Beauty during cancer: Skin care tips

Oct 7, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. ET

Cancer treatments can wreak havoc on a woman's skin, which makes a strong skin care regimen all the more important. The American Cancer Society and a top skin care expert gave us some skin care tips to kick cancer in the face.

Mature woman

Chemotherapy and radiation are often the uncomfortable but necessary treatments to undergo when facing a cancer diagnosis. We visited with two women — the American Cancer Society's Patti Ramos and Rhonda Allison, the CEO and founder of Rhonda Allison Cosmeceuticals — to pick their brains on how to feel beautiful and confident during cancer treatments, especially when faced with skin discomfort.

How does skin change during chemo and radiation?

As a skin care expert and aesthetician for over 30 years, Rhonda Allison knows a thing or two about the specific and sometimes painful changes skin can experience during cancer treatments. "During chemotherapy and radiation, the skin thins significantly and wounds easily. It also becomes very dry, tender and depleted of nutrients," she says.

Which skin care regimens are recommended during cancer treatments?

Even though skin changes are inevitable, Allison says that women don’t have to resign themselves to skin discomfort during the treatment process: "Creating a good skin health treatment plan will help to maintain a healthy appearance and aid the skin in retaining nutrients and hydration, which will reduce discomfort and moisture loss and aid the skin in reparation."

The first skin care technique that Allison recommended is a gentle facial and massage. Facials and massages should focus on healing and hydrating rather than on stimulating the skin, since the skin is delicate. She recommends facial and skin care products with omega-6 EFAs, grape seed oil and orange oil to help reduce inflammation and hydrate the skin. These treatments should be done by someone who has an understanding of skin changes caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

Patti Ramos also offered her thoughts on skin care regimens: "Gentle is the key for women undergoing treatment. Nothing abrasive. Exfoliation is still important but many of the products you find on the market may disrupt delicate and changing skin." If a patient has questions about what is good for their skin, they should speak with their doctor or a knowledgeable aesthetician.

How can women feel beautiful and confident when their skin changes?

Between all the skin changes and other symptoms associated with cancer treatments like nausea and vomiting, weight fluctuation and hair loss, a woman's confidence can plummet quickly.

Both Allison and Ramos emphasized that targeted skin care treatments can help ease feelings of insecurity that accompany skin changes. "It’s important to understand there will be some changes to the skin, and equally important to mentally prepare for these changes. Patients should take the time to pamper themselves, because this will boost confidence," Allison said.

Ramos also offered her tips for retaining a sense of confidence during a tumultuous time: "To say beauty is all physical is a misconception. Women often feel most beautiful when they look healthy. When women know their treatment will not only affect how they feel, but also their appearance, it can be difficult to handle." She recommends finding a workshop like a local Look Good Feel Better to learn how to treat skin gently and relearn how to apply makeup.

Products and programs to help

Beauty products for breast cancer patients

Allison offered a few specific product recommendations to help ease skin discomfort during cancer treatments:

  • Arnica Therapy: The Arnica Montana Flower in this formula helps speed skin healing, reduce inflammation and promotes hydration.
  • Energizing Peptide Spritz: Use the spritz all over the body to stimulate cell renewal through the help of goji berries and other antioxidants.

Ramos also had recommendations on how to pamper both skin and confidence:

"The American Cancer Society is a valuable resource to support women's beauty and confidence during cancer treatments. We offer the versatile Look Good Feel Better program, which is a free, national service program that helps women cancer patients improve their appearance and self-image by teaching them hands-on beauty techniques to manage the appearance side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment."

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