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Part II: Cancer and Skin Changes—Altered Sensation

By: Patricia Ringos Beach and Katie Morgan-Lousky
Posted: March 30, 2012, from the April 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
When working with cancer clients, be sure to use cotton linens and be careful not to crowd their personal space.

When working with cancer clients, be sure to use cotton linens and be careful not to crowd their personal space.

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Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord have been damaged, often by the cancer treatments themselves. This causes pain and other altered sensations. (See Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy.) Sometimes the symptoms are temporary and gradually improve after the treatment is completed, but sometimes the pain persists. Robin’s description of her experience, “hot marbles running up and down my head,” is especially vivid. Others describe difficulty walking because they cannot feel where their feet are touching down; problems holding a pen or buttoning a coat because of the loss of sensation; or experiencing pain when their hair falls out.

1. Initial assessment and analysis. When Robin arrived at Ahava Spa and Wellness Center in Toledo, Ohio, her skin was sensitive to the touch and to spa products; she was hurting. It is imperative that clients be assessed for exactly where they are in their treatments, and what they are experiencing. That is how you are best able to help and bring comfort.

2. Preparation and approach. A gentle approach was mandatory with Robin. Although estheticians love to take clients to that “special” place, which generally involves hot towels and massage, when they have sensory problems, it has to be looked at in a different way. Women receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy can have trouble with their temperature gauges. Many times, they are warmer than normal. If you couple that with a recent hysterectomy or chemically induced menopause, then hot is not good.

Other measures to consider in preparation for the spa experience are using cotton linens and being careful of any crowding of the clients’ personal space. If hot does not help these clients, try working with teas. Soak either towels or gauze in tea while it cools to room temperature. Teas are rich in antioxidants, and these help calm painful sensations. (See Teas and Healing.)


Robin’s spa treatment plan incorporated cooling elements, and avoided anything that was hot or that produced heat, such as massage oils or creams. The products used were organic and soothing. Highlights included the following.

  • No steam was used.
  • Eye pads were soaked in tea and cooled to less than room temperature.
  • The exfoliant used was mild and natural.
  • Cool towels soaked in teas were used to transition between each product.
  • During the massage, a gel-form mask acting as a massage cream was applied at room temperature with cool water. Fingers were remoistened with cool water to allow for a nice glide.
  • A gentler touch was used because of the client’s heightened sensitivity.
  • A calming mask was applied at the end of the service to infuse the skin with essential nutrients.
  • A finishing serum was applied for maximum skin support.

Evaluation and follow-up