Skincare after diagnosis

Jennifer answers some all important questions for a magazine interview with 'your magazine'

How will my skin change during treatment and is it inevitable that my skin will suffer?

There are many different types of cancer, a huge range of treatments and many side-effects of those treatments – not everyone will experience all side-effects. However, many patients, about 40%, do experience dry, sore, sensitive, angry, flaking skin and fragile nails as a result of chemotherapy. Radiation treatment can also be damaging to skin, resulting in burns, similar to sunburn.

Should I change my skincare routine and the products I use if I’m undergoing cancer treatment?

A good skincare routine, for both face and scalp, will help the skin as it is challenged by cancer treatments. I always suggest a minimum of twice daily cleanse (using a moisturising cleansing balm) tone and moisturise. If one has lost hair, the facial cleanse, tone and moisturise can be extended to include the scalp. My top tip is to consider the scalp as an extension of the face. Many people tell me that they don’t know how to look after their scalp but if they can care for the skin on their face, they can look after their scalp too. Many patients decide to change their skincare products when they are diagnosed or when treatment begins. After diagnosis it is very common for people to start to examine their diet and lifestyle. I have met many who consider cancer their wake up call, their motivation to make changes. Some of the ingredients in their skincare products cause them concern and they look for ‘clean skincare’. For others, their skin becomes so sensitive, dry, sore and itchy that they can no longer enjoy their usual skincare products. Patients have an increased need for skincare products but few brands are suited to their skin condition. Also, cancer patients want clean products that combat certain conditions, such as their itchy skin and damaged nails. Chapped lips can also be a painful and inconvenient side effect of treatment. Moisturising and nourishing natural skincare products, created for those living with and beyond cancer, can make a real difference to quality of life.

What should I look for in the products that I use during my cancer treatment (gentle, soothing, any particularly beneficial ingredients etc)?

Most cancer patients want natural skincare products. Treatment for cancer exposes patients to many toxins and they don’t want to add to their toxic burden. Natural skincare ingredients can be very effective against the common side-effects of cancer treatment. When I was asked by my local NHS cancer centre to work with them to create a skincare collection for cancer patients, I started with ingredients that were best suited to sensitive skin and them looked for more which were known for their soothing, calming and healing properties. Cancer patients have super sensitive skin so I keep the number of ingredients per product to a minimum. We have only balms and oils in the specialist collections as creams and lotions are complex formulations, requiring many ingredients. The greater the number of ingredients the more likely a reaction, no matter how natural the ingredients. Specialist skincare for cancer patients will take all of these factors into account, and more.

Any skincare ingredients I should avoid?

Healthcare teams often give advice about ingredients that should be avoided. There is great variation across the country. Patients should seek advice from their local healthcare team. The lead chemotherapy and radiotherapy nurses that we worked with to create our specialist skincare for cancer patients advised the avoidance of plant oestrogens (such as Aloe Vera and Avocado) and strong fragrance. In addition to this I avoid some essential oils and complex formulations such as creams and lotions.

Will my skin have different needs (do I need to be more careful in the sun etc)?

It is likely that skin will be more sensitive and reactive. The use of a natural body oil and twice daily skincare routine for face and scalp will help to improve skin condition. Radiation treatment can cause a greater sensitivity to the sun, as can many chemotherapy treatments. Healthcare teams will give advice about sun exposure as part of their patient care. Most affected by cancer strive to avoid the sun as it is carcinogenic.

Will my nails suffer too and any tips to help them?

Nail related side-effects are common, associated conditions range from fragile, easily broken nails to loss of nails on both the hands and feet. The use of a natural nail oil three times a day can reduce the severity of nail damage caused by chemotherapy. We have a nail trouble shooting guide which helps patients to manage some of the more common side-effects. Anything else I’ve missed? Nope, you are good at this

Why do you feel it so important that patients receive this kind of support (support around beauty issues) during and after treatment?

Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer but they do have fewer beauty products available to them. Looking good is just as important to men as it is to women. Specialist appearance related support is vital when undergoing treatment for cancer. This is the time of greatest challenge – the beauty and holistic industry should be there to help.

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