From time to time I invite a guest to cover a niche area. Such is the case with beauty and aesthetics, hence this post to address a topic that can be either overlooked, seen as unnecessary by some, or viewed as indulgent by others. There are myriad ways we ‘look and feel’ wellness.
Jeanna Doyle is an expert Medical Aesthetic Provider and licensed cosmetologist with specialized training in oncology aesthetics and corrective makeup. Her book WigED is the first beauty book on wig selection for women. In addition to writing many articles on the subject, Jeanna delivers keynote speeches for beauty and medical industry giants.
When conceptualizing WigEd, Jeanna said, “I wanted to design something that spoke to a woman’s higher sense of self, that celebrated her beauty rather than reminding her of illness.”
Her newest venture is The Hopemore, a specialty spa located in the flagship Neiman Marcus in downtown Dallas. The luxury spa offers a full menu of exclusive services for women and men in treatment for cancer, and a complete offering of spa services that cater to all.
To reach a larger community of people in need, the spa recently created The Hopemore Podcast to offer expert beauty advice for those diagnosed with cancer.
Jeanna, take it from here, please.
By Jeanna Doyle
Among the many downsides of living with cancer is the ‘damage’ it can do to self-esteem and confidence. Many diagnosed with cancer feel conflicted about beauty routines during treatment because it seems as if vanity is being wrongly prioritized. The way we feel about ourselves—our individual beauty—is paramount to our healing. Beauty routines are a form of self-care.
Not only can the effects of living with cancer be debilitating—affecting energy levels and moods—ongoing cancer treatments can wreak havoc on the scalp, hair, nails, and skin.
Well overdue, the beauty industry’s latest frontier, oncology aesthetics, assists people with beauty and aesthetic needs from initial diagnosis, throughout treatment, to navigation of life after cancer.
Thankfully, there is much that can be done to counteract these challenges—individuals can regain a sense of their inner- and outer-beauty whether it is returning skin or hair to its former condition, even improving it from what it was, or achieving a new look through a new routine.
Although oncology aesthetics has grown in popularity in recent years, it has not been popularized, and there’s not much press about standards. An oncology-trained esthetician or cosmetologist assists clients with the following:
- corrective makeup;
- hair and scalp care;
- nail care;
- skin care;
- wigs and scarves.
This is important because how a person feels about their image matters. With some guidance for safety, and a few modifications, an individual can continue many of their favorite beauty routines. That continuity is a powerful tool in helping gain some control over treatment-related side effects.
Currently, the initial licensure for an esthetician or cosmetologist does not cover this specialized oncology training. To become an oncology trained aesthetician, certification requires licensed professionals receive advanced, post-graduate training.
The goal of the professional is to help individuals resume their daily activities with privacy, dignity, and confidence. Specialized oncology aesthetic training includes the following:
- practicum and theory;
- history of disease;
- overview of treatment;
- safety and sanitary considerations;
- product and ingredient knowledge;
- creation of tailored protocols;
- written and practical testing;
- recertification to remain current.
Some of the most common changes that occur during treatment are a result of chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation. They include:
- blotchy skin;
- dark spots and ridges on nails;
- dry, watery eyes;
- hair loss, including loss of eyebrows and lashes;
- pruritus (itchy skin);
- scars or bruising;
- skin ruddiness (redness);
- skin sallowness (yellowness);
- weight gain or loss;
- xerosis (dryness).
The Skin Barrier
Located in the top layer of the skin, the skin barrier (stratum corneum) has two main functions: 1) external protection—from threats like toxins, infectious agents, chemicals, and allergens. 2) internal maintenance—to protect the body from losing too much water.
Keeping the barrier function of the skin healthy during treatment is essential to appearance (therefore affecting how one feels about one’s looks) and it can keep treatment regimen on track (if the skin becomes too reactive, with open sores from dryness or itching, treatment may be paused until the condition no longer carries a risk of infection). During treatment, one’s white blood cell count may be lower, thus elevating risk of infection.
