A visit to the salon can brighten anyone’s day, but for cancer patients, salon services can do far more. From boosting self-esteem to empowering patients with a more positive outlook, a trip to the salon offers benefits that are more than skin deep. In fact, in a survey of U.S. women, 97 percent of those who had been diagnosed with cancer said there is a connection between how they look and how they feel.
Taking control of appearance-related side effects, including hair loss and changes to skin and nails, led to improvements in confidence in the majority of women surveyed. In women reluctant to leave their home due to how cancer treatment has changed their appearance, a visit to the salon can be both cathartic and freeing.
“Self-care is very important, but we’re so busy these days that self-care gets put on the back burner,” says Kemi Fashina-Leeks, a salon technician at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) at Eastern Regional Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Visiting a salon helps you center everything back and invest in yourself.” Not all salons are created equal, however, particularly when it comes to the unique needs of cancer patients.
Some hospitals and other health care facilities offer onsite salons devoted to patients and their caregivers and families. Technicians specialize in helping clients with hair loss, wig fittings, skin issues and nails, which may become dry, brittle or break due to cancer treatment. Fashina-Leeks recommends that patients make their first visit to the salon prior to starting treatment, so the technician can go over what to expect.
“You can receive a wig or head shave consultation, get educated about scalp care and more, like lash and brow gel to help protect your lashes during chemotherapy,” she says. “During treatment, your stylist can work with you on side effects you’re experiencing and recommend options to help your skin and nails.”
What to Look for When Choosing a Salon
Ideally, it’s better to go to a salon associated with your hospital (in some cases, hospital-associated salons are also open to the public). However, if you can’t, you can still visit the salon — just be sure to watch out for safety and hygiene issues. All salon tools, like those used for manicures and pedicures, should be submerged in Barbicide, a disinfectant, for at least 10 minutes. Even better, bring in your own files and instruments when having your nails done.
As you’re waiting for your appointment, also keep an eye out for how technicians clean up after each client; bowls should be disinfected and wiped out between each service, for example, and if you’re not seeing this happen you should go to a different salon. If you’re having your nails done, make sure that your cuticles are pushed back or removed with a solution — not cut — to reduce the risk of infection.
“Ask the technician not to cut your cuticles. If a patient is on a blood thinner or is swollen from treatment, cutting cuticles can cause excessive bleeding,” Fashina-Leeks says, “So technicians shouldn’t be cutting cuticles.” She also urges using extra caution if you’ll be having your toenails cut. “If the technician isn’t confident in cutting toenails, they should just file your nails instead of cutting.”
In addition, look for a salon that uses fragrance-free products for hair, skin and nail care, and avoid those that use harsh chemicals on your skin. Products meant for sensitive skin may be better tolerated. As for which salon services are most beneficial for cancer patients, “I recommend facials, because chemotherapy and radiation can dry out your skin,” Fashina-Leeks says. “I also recommend a skin consultation to discuss where your skin is and where you’d like it to go.” If you like to apply makeup, she says, regularly replace your old makeup and thoroughly wash or sterilize your brushes.
Once you’ve found a salon that makes cleanliness and client safety a priority, allow yourself to indulge in the services that appeal to you. An hour spent in the salon can help you to look more like yourself again and, even more importantly, give you a renewed spirit as well.