Safe Ingredients in Oncology Esthetics


It is estimated that there will be more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2015.1 How does this affect your practice? Do you ask if someone is undergoing cancer treatment on your intake form? Would you treat someone undergoing cancer therapy or turn them away? If you treated their skin, what products would you use? What would be the goal of your treatment? With the rising number of people being treated for cancer, Oncology Esthetics is in demand. With the proper knowledge you can expand your practice to include this growing population.

When treating oncology skin there are several factors that need to be considered. Someone that has recently received, or is undergoing oncology treatment has special skin needs.

Chemotherapy often causes dry, irritated skin and severely dry skin that becomes inflamed can be susceptible to infection2. Some forms of anticancer medication, like chemotherapy, can make skin more prone to sunburn, sensitivity, itching, rashes, pigmentation changes and palmoplantar erythrodysesthesia (painful skin lesions on the palms and soles of feet).2,3,4 Chemotherapy targets the fastest growing cells since cancer cells are very prolific. Our skin, hair and nails are also fast growing which is why they are affected.

External beam radiation therapy directs high-powered x-rays or particles through the skin to target cancer cells. This form of cancer treatment can cause thinning of skin, desquamation, fibrosis, erythema and may even cause a burn and ulceration. 5,6

Esthetic treatment should be focused on protecting, healing and moisturizing the skin. Leaving those stimulating treatments and products until long after oncology therapy has finished, so the skin has time to recover and has some of its resilience restored. The last thing this skin type needs is stimulation that can cause irritation, exaggerate existing issues, or worse yet, interfere with their cancer treatment.

When looking at what products to use think safety first. Calming, soothing, hydrating products are best but even though a product states its calming and soothing you must look deeper to know if you should be using it. There are many harmful ingredients in skincare, though there is a push by professionals and the public for the industry to clean up its act. Not all natural or organic products are safe for an oncology patient. A popular myth is that there are no side effects because botanicals use “natural substances”, but some practitioners are concerned about the well-known side effects and contact dermatitis that can occur with topical natural herbal preparations 7.

Chamomile has been a long time favorite botanical and ancient herbal medicine to use for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic properties. It promotes wound healing, is a natural moisturizing agent and decreases itching, as well as having anticarcinogenic properties and has been shown to be 60% more effective at treating eczema than hydrocortisone 8. Many clinical studies have proven it to be a safe ingredient to use but there have been some reports of contact dermatitis.7 The percentage of people who react to chamomile is very low and is more common in those with ragweed and chrysanthemums allergies so be sure to check your clients allergy list and have a seasonal allergy section included.

Soy is a controversial ingredient, although it benefits the skin by inhibiting lipid peroxidation and reactive oxygen species, having anticarcinogenic properties and restoring barrier function and moisture; it also has phytoestrogens and should be avoided with certain types of cancer.9

Tea and coffee ingredients have a large presence in cosmeceutical formulations due to their high polyphenol content. They have been shown to have photoprotective effects, from sunscreen like protection to preventing cancer from UV radiation as well as improve wound healing and calming inflammation.9 Caffeine, that is usually present when using these ingredients, has even shown an anticarcinogenic benefit when applied topically 10. It also has vasoconstrictive properties which can decrease blood circulation decreasing the amount of nutrients our body supplies the skin.

Natural is not synonymous with safe. Many synthetic ingredients that mimic the structure of their natural counterparts do not carry proteins that can cause inflammatory responses. Chirally correct options deliver benefits without as many side effects. As well as some synthetic preservatives are safer than natural alternatives like high amounts of essential oils.

Just because a product is labeled as natural or Certified Organic doesn’t mean toxic chemicals or harmful natural ingredients aren’t present. The USDA – Certified Organic Seal mean 95% or more of the product must be organic. What’s in that 5%?

Become yours and your client’s advocate for ingredient safety. There are many resources out there like NIH, Google Scholar, EWG and CIR and the more reputable the source used the better informed you will be to make your own decision.

When an oncology patient comes through your door be prepared. Research lines and products that are already approved by oncology esthetic organizations like Osmosis’ Tropical Mango Mask with butters and oils from fruits and nuts that help restore barrier health. Take an advanced training course in Oncology Esthetics to receive hands on experience and be better informed on how you and your client can be safe. Not every oncology patient that you see can have a treatment even with the right products on hand and each case is different. The best thing you can do is have the power of knowledge and your touch available to heal the multiple aspects of what oncology treatments can entail.

Osmosis Oncology Friendly Products include:

Purify cleanser, Quench moisturizer, Refresh PM hydrating eye cream, Protect sunscreen, Organic Apple Mask for calming, and Tropical Mango Mask for soothing. Along with various products from the Osmosis Colour Mineral Makeup line such as the pressed bases powders for flawless natural coverage, eye liner and eye brow gel for definition and no smudge wear ability, and lip gloss for a shining finish to provide clients with safe products that allow inner beauty to shine outside.


  1. www.cancer.org/research/cancerfactsstatistics/cancerfactsfigures2014
  2. www.webmd.com/ovarian-cancer/features/appearance-during-chemo
  3. www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/chemotherapy/chemotherapy-side-effects
  4. AL Branzan, Skin changes with Chemotherapy, Hautarzt (0017-8470) 56 (6) 591 (2005)
  5. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001918.htm
  6. F Haubner, Wound healing after radiation therapy: Review of the literature, Radiation oncology (London, England) (1748-717X) 7(1) 162 (2012)
  7. C Thornfeldt, Cosmeceuticals containing herbs: Fact, fiction, and future," Dermatologic surgery (1076-0512) 31 (7) 873 (2005)
  8. Gupta, Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with a bright future (Review), Molecular medicine reports 1791-2997 3(6) (2010)
  9. AF Stallings, Practical uses of botanicals in skin care, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology (1941-2789) 2(1) 36
  10. YP Lu, Topical applications of caffeine or (-)-epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) inhibit carcinogenesis and selectively increase apoptosis in UVB-induced skin tumors in mice, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 0027-8424 99 (19) 12455 (2002)


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