If you, or someone you know and love, has ever gone through cancer treatment, you know one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome can be getting used to looking at the 'new' you. Everything from your nails to your skin, to your hair, changes. Over the years, cancer survivors have shared the sage advice they learned through personal experience and now, more than ever, there are ranges of products and services available for women undergoing treatment who hope to keep up a tailored beauty regime.
Jess Moloney (28), from Dublin, is a trained make-up artist who experienced cancer in her family and felt compelled to use her expertise where it could be most effective. So last August, she became Boots' cancer beauty adviser.
"I've worked in cosmetics for the last 10 years with MAC, and outside of that, I was involved with Look Good Feel Better, a free hair and make-up workshop available free of charge for women with cancer," she explains. "It's one of my favourite parts of my job.
"I'm quite passionate about cosmetics and how it makes people feel and this is something within my power that I can help with. It's quite rewarding. Working in cosmetics can be slightly on the superficial side, so it's nice to have something more grounded."
The biggest question she gets asked is: 'What can I use on my skin?' Your usual ingredients may prove too harsh and it's recommended you continue a more gentle approach six months to one year after your treatment concludes.
Here, Jess issues advice on tips, products and ingredients to look out for...
"In terms of what you can or can't use, there isn't a list. A lot of cancers are treated in different ways and your consultant will advise you on the best practice for you. Generally, you want more gentle products - anything with exfoliators, glycolic peels or cleansers won't work. Strip your routine back in favour of a nourishing and calming ingredient. Skin tends to get super-sensitive during that time, but something rich like shea butter will help. Go back to basics in terms of washing your face - I would use very simple ingredients. A lot of people think they need to use exclusively organic, but that's not the case. Rose hip oil or similar can be softening on the skin and have a huge impact."
"One thing I always hear from women at the end of their treatment is, 'I don't feel sick but people know because of my hair'. In terms of brows, it can be different for everyone because some lose the full brow and others are sparse. Everyone's brows are different as it is, so sit with an expert who can direct you to what will suit you best. If you've completely lost both of your eyebrows, try a brow stencil, especially if you don't normally wear a lot of make-up. Eylure springs to mind in terms of the brow stencil as they have a range with all different shapes. If you use a shadow, it can give a softer effect, as will pencil, but if you're too heavy handed, it can look too harsh. Using a brush after you've applied it is key to softening the edges. You don't even need a specific brush - a cotton bud will do just fine."
"If you've lost all your eyelashes, we recommend using a liner around the lash line to create definition. Usually a dark brown pencil will suit but, again, it depends on your colouring. In most cases, brown will look softer and more natural. Eylure have launched a specific range of fake lashes called The C-Lash for cancer patients. These are helpful if there's a particular occasion - for example, in one instance, a woman who was mother of the bride on her daughter's wedding day bought them. Because it was going to be an emotional day, they had glue on them at all times - false lashes will normally stick to the shelf of your natural lash, but they can tend to slide down when you lose your lashes. I wouldn't recommend these for use on a day-to-day basis - just the eyeliner and eyeshadow - and only use them for an event you may be specifically conscious about."
"The lips get so incredibly dry during treatment and become very chapped. In some cases, the inside of the mouth becomes dry too. I love the La Roche Posay lip protective balm which is great for hydration. If you wanted to wear lipsticks, we have a Protect & Perfect Lip Care in No7 that you can apply before lipstick. Even if you like a matte lip on its own, it will dry out the lips, so go for a tinted lip balm or a moisturising lipstick."
"I recommended moisturising as frequently as possible, especially directly after your shower to lock in as much moisture as possible. The Elave range is amazing for this. Most people are often surprised by the dryness and the skin can get quite irritated, so I would recommend their baby lotion, which is nourishing without any fragrancing or additives."
"The more training I've done, I've seen more patients can lose their nails when they undergo treatment because it stops certain cells from regenerating. The nail bed becomes incredibly sensitive, but certain oils and hand creams can help. For example, you can even use coconut oil and rub it around the cuticle bed. It can be quite sore, especially if you don't want to use plasters all the time. Avoid any nail varnishes for at least six months, but really it should be a year, because even when your nails grow back, they will be very fine."
In recent years, businesses have become adept at serving customers with special requirements, especially for those going through cancer treatment, and a number of spas around the country train staff to cope with the special requirements to treat those who need additional TLC. Below are some options available.
Each therapist has been trained over a seven-day period specifically to treat people living with cancer. The 'Be Nurtured' packages include facials and massages specifically curated using products with gentle ingredients and technique (prices start at €120).
Each guest has a one-to-one consultation with a trained therapist to determine the best course of action, but they are confident that 99pc of their treatments are suitable for those in treatment. The massage is €95.
The Flourish Organics range is specially curated for those in treatment. The Comfort Touch (€100) treatment is their signature experience, using gentle blends of aromatherapy oils to help soothe and calm patients dealing with skin-related side effects caused by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
They use products from the VOYA range, an Irish organic skincare range, and can be customised for anyone during any stage of their cancer journey. The VOYA Seaweed Oil Massage (€90) is a 55-minute treatment using organic seaweed essential oils, particularly beneficial for moisturising the body.
The Irish Cancer Society's annual Daffodil Day fundraiser appeal takes place on Friday. For more information log on to cancer.ie
Beauty writer Triona McCarthy lost her 30-year-old sister Tricia to cancer nine years ago. Tricia was a vegetarian, she didn’t smoke and rarely drank, and in Triona’s words her little sister “never took anything stronger than a lemsip”.
At one point, Kevin Rooney (31) was one of only 100 people in the world known to have suffered from a combination of two very specific, challenging diseases. He also has another important distinction - he was told he was unlikely to have children. Yet, here he is today, the father of an adorable baby girl born just 11 months ago.