The beauty industry is alienating cancer patients.  This is why.

The beauty industry is alienating cancer patients. This is why.


Kirsty Oldroyd

43 days ago at 4:43 PM

Treating yourself to a pampering routine is a great way to bolster your mental health before, during, or after cancer treatment. Not all salons are prepared for the special needs of cancer patients or survivors though. Read on for some helpful tips on how to handle it from cancer survivor Kristy Oldyroyd.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer or finished active treatment deserves a little pampering.

After my cancer treatment, I took myself to a beauty salon, something I did regularly pre-diagnosis. A pampering session was supposed to distract me from scanxiety, but I left feeling more anxious than I arrived when I was told ‘no one here knows how to treat you now that you’ve had cancer, but you can come back when you have had your 5 year all clear’. I left open-mouthed; how was I supposed to respond to this?

I had read about people being treated differently by employers because of cancer, but the beauty spa was one place I did not think I would be treated differently. I thought this might have been an isolated incident, but now I know that I'm not the only person to have experienced this.

You are all too aware of feeling ‘different’ after cancer, so when someone publicly highlights your differences, it makes it even harder to find comfort in your own skin.

Why Do Salons and Spas Treat People with Cancer Differently?

It looks like one of the main reasons salons treat people with cancer differently is down to misinformation; an outdated and unproven idea that massage can cause cancer to spread.

There also seems to be a lack of training and education around the subject, with many salons unaware of what adaptations are required to safely treat someone with cancer. Add the potential insurance risks on top of this and salons aren’t willing to risk venturing into the ‘unknown’.

The beauty industry is alienating millions of people with their outdated and non-inclusive policies and must work harder to foster an environment of inclusion.

There is no denying that there are risks to be considered when going for beauty treatments during or after active cancer treatment, but cancer centers do offer holistic therapies, so we know that there are safe ways to treat patients.

How Can I Get Safely Pampered if I Have or Had Cancer?

With risks to be considered, it is important to discuss any beauty treatments in advance with your oncologist. Once you have the go-ahead from your medical team, the next step would be to seek out a salon or spa that has a specialist oncology trained cosmetologist or aesthetician. They will have received advanced training on how to modify beauty treatments to ensure a safe outcome for clients with cancer.

Specially trained beauty salons will be well educated in:

  • Understanding how chemotherapy/radiotherapy can cause thinning and drying of the skin, hair and nails, increased sensitivity, hyperpigmentation, acne, blistering, rashes.
  • The increased risk of lymphedema and extra precautions to take.
  • How to manage the increased risk of infections due to a weakened immune system.

Some hospitals and clinics do offer holistic treatments and may have on-site wellness centers. If you are going through active treatment, it might be worth speaking to your oncology team about therapeutic treatments that may be on offer or covered by your insurance.

Beauty Treatment Risks to Be Aware Of

Whilst there is evidence to show the benefits of safely administered therapeutic treatments, there are some beauty treatments that should be approached with caution due to the damage they could do to someone on active treatment or recovering from side effects.

Your oncology team may have already gone through a list of risks with you, but this list may also act as a prompt for further discussions with your team:

  • Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or stem cell transplants can leave you sensitive to ingredients that may be in massage oils, perfumes or beauty products.
  • Massage therapy can help reduce anxiety, pain, and fatigue in cancer patients but special considerations do need to be made, such as avoiding areas of surgery, broken or aggravated skin, areas of lymph node removal and lymphedema related swelling.
  • The skin barriers are often compromised in cancer patients due to invasive procedures (catheters, ports, surgery) or treatments (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, target therapy). With this being a concern, scrubs or abrasive treatments should be avoided as they may cause further irritation or break the skin and cause infection.
  • If you are suffering from or vulnerable to photosensitivity or hyperpigmentation, it is best to avoid manicures that use UV cured nail treatments.
  • Be aware of infection risks when having cuticles cut, it is better to use an oil to regularly moisturize and push them back rather than cutting.
  • Broken skin or ingrown hairs from waxing can result in infections, such as folliculitis, which can have greater health risks if you have a compromised immune system.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation can cause skin sensitivity that reacts to chemicals such as chlorine. Immunocompromised people should be aware of the potential risk of infection from hot tubs and pools as microorganisms thrive in warm water.

These are just general guidelines so it is important to check with your own medical team about best practices to follow during your specific treatment regime.

7 Steps to Safely Book a Beauty Treatment During or After Cancer:

Despite the list of reasons to be cautious, do not let it take away from your desire to safely access therapeutic treatments that can help you feel ‘human’ again. Here are seven steps to take to safely pamper yourself:

1. Consult your Oncologist before booking any beauty treatment so that you can discuss any concerns either of you may have.

2. Ask your medical team for a written note outlining that you are fit to be treated, covering treatments you are allowed and areas to avoid. The salon may require this as part of their insurance policy.

3. Look for a qualified oncology specialist who knows how to safely treat clients with cancer. Try the Society for Oncology Massage.

4. Contact the salon in advance to explain your situation. Ask how they will tailor the treatment to take into consideration any concerns. A good salon should put you at ease and do everything they can to make your experience as relaxing as possible.

5. Request skin and nail care products that are hypoallergenic, dermatologically tested and as natural as possible i.e contain no harmful chemicals. Check that products do not contain essential oils, alcohol or perfumes as these can aggravate and dry out the skin and nails further.

6. Don’t risk concealing your cancer diagnosis. Being open about your situation ensures you’ll have a more relaxing experience without the worry of adverse effects.

7. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Despite the additional steps in finding and booking a treatment, do not let this put you off pampering yourself. There are so many benefits to be had if you find the right therapist to pamper you.

It takes a lot of courage to go to a salon when you may already be feeling self-conscious, so to then be turned away and treated differently because of cancer is a huge blow to anyone's confidence.

Stimulating a positive self-image, such as taking time to be pampered, has a hugely beneficial impact on self-esteem and mental health and this is one of the most important steps you can take to promote your long term wellbeing after cancer treatment.

Pampering is high up on my wellness agenda now that I have found a specialist salon. I was not waiting 5 years to treat myself to a massage!


Last activity by Ashley Smith

Lucy Gidion

I'm sorry you had to go through that, Kirsty! people don't realize that you really do get treated differently after a cancer diagnosis.

Jess O

"The beauty industry is alienating millions of people with their outdated and non-inclusive policies and must work harder to foster an environment of inclusion." NOTHING more true than that in the article! I've had issues with this my whole life as someone with a disability and cancer was no different.

Anne Young

This is so useful, I didn't know I had to tell my spa technition about my diagnosis but it certainly makes sense, my skin has become so much more sensitive.

Elizabeth Cleveland

We all need to be pampered and it's good to know there's still safe ways of doing it!

Melanie Jones

I had the same thing happen to me! I had no idea that people were so strange trying to deal with someone who has cancer. I mean, I don't have leporasy, you can't catch my cancer!

Ashley Smith

So sad that this is happening to all of you!


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