The physical impact of cancer treatment can be unexpected, especially in the ways it may alter the patient’s appearance. For women, these appearance-related side effects can be particularly difficult, as they may lose their hair and experience changes in their skin, nails, eyebrows and eyelashes.
Look Good Feel Better is a program dedicated to helping women with cancer cope with changes caused by treatment.
Striving to create a sense of normalcy for patients, the program offers lessons on skin and nail care, cosmetics, wigs, styling and more. For those fighting for their lives, the importance of feeling confident, beautiful and uniquely themselves cannot be undervalued.
Chemotherapy and radiation take a toll on the skin. It’s common to develop rashes, redness, dryness and/or sensitivity while undergoing treatment. Because of these side effects, many women may need to make changes to their skin-care and makeup routines.
1. Keep everything clean. Cancer treatment can weaken your immune system and increase your vulnerability to infection, so it’s important to make hygiene a top priority when approaching skin care.
2. If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, don’t stay in the sun for longer than a few minutes and always wear a broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher. Don’t use any kind of hormone cream like hydrocortisone.
3. If you’re undergoing radiation, wash the treated area with warm water — no soap or cream — and pat gently to dry. If the treatment area becomes itchy, you can sprinkle cornstarch on it, but don’t scratch. Consult your doctor before applying any lotion, cream, perfume, concealer, deodorant, etc., to the treated area. If you notice any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling or irritation, talk to your doctor.
4. Foundation and concealer can help create a healthy, even skin tone and mask blemishes or discolorations. If treatment has left your skin looking sallow, color-correcting cosmetics, such as purple-toned primers, can help. Blush and bronzer also can make skin look more vibrant.
A common side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss, though women may lose all, a little or none of their hair. This is dependent upon the chemotherapy drug used and the length of treatment. No matter the extent of the hair loss, it can be an upsetting side effect that leads to self-esteem issues, anxiety and depression. Fortunately, there are options.
Some women feel empowered by change and embrace their new look. Others feel more comfortable using hats, turbans and headscarves. These are great options for those looking for an endless assortment of styles, colors and more affordable options.
For women who prefer wigs, choosing the right one can take lots of care and consideration.
Tips for buying a wig
1. There are many types, including synthetic, machine-made, handmade, custom-made and human hair. All come with different pros and cons, and the best option depends on personal preferences. Be sure you know what kind of wig you’re buying and how to care for it; each type of wig requires different handling.
2. Consider shorter wigs in a shade or two lighter than your natural color. Shorter styles are easier to maintain and don’t tangle as easily, while the lighter color brightens your appearance and can offset changes to skin.
3. In warm climates like Las Vegas’, look for wigs with a loose mesh cap. It will be more comfortable and allow your skin to breathe.
4. Don’t rush. Ask plenty of questions and take your time choosing. It can be a very personal process, and you should leave feeling confident and pleased with your purchase.
5. You may want to purchase some accessories that will make caring for and styling your wig easier. These include a wig cap, a stand, shampoo, spray, conditioner, gel strips, a hairnet, hairpins, rollers and a wire wig brush.
Where can I purchase a wig?
Hair salons, beauty supply stores, wig stores, hair-replacement centers, catalogs or online. You can call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) for a recommendation, too.
Women in serious financial need may be able to obtain a donation via the American Cancer Society, CancerCare or other local organizations. You also can ask your doctor about prescribing a “cranial prosthesis,” which your health insurance may cover.
Mascara can mask thinning lashes. Look for thickening or volumizing mascaras in black for a more defined look, or brown for a softer, more natural look.
There are a few ways to re-create the appearance of eyebrows if chemotherapy has caused them to thin or fall out. Choose a powder eyebrow color, a cream color or an eyebrow pencil in a color similar to your natural hair color. Use light, feathery strokes of color when applying. You can either create the shape yourself or use eyebrow stencils.
Chemotherapy can cause nails to become weak, brittle and discolored. Keep your nails short, use water-based polish and avoid nail polish remover with acetone it in.
How to get involved
The American Cancer Society, the Personal Care Products Council Foundation, and the Professional Beauty Association work together to maintain the Look Good Feel Better program. They’re always looking for experienced beauty professionals such as hairstylists, aestheticians, makeup artists and nail technicians as volunteers.
You can find more information, donate and apply online at lookgoodfeelbetter.org or by calling 1-800-227-2345.
Patients who want to participate in the program at the Breast Center at Sunrise Hospital or another location in the Valley can sign up by calling the American Cancer Society at 800-227-2345.