Avenue Aesthetics

Love Yourself

Oncology Aesthetics – What is it?

Many thanks for all your positive responses to my blog entries so far and I hope you are finding the information useful. It is my goal to offer you tips and ideas that will help to elevate the professionalism of our business and make the experience continually better for our clients.

In late February of this year I took part in a four-day intensive training course to become a Certified Oncology Aesthetician. It was the first ever training of its kind in Alberta, so it was really exciting to attend. The founder of this training, Morag Currin, led our class and I hope that we can look forward to more in the future.

oncBut what exactly is oncology aesthetics?

For those who are unfamiliar, oncology is the medical term pertaining to cancer and oncology aesthetics refers to the practice of modifying spa/aesthetic treatments to make them safe for cancer patients and survivors.

Let’s consider an example.

A young woman goes through breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy and, finally, radiation. Her skin is fragile, extremely sensitive, and has a radiation burn, so healing has been greatly compromised. She has lost a breast and some lymph nodes under one arm, so her lymphatic function in that area has been reduced, resulting in a swelling known as lymphedema. She feels ugly, unfeminine and anything but normal, and on top of everything else she is struggling with depression. Add the general exhaustion caused by radiation treatments and the loss of some or all of her hair, and you have a woman who is enduring a great deal of hardship.  So she wants to start having facials to try to get her skin back to normal.

Before you can begin you must have a doctor’s letter giving her clearance to have spa services – you don’t want to do anything to cause her any additional problems. When she first arrives at your shop you need to have her fill out a detailed intake form, providing you with as much current information on her health as she can. This is crucial to be able to provide her with the safest treatment possible.

Before beginning any treatment, ask her how she is feeling at that moment. Is she tired or nauseous, and is she dealing with any pain or swelling or any other kind of discomfort. Her answer will guide you in how to proceed – or if you even can.

When working on extremely compromised skin it is best to use fewer products with few ingredients, and you need to avoid any ingredients which could cause irritation. Additionally, cancer patients are often sensitive to fragrances, even naturally derived ones, so they are best avoided. In general, products used should be as natural as possible, having very few chemical ingredients. Also consider that some products cause rapid cell growth for healing and may be contraindicated, depending on where she is in her treatment. Application and removal of the products must be done gently, with as little drag on the skin as possible. It is essential to use products with lots of slip, to avoid irritation.

To perform any massage on a client who has had lymph nodes removed you must be very familiar with the lymphatic system – this is so that you can redirect the lymph fluid to pathways that haven’t been cut due to surgery. In the area of surgery itself, massage should be avoided altogether to prevent the extreme swelling that can result from improperly directed lymph fluid. Also, if you are not familiar with the lymphatic system and the directional movement of lymph fluid, avoid any kind of massage treatment at all. Instead, consider alternative therapies like reiki, laying on of hands or other gentle, non-stimulating treatments.

Check in with the client regularly throughout the treatment to be sure they are comfortable. You want their treatments to be a positive experience and the best way to ensure this is to talk to them. It has been shown that care of this kind by another person can be emotionally uplifting for an oncology patient, and that their immune response can be positively affected. But be prepared: receiving nurturing spa treatments can also trigger emotional release in the form of crying. As a professional beauty therapist you must be able to offer support and comfort to your client at times like these.

During and following the spa treatments proper protocols must be observed for keeping the environment as clean and free of bacteria as possible so not to endanger an immune-suppressed client. Any linens used for chemotherapy patients must be laundered separately from all other salon laundry, using appropriate cleaning products to remove any bio hazards (sweat, vomit, blood, etc.). And be sure that linens don’t have any scent that could trigger irritation or physical discomfort.

If this all sounds like something that might be going on in a hospital, you’re right. In fact, right now in Italy oncology aesthetics are being conducted at the San Raffaelle Hospital in Milan, and oncology aestheticians are being hired to work in cancer centers in a number of cities in North America, valued for the knowledge they bring to the table, and for being a much needed physical and emotional bridge between the doctors and their patients.

So that’s what oncology aesthetics is all about, and as time goes along it’s only becoming more and more critical to a woman’s ability to manage her journey through the often devastating side effects of cancer.

I’m delighted to address any questions you may have. Please feel free to contact me by Email or in the comments.


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