Skin Care Dos and Don’ts for Chemotherapy Clients

Written by Julie Bach, executive director of Wellness for Cancer

Proper context is imperative when working with a client who is receiving chemotherapy for cancer. Skin care professionals are not treating cancer; they are working with the presenting conditions of a client and their skin. Presenting conditions can be caused by medical treatments for cancer, side effects from medications, or even nutritional status.

According to Cancer Treatment Centers of America, at the time of diagnosis, 50 percent of individuals are nutritionally deficient. Not everything the professional sees during a skin analysis is a result of cancer treatment. When a person's individual ecosystem is in disarray, havoc is wreaked on the skin, hair, and nails.

In general, cancer treatments can cause or worsen dry skin because they slow down the skin's ability to renew itself. The most common side effects from chemotherapy include sensitive, dry, dehydrated, and reactive skin. Additional side effects may include mild to severe hives, acne-type lesions, and blistering.

When prioritizing time spent during a facial, the professional should first focus on their client's sensitivity and then work to replenish the skin's barrier.

During the consultation, professionals should stick to the information that they need to know in order to perform a safe and nurturing service. Do not get lost in the conversation of oncology. Clients seek time away from cancer and do not want to be defined by it. They are not oncology clients; they are human beings first and should never be defined by a disease.

Avoid giving advice outside the scope of license or pretending to know what exactly is going on with a client. Furthermore, do not make false product or service claims. Unless the product being recommended has the backing of a clinical trial, be very careful of wording. Just because it appears to be working for several clients does not mean it will work for all clients, nor is it ethical to tell them so. There appears to be a movement in the skin care industry stating that products are oncology-safe. Unless there is a laboratory involved and actual clinical data that is clinically evaluated, it is best to not put a product's brand at risk by making false claims.

Use gentle products. If it is harsh, active, stripping, or exfoliating, it should not be used. Hypoallergenic products reduce the risk of potential allergens. It is also best to moisturize, hydrate, and soothe the skin and avoid heat, extractions, steamed towels, and friction during facial massage.

Be sure to recommend the very minimum for homecare regimens, suggesting the use of a facial cleanser, serum, moisturizer, lip serum, and eye product.
Furthermore, always recommend that clients use sunscreen. Most anticancer medications will increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun. Studies show that skin cancer rates are greater in cancer survivors.

The professional should always be aware of conditions that may affect their service, such as risk of lymphedema, edema, erythema, neuropathy, hand-foot syndrome, lymph node removal, medical devices, nausea, and the client's experience with pain.

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