On the subject of skin: makeup can camouflage bruising, splotchiness, or discoloration such as ruddiness or sallowness. It can be hugely impactful for confidence when it is used to help restore the appearance of eyebrows and lashes.
Skin can become much more sensitive than usual after a diagnosis and during treatment—especially the eyes, which can become dry. Instruction on safe, effective methods of makeup application and the use of beauty products can make a difference to sensitivity and go a long way in improving a sense of identity.
A cold cap is a device worn during a chemotherapy timeline to help retain hair by preventing shedding. In most cases, cold caps prevent the majority of hair loss associated with chemotherapy; however, some patients report mild to significant hair loss despite proper use. Sadly, cold caps are not currently covered by insurance, so obtaining this service is an out-of-pocket expense.
A trained cosmetologist can offer solutions to help with partial hair loss following completion of treatment by employing the use of a wig topper (a wig designed to cover the top portion of the scalp) to blend into one’s natural hair. Hair extensions can also address areas of loss or thinning that occur until regrowth has added length and volume.
Hats, scarves, and/or full wigs also address the issue of hair loss. Even if a wig is not in the plan for daily wear, a well-chosen wig can help restore a sense of normalcy for work or other events—church or religious services, weddings, graduations, or holiday parties—when and where an individual wishes to keep treatment and diagnosis private. For many women, just knowing they have a wig can ease their anxiety.
Your nail care routine may require a few adjustments, but an oncology trained professional can assist you with a basic manicure and pedicure to conceal dark lines and ridges that result from surgery or medications. It’s important to note most surgeons require patients have unpolished nails during surgery to allow operative staff to monitor changes during the procedure. Plan for nail services accordingly so as not to have to remove polish from freshly manicured nails.
Post Surgery or Treatment
Following surgery or the completion of treatment, a patient may continue to experience physical changes and appearance-related side effects. An oncology trained esthetician, or cosmetologist, can assist with the most common post-treatment concerns, including:
- changes to nails (dark spots ridges);
- hair regrowth strategies (changes to texture and color);
- scars and bruising;
- thinning hair;
- weight gain or loss.
The Advantage of Professional Services
When selecting products for use at home, engage with a professional to ensure all ingredients are safe and will not exacerbate any skin conditions that can arise during treatment; product selection is key. Once products are selected, experienced professionals can share solutions and tips—for example: dry, itchy skin is a common complaint among those receiving cancer treatment… an excellent suggestion is to use a thin layer of a recommended oil, then follow it with the moisturizer that is best for you. This layer effect works well and keeps clothing safe from oil stains. Moisturizer aside, a professional will advise never to forget about hydration in the form of drinking plenty of filtered water throughout the day. We all require internal and external forms of moisture.
Professionals in this field are committed to high-quality service. This includes sharing information about what works and what doesn’t—hence The Hopemore Podcast, among other outreach initiatives such as SPOT-ON (Spa Professionals Oncology-trained and Oncology Navigators) which is the national organization of oncology trained spa professionals that can help you find a licensed professional in your area to work with you. Email requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, and additional information about the organization’s mission can be found on the group’s website www.spotoncares.org.
There are so many moving parts that contribute to the building of a person’s confidence. Whole self-care addresses the body, mind, and spirit. Beauty is not vanity. Beauty is, as the saying goes, more than skin deep—yet it includes the skin. One of the best lessons to include in the ever-complex journey of a cancer patient is never to underestimate how the external image can impact the internal attitude.
Thanks to professionals like Jeanna, who remind us about areas of self-care that we may let lapse, every person on a cancer journey can reconnect with their most positive self.
Want more beauty and aesthetic advice? Check out the debut episode of The Hopemore Podcast here.
Join my private Facebook Group Anticancer Thrivers—a community forum for achieving your best life while living with cancer.
Photo credit: bigstockphoto/Maria_Marganingsih