How to Overhaul Your Beauty Routine During Breast Cancer Treatment: 5 Tips from a Survivor

Beauty editor and breast cancer survivor Caitlin Kiernan called upon all of her industry resources to help her get through her treatment. Now, she's sharing what she's learned

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Beauty editor Caitlin Kiernan’s life changed after she got a breast cancer diagnosis at 42. “It is no secret that a cancer is a major health crisis, but what most people don’t realize is that is also causes a major identity crisis,” she tells PEOPLE.

“Most of the physical characteristics that inform who we are as individual women — like our style and personality — slowly get stripped away by the side effects of treatment,” she adds. “My hair starting falling out. My breasts were removed. My nails began peeling, badly. I gained over 15 pounds. My skin aged overnight. All of the sudden, I no longer recognized myself. I felt lost.”

So she did what she had done for years as a beauty editor, and called on all of her industry resources to help her understand how to care for her hair, nails, skin and more during treatment. Now, she’s sharing all of her insider intel is in one place with Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer ($19.99;, available now, just in time for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. “I hope it empowers women to take back some control over their bodies while battling cancer,” she says. “It’s my way of paying it forward.”

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Plus, she’s giving PEOPLE readers a sneak peek inside her book by sharing her ultimate five tips for how to still feel like yourself after the diagnosis. Scroll down for Kiernan’s tips.

1. Swap Out Staple Beauty Products

“Chemotherapy changes the mucosal lining of the nose, altering the sense of smell. This changes, how your favorite fragrance smells will smell to you, and how it will smells on your skin. It can also create scent memories linking your everyday beauty items to random moments during your treatment. My advice: shelf your staple products — like your fragrance, body wash, lotion — as close to the day of your diagnosis. This way, your go-to beauty staples won’t remind you of this terrible time later on. Instead, choose items with skin-loving ingredients that are also scent-free.”

2. Apply Nail Oil Daily

“Many patients don’t realize how damaging treatment can be on their nails because changes don’t show up immediately. Nails grow at a very slow rate, so chemotherapy-induced changes typically appear two months after treatment began. Applying nail oil daily can’t reverse the damage but it will help it grow healthier and stronger. Look for oils with hydrating ingredients like Vitamin E, jojoba or sweet almond oil.”

3. Steer Clear of Antioxidants

“Antioxidants are skincare heroes because they help keep cells alive and healthy. This is exactly why you don’t want to use them during treatment! The whole point of chemotherapy is to kill cells so it’s important to avoid ingredients that work against or lessen the impact of your treatment.”

4. Focus on Foundation Formula

“Chemotherapy often causes what I call ‘mood skin,’ which is when your skin changes color, just like a mood ring. One day it will be sallow yellow, the next day it will be puke green, the day after that it’s ruddy pink. Instead of having five different foundations in your makeup bag, the simple fix is to opt for a stick foundation with subtle yellow undertones. The wax-based formula provides an opaque coverage that wears longer and the yellow undertone blends best with skin that’s constantly changing color.”

5. Brow Color is Key

“Drawing brows when you don’t have any can be tricky. Choosing a brow product that’s one shade darker than the color of your hair or wig will help your etched-on arches look realistic. When there isn’t any hair to layer the brow color over, you need a darker shade to create definition that helps frame the eyes. Also opt for a wax-based formula that will stay put even during a workout or hot flash.”

For more of our coverage of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pick up this week’s issue.

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