How undergoing cancer treatment affects your skincare routine

We joined Holly Sherrard, Canadian Education Manager at Dermalogica, in Toronto to talk about how cancer treatment changes the way we need to care for the skin.
Woman Getting Facial at the Spa Photo, Istockphoto

1. Cancer is still the leading cause of death in Canada Though the death rates from cancer have declined in the last 30 years, The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that some 76,600 people will die of cancer in 2014. Skin cancer continues to be the most common cancer in Canada with an estimated 1,050 people projected to die from the disease in 2014.

2. Your heritage may factor into your risk The National Cancer Institute states, “People of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a higher prevalence of harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations than people in the general population. Other ethnic and geographic populations around the world, such as the Norwegian, Dutch, and Icelandic peoples, also have higher prevalences of specific harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.”

If you’ve got a familial heritage with these descents you should be more cognoscente of your cancer risks.

3. Your skin is the first line of defence When undergoing an oncologic surgery, whether it’s laser, electro or reconstructive, there’s always risks posed to the skin. Numbness, infection, scarring and edema are just a few of the side effects that can happen and it’s important to ensure the skin is being properly cared for.

Our immune response goes down after a surgery so it’s important to ensure a protective barrier is being created says Sherrard, “Having healthy skin is one step to help prevent infections.”


4. Be sure you’re going to a specialist When undergoing chemotherapy it’s especially important to see someone who is aware of your treatment and able to treat your skin with the care it needs.

For example, site markings from radiation can often resemble a burn, something most aestheticians would want to treat with a hyper-pigmentation treatment. But due to the fragility of the skin, this is not something Sherrard would recommend.

5. Choose the right service provider Sherrard recommends visiting a facility that caters to oncology patients to avoid unwanted germs that can attack an already weak immune system and ensure a client’s emotional needs are met.

Many people undergoing cancer treatment are physically and mentally sensitive, so it’s important to ensure their fears and anxieties are being addressed. Some spaces offer wig stands, bowls incase of vomiting and adjustable beds to ensure a client feels fully supported. Turning down the music and dimming the lights (to suit a client’s comfort level) are small things that can make a huge difference.

6. Know how the skin might react The side effects of treatment include, but are not limited to, dehydration, itchiness and sun-sensitivity. When you’re reaching for new products, be sure you’re consulting with someone who can speak to your medical history.


Sherrard recommends plant-based products for sensitivity and inflammation. Ingredients like oatmeal, arnica and Canadian willowherb gently build up the skin’s barrier. Dermalogica’s Redness Relief Primer SPF20 (available starting in August), which offers yeast oat and oat kernel oil, is a great option to calm the skin and reduce flushing.

7. You must communicate with your specialist If you’ve had any lymph nodes removed a therapist must avoid massage in that area or any limb associated with it. If you are suffering from lymphedema, it’s important to divulge this to your therapist.

8. Be sure your therapist wears gloves If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, therapists are advised to wear gloves. The skin acts as a detox system, and the drug can pass over to the therapist. Sheets should also be washed separately.

9. Know which treatments are not recommended Chemical peels, microdermabrasion and laser hair removal are all on Sherrard’s list of no-nos when undergoing any sort of oncology treatment. And while manicures and pedicures aren’t totally banned, they’re still not recommended because of your susceptibility to germs. “This also depends on the treatment and if the client has numbness or hand-foot syndrome,” she says.

Wraps are another big no for patients undergoing cancer treatment, as they are typically detoxifying and can induce vomiting. When you’re fighting cancer, your body is already working so hard to detox. Putting more stress on it can lead to serious illness.


10. Use a physical sunscreen It's imperative to use sunscreen whether undergoing cancer treatment or not. A physical sunscreen, like zinc oxide, is a great option because it deflects the UV rays (instead of turning them into heat on the skin) and helps prevent skin cancer.

We recommend: Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield SPF 30, $66.


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