a common problem, but it’s important not to confuse blemishes with the acne-like rashes that can occur with some forms of chemo and radiation therapy.

Shoeless writes that his oncologist warned him that acne could be a potential side effect. “Pretty much there isn't a whole lot you can do except go off of the chemo,” he writes. “It's more or less something you'll have to deal with ‘til the chemo is over.”
To a certain degree, that’s true. But you don’t have to just sit there and accept it. Here are some tips to help fight back against a bad complexion during your chemo treatments.


The basic principles of avoiding acne don’t change from the time you’re 13 – you need to keep your skin clean. But what has changed is your medical condition, so you can’t just go to your old standby over-the-counter acne medicines. Many of those contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid that can irritate skin. 

Keeping Skin Clean With Sunflower Oil

Be sure to check with your doctor before buying medicated skin cleansers; your oncologist may even be able to recommend a prescription strength skin cleaner with milder ingredients like Cetaphil (such as clyndamicin or metrogel).

Some cancer patients have reported good results with using sunflower oil to clean and moisturize their skin. 


Chemo treatment can dry your skin. Most oncologists will recommend a prescription topical cream or ointment to use before a standard moisturizer. This might be applied before or after using another product. Again, the goal is to protect skin that’s made sensitive from chemo, and to avoid any undue irritation.

Whatever regimen is recommended, be sure to moisturize your skin in the morning and in the evening before bed – or even at times during the day.


If you can, be sure to drink as many fluids – especially water – as possible. Dehydration is a common source of dry skin and can exacerbate acne.

Keep Hydrated During Chemo


As a chemo patient, you’ll likely want to avoid excessively hot or cold temperatures anyway. But these are also situations that are not good for your skin. Dry and windy conditions can lead to cracked, rough, and flaky skin to begin with, and you’re even more at risk for these conditions while undergoing treatment.


There can be hidden irritants in many of the products in your home that you previously would have considered harmless. Many cosmetics, soaps, lotions and body sprays contain perfumes or aroma agents that can worsen already dry skin. Be sure to use only products that are labeled allergen-free or “for sensitive skin.”

Stay Away From Perfume During Chemo


Like lotions, many laundry detergents are full of scents and perfumes that can embed themselves in your clothes and irritate your skin. We’re talking about facial acne here, but your chemo treatments affect all of your skin (and your shirts are in close contact with your face pretty much all day long). It’s a good idea to choose laundry detergents made for babies, since these often don’t have scents or allergens. These are more expensive than usual detergents, but the cost is worth it.

Are you experiencing problems with facial acne during your chemo treatments? Share your solutions on the WhatNext

Blog Home