Editor’s note: Joanna Donovan is not a real name and was used to protect the identity of the individual.
When breast cancer survivor Joanna Donovan turned to her hairstylist of 10 years for expert advice and care after chemotherapy altered her hair and complexion, she never expected the service she received.
“Basically, she told me there wasn’t anything she could do for me,” says Donovan, a 45-year-old high school teacher from the Greater Boston area. Donovan believed that she had been treated very cruelly and with little compassion. Luckily, she did find another salon—one that not only made her feel better about her looks, but also, more importantly, restored a little of her faith in humanity. “They did wonders for my hair, and gave me all kinds of advice on my skin care and makeup. But, on a deeper level, they empathized with my situation in a personal way that truly touched me,” she says.
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Although Donovan’s experience may be the exception to the norm, it brings to light the sensitivity required by those who work in the beauty industry when serving cancer patients. One of the most important things to remember when helping these clients during such a difficult time is simply to listen. Be compassionate about how they feel and what they are going through. It also is important to remain aware of what you say and how you interact with these clients, while remaining as professional as you can.
Make a difference
It is difficult to see your client battling this terrible disease. It claims people from all walks of life and all ages; it doesn’t discriminate. Most of us have known someone—a client, co-worker, friend or loved one—who has been touched in some way by this disease.
You can make a difference in your client’s life with the experience, talents and gifts that you have been given, whether you are demonstrating how to style and care for their wig, or teaching them how to re-create their eyebrows. Never underestimate the power of how someone feels about the way they look. It truly is a part of their journey to recovery and wellness. Following are some helpful tips about skin care, hair, and makeup services and techniques that you can provide for your clients.
Cosmetics. Makeup can make an amazing difference for clients as their skin changes during cancer treatments. Think about how it can alter a normal face, let alone one that is challenged by dark, puffy eyes; inflammation; and yellowed, pale or gray skin tones caused by chemotherapy or radiation.
Communication is key to understanding where to begin. Listen closely as your client describes past makeup experiences. If she never has worn a stitch of makeup in her life, take the time to demonstrate with a few simple products. Teach her an easy two-minute makeup routine that will have her looking polished and refreshed in no time. For clients who already are used to applying makeup, show them either the most widely used five-minute makeup routine when they are short on time, or a complete traditional makeup application, if desired.
For clients who want a more in-depth makeup application, walk them through how to apply their eye shadows, shape their eyebrows and contour their cheeks by using bronzer, then blush, to highlight the upper cheekbones.
Eyebrows. Clients may experience either partial or complete eyebrow loss during their chemotherapy treatments. There are several options that will help them to re-create the brow area. Choose eyebrow makeup that is one shade lighter than the client’s hair color, unless they have gray or light blonde hair. In this case, opt for a slightly darker shade. Light brown and taupe colors work well for most people. Make sure that the hue selected is not too dark—this is a common mistake. For clients who have sparse eyebrows, try a colored eyebrow makeup formula that comes in a mascara tube and can be brushed easily onto existing eyebrows. This is available in a wide variety of shades.
Some clients will experience a total loss of eyebrows. If this occurs, introduce them to eyebrow pencils and powders to help replicate a natural look. Today there also are long-lasting cream wax eyebrow formulas.
Using an eyebrow pencil, follow the natural brow bones. Lightly feather or dot along them to form natural-looking eyebrows. Next, use a small angled makeup brush to apply eyebrow powder in short, feathery strokes. Blend well to soften and produce a more natural appearance.
For clients who have a hard time drawing in eyebrows by hand, suggest that they purchase eyebrow stencils. It is helpful to offer a nice range of these in various shapes and thicknesses.
Eyelashes. When a client has lost her eyelashes, two simple steps can help. Line each upper eyelid with either an eye pencil or eye shadow to give the illusion of having eyelashes. Depending upon the shape of the eye, consider lining the lower lash line, as well. False eyelashes are the second option, but only with a physician’s approval. Chemotherapy can leave clients vulnerable to irritation or infection. Most often, they opt for false eyelashes for special occasions, such as weddings. They are not recommended for everyday use.
Skin care. Chemotherapy treatments alter the texture and condition of the skin. As a professional esthetician, you should make your client aware of the changes she may start to experience and the services that will help, along with any home-care products to maintain healthy-looking skin.
Possible side effects experienced by cancer patients include increased oiliness, dryness, pigmentation, increased or decreased facial hair, and inflammation. Suggest appropriate services—such as hydrating, anti-aging, acne-clearing or aromatherapy facials—based on their skin type. Body-exfoliating and spray-tanning services also can be offered.
Hair. Before any hair loss occurs, suggest that the client snip a lock of their hair and save it. Also, urge them to take a close-up snapshot of their face to preserve their eyebrow shape and coloring.
When they start to lose their hair, ask them if they might like to try wearing a turban, a stylish scarf or other headwear accessories that could be coordinated with their clothing and brighten their facial features. If the client is bothered by losing handfuls of hair and is amenable, suggest a buzz cut. When hair loss begins, clients also can wear sleeping caps to catch shedding hair.
Explain how the scalp can become sensitive, and advise washing it with a mild shampoo—preferably one designed for dry, damaged hair. Urge them to pat their scalp dry, instead of rubbing it. Recommend that they cover their scalp when outdoors and always wear a sunscreen. This also is a good time to suggest scheduling relaxing scalp treatments. Let clients know that it normally can take six months to one year for their hair to grow back adequately. It most likely will not start to come in fully until chemotherapy treatments have been completed.
In the meantime, they may experience scalp sensitivity and fragile new hair growth. Recommend that they use a satin pillowcase when sleeping. Tell them to avoid treatments such as coloring or permanents until the hair is at least 3 inches long and the scalp is no longer sensitive. Have them continue to shampoo and condition with gentle products. For those who really want to dye their hair, offer a gentle alternative, such as semipermanent color. Do not use bleach to lighten any initial hair regrowth.
If your client wants to try a wig and your salon does not specialize in wig fitting, get to know a specialist in your area for referrals. Consider going with the client to the appointment, which usually lasts between one and two hours, to help with the selection. If you style wigs, let your client know before their appointment. A wig specialist will be able to help determine whether to choose a synthetic or human hair wig, or a combination of the two.
Knowledge and compassion
It is important to create a comforting environment for clients who are going through the rigors of cancer treatment. Loss of hair and other changes in their appearance can undermine even the healthiest self-image. Your knowledge and skills, combined with a compassionate attitude, really can make a difference in someone’s life.