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Skin Care for the Cancer Patient

Geralyn O'Brien

A Q & A with Geralyn O’Brien, licensed and oncology-focused esthetician, Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center

What skin care services do you provide at Waterford Place?

I provide skin care consultations – half-hour one-on-one appointments. Participants bring in their current products and we review the ingredients and discuss their skin needs. Skin reactions to ingredients in products are a major source of discomfort for cancer patients. Early intervention at the start of treatment is one of the key factors to helping minimize or prevent skin reactions or conditions from developing. Skin becomes more sensitive due to chemotherapy and medications associated with cancer care so I want to make sure the right products are being used.

I also provide facials for skin health. I recommend a monthly facial during treatment to help calm, soothe and hydrate skin.

In addition, we provide a class each month called “Simply Beautiful.” It is a fun, interactive class and everyone goes home with a kit full of skin care and makeup products. Each participant does her own cleanse, hydrating mist, moisturizer and makeup application. Products and companies are carefully chosen and follow my mission to use safe, effective products free of synthetic fragrance, artificial dyes, harsh chemicals, skin irritants and known skin sensitizers. We choose products to help nourish the skin and address skin conditions associated with cancer treatment like dry, itchy, sensitive skin. As always, skin care is individualized and we make sure we take into account each person’s known allergies, sensitivities or any topical medications they may be using. Each participant goes home with a folder containing additional information about the companies and products we used along with an overview of subjects associated with cancer care. To register for an upcoming “Simply Beautiful” class, call 331-301-5280 or register online.

How does an oncology-trained esthetician differ from an esthetician?

Estheticians pursue additional training to learn the basics about oncology and gain a better understanding about the side effects associated with cancer treatments. We do not treat or diagnose skin conditions. Our ultimate goal is to help our clients maintain healthy skin throughout cancer treatment.

Becky Kuehn, founder of Oncology Spa Solutions, teaches a three-day training for estheticians. Her goal is for skin care specialists to know and understand the skin so we can support, strengthen, protect and work with the natural functions of the skin barrier. After treatment ends, Waterford Place likes to connect clients with salons and spas that have estheticians who are oncology-trained and will take into account our participants “new normal” and help in restoring and renewing skin in the healing phase of treatment with good quality products and a more non-invasive approach. Many clients will have lifelong adjustments due to surgeries, lymph node removal, radiation and ongoing medications. Surgeries, chemotherapy and medications can bring on menopause many years before natural menopause so all of this will need to be taken into account for skin care services.

What are some of the challenges you see when teaching cancer patients to make healthy choices in choosing skin care products?

Most people think if a product says organic or natural it is perfectly safe to use. However, many plants, essential oils and herbs can also be irritants and cause allergic reactions. Not all synthetics are bad and not all natural ingredients are safe. We weigh all the ingredients as a whole. I recently had a client who said she was told to just use water on her face because products have too many chemicals. I explained that water is a chemical substance, too, and far too alkaline to only use on her skin. I explained the pH scale to her with water falling at around 7. We need products to be pH-balanced like our skin which falls around 4.5-5.5. We calmed and soothed her skin after her facial and brought back the nutrients and hydration she needed.

I choose skin care and makeup companies that have high standards and understand not every product from their skin care line will be safe for a cancer patient during treatment. There are many good product lines – both professional and over the counter – to choose from and it is important to find what works for you. Learn to read labels and make healthy, informed choices. We want to simplify and minimize what you use but also make sure it is a safe and effective product for your skin needs.

Please describe a healthy skin care regimen for a cancer patient to follow.

A. Cleanse

Always cleanse your skin twice a day even if you don’t wear makeup. Cleansing removes dirt, grime, sweat and other pollutants from the skin. Before cleansing, use jojoba oil on a cotton pad to remove your makeup. Or you can purchase a microfiber makeup cloth that uses only water to remove makeup. Bed, Bath and Beyond has a four-pack of the soft cloths called Erase Your Face.

After removing makeup, use a creamy pH-balanced cleanser free of fragrance, dyes, sodium laurel sulfates and parabans. We don’t want any harsh cleansers or exfoliants that will strip skin that is more fragile during treatment. The cleansers we use at Waterford Place are Hale & Hush™ and NeoGenesis.

B. Hydrating Mist

Hydrating mists should be alcohol-free with soothing ingredients such as aloe, calendula and hyaluronic acid (sodium hyaluronate). Hydrating mists help replenish and nourish dry, dehydrated skin, calm and soothe red, irritated skin, provide an extra hydration boost before moisturizer and can also be used to set makeup. Mists can be used throughout the day for hot flashes or an extra boost of hydration. I will recommend one based on each client’s skin needs. My favorites are NeoGenesis Mist, CV Skinlabs® Rescue + Relief Spray for more sensitive, irritated skin. BodyCeutical’s skin line based on the calendula plant has aloe or calendula facial mists.

C. Moisturize

Due to the compromised immune system, we want to prevent skin becoming dry and cracked as this becomes an entry for bacteria and viruses to enter. Once the barrier is broken down, it is harder to bring skin back to a healthy state. After showering and while skin is still damp, apply a hydrating moisturizer to face and body. If choosing a plant-based oil, choose one free of fillers, fragrance, dyes and synthetics. Jojoba is one of my favorites for body care. Another way to incorporate jojoba is to use it for dry, cracked cuticles – a common side effect of cancer treatment. Jojoba nourishes the scalp, helping to soothe, condition and soften dry skin. Add a few drops of jojoba into your facial or body moisturizer for an extra dose of hydration.

My favorite jojoba is from the Jojoba Company out of Maine. Their involvement from growing the plants to following high standards in their processing methods produces a pesticide-free golden jojoba. My favorite body lotion for chronic dryness is CV Skinlabs® Body Repair Lotion. For your facial serums and moisturizers, CV Skinlabs®, Hale & Hush™ and NeoGenesis have products geared to each individual’s needs.

D. Sun Protection

Chemotherapy and some medications can make the skin more photosensitive (highly sensitive and reactive to sunlight) so sunscreens are of utmost importance. Use a broad spectrum physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Suntegrity® is a good facial sunscreen that can be purchased tinted to use in place of makeup. They also have an SPF lipstick.

E. Makeup

In our “Simply Beautiful” class we recommend mineral-based makeup. Mineral makeup is made by blending and grinding loose pigments such as zinc, titanium, mica and iron oxides. Mineral makeup won’t clog pores or settle into fine lines and wrinkles and is suitable for all skin types. Fewer ingredients mean less chance of skin irritation and reactions. We use Advanced Mineral products in our class. Additional brands include Couleur Caramel, Hynt®Beauty and Mineral Fusion®. Look for brands free of synthetic fragrance, talc, coal tar and bismuth oxychloride.

Geralyn O’Brien, a licensed esthetician, specializes in oncology-focused skin care. She provides free skin care consultations and facials to cancer patients at Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center. For more information or to schedule a consultation or facial, please contact Waterford Place at 331-301-5280.