Care path

Treating cancer patients in spas and salons is a thorny topic. There is a tendency for the industry to be overly cautious, with many therapists taught that if someone has cancer you should stay on the safe side and not treat them. 

Sue Davies, naturopath at Lifehouse Spa & Hotel in Essex, says she frequently sees new therapists who have been told not to touch a client who is undergoing treatment for cancer. “I’ve even heard of spas turning away clients who haven’t been cleared for five to seven years or saying that their insurers won’t allow it, which actually isn’t true,” she says. 

While caution is to be expected, a person who has just been diagnosed with cancer, or is undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy, or is in recovery, will be experiencing a number of emotions including shock, stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and anger. The last thing they need is rejection and to be made to feel ostracised for having an illness. 

“While it is often done with good intentions and concern, rejecting someone with cancer can actually cause more harm,” says Beata Aleksandrowicz, founder of Pure Massage School in London. This over cautiousness stems from a lack of understanding in the industry about the dos and don’ts of treating someone with cancer. 

However, our industry is known for creating places of escapism and a safe haven, so if a spa or salon can provide a bit of rest for someone going through such a terrible time, surely we shouldn’t be turning them away. 


Healing hands 

“Touch is the mother of all senses,” says Aleksandrowicz. “It’s the first sense a baby will know and such a powerful tool to make someone feel positive about themselves. Just think about how you feel after receiving a hug.” 

Elemis’s director of product and treatment development Noella Gabriel agrees, adding, “Clients who have cancer need to be handled with sensitivity, but offering treatments such as a scalp massage or foot massage can be really positive for them. 

Naturally, patients need to consent to a particular treatment and you should consult their doctor or nurse beforehand, but massage treatments and other beauty treatments should be recognised as a valuable step in the healing process,” she says. 

According to John Holman, vice chair of education of the UK Spa Association and owner of John Holman Therapy Solutions, one of the biggest misunderstandings therapists have about massage is that it can actually spread the cancer. 

He believes there should be better training to address these misunderstandings and teach the appropriate massage treatments for clients that are either experiencing, in remission or recovering from cancer. 

Massage myths 

“The worst misunderstanding of all is that you can spread cancer by potentially breaking off parts of the tumour or spread the disease with massage by promoting motility of the cancer cells through the lymphatic system. Neither of these beliefs is correct,” he says. “The spread of cancer is actually caused by a complex bio chemical response orchestrated within a cell’s DNA and has nothing to do with any mechanical process such as walking or massage.” 

Holman will be presenting evidence to counter the fear that exists about the provision of massage for this condition at both Professional Beauty London in February and Spa Life in November. 

Aleksandrowicz advises that therapists should adjust the type of massage they offer to a person who is diagnosed with cancer and make sure they research and have knowledge of that particular client’s condition. She adds, “As with any illness, there are contraindications involved. I’m not talking about deep tissue massage, but Swedish massage, for example, using soft strokes, can bring a balance to their whole system and, therefore, help the recovery process.” 

Many spas are starting to recognise the role they can play in improving the life of someone who is suffering from cancer or is in remission by developing packages and spa breaks. 

Grayshott Spa in Surrey introduced its four-night package in June, developed in partnership with skincare brand Espa. The Nurture and Support Programme includes a scalp massage with mineral-rich pink mud, an energy balancing exfoliation and massage, wraps using soft linens, facials, and a hand and foot massage. Guests also receive a personal nutritional consultation and can attend daily health lectures. 

The spa’s director of natural therapies Elaine Williams feels that the industry can play a massive role in aiding recovery. “Spas can create a safe place, for when somebody has been ill, to give them a nice, quiet, recuperative space to just get their energy back. Treatments such as aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture and other forms of massage can make a valuable contribution to people with cancer – in tandem with or subsequent to medical treatment, of course.” 

Grayshott helps to address the mental wellbeing as well the physical by introducing emotional freedom therapy, neuro-linguistic programming, and cognitive type therapies. “Some people who come to us are terrified, so for those people we need to deal with the fear. Other people need to address nutrition, and some need to focus on their stress and learn how to relax,” she adds. 


Break away 

Similarly, Lifehouse Spa offers two-night and one-day recovery breaks for clients suffering or recovering from cancer, with 10 of the spa’s therapists trained by cancer research centre The Christie Foundation NHS Trust to work with the guests. Davies says, “The beauty of the Recovery Breaks is that the guest doesn’t have to decide what they fancy until they are actually in the treatment room. The time is allotted so they could have a neck and shoulder massage, or a scalp massage or a mini facial. It’s about making them feel that they are in safe hands and we make sure that the therapist is experienced enough to adapt the time to the client’s needs.” 

Lifehouse also offers neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), as an anchoring technique. Aroma sticks, similar to a nasal inhaler with cotton buds, are saturated in different essential oils including rosewood and lavender. “We can’t actually use the essential oils in massage treatments for cancer patients as they can be too taxing on the liver and lymphatic system, but they can be very therapeutic, so we use them in other ways,” explains Davies. 

The client is presented with the oils and asked which smell they like. They then close their eyes and the therapist asks them to go to a happy place while smelling the scent. “The idea is that when they are undergoing cancer treatment they can use the scented stick to help them return to their happy place. It is a really nice, holistic treatment that can help someone who is feeling fragile; they come out of the room feeling nurtured,” adds Davies. 

Skin tips

There can be a number of side effects of cancer treatment, which vary depending on the type of treatment a person is undergoing. Carly Boyt, communications manager for cancer charity Look Good Feel Better, explains, “Side effects can including losing eyebrows or eyelashes as well as hair on the head. You may find that nails are also affected and skin can become drier and more sensitive.”

Gabriel advises that because chemotherapy is particularly drying, looking after skin health becomes even more essential. “If you can give the skin the hydration it needs and boost its function then that is one less strain on the body. This also builds up the immune system, so body treatments can only be a good thing.”

Skincare brand Aromatherapy Associates devised its new Inner Strength Treatment to help fortify, nurture and recharge the body and mind through times of extreme stress. 

It begins with a frankincense inhalation, followed by a foot cleanse with heated mitts. A nourishing oil is then applied to hands and soles of the feet, followed by a paraffin wax. The back and legs are then massaged with Inner Strength Body Oil, with ingredients including clary sage, frankincense to calm the mind, cardamom and rosemary to help physical strength and rose and vertivert to heal and stimulate circulation. Paraffin wax is then applied. The therapist then works on the face and scalp, incorporating hot stones and massage techniques designed to comfort and support. 

Nail tips

René Lipsitz, director, Bio Sculpture 

“When you undergo chemotherapy, you are warned that your hair may fall out but no one tells you about the affect it has on your nails. 

It can cause brown lines or even indentations that reflect the different cycles of chemotherapy. This will grow out within six months. You may also notice your client’s nails have become pigmented, brittle or discoloured. They won’t grow as long as they used to and may break more easily.

The area around the nail bed may become dry and her cuticles may fray. In extreme cases, the nail may actually lift off the nail bed, making it vulnerable to bacteria, so be sure to practise excellent hygiene. 

If your client has had an underarm lymph node dissection with mastectomy or lumpectomy, you should be particularly careful of damage such as hangnails, which could lead to infection.

A wonderful product for “chemo nails” is Onicolife Drops, which is massaged into the natural nail. The earlier you start your client with this treatment the more likely it is to keep nail side effects to a minimum.

Never cut her cuticles; push them back gently. Massage cuticle cream or oil into the area and the nails to prevent dryness, splitting and hang nails. 

Polish will help keep nails protected but if her nails are very dry or falling off, recommend a nail moisturiser instead. 

Dry nails can become weaker or more brittle during chemotherapy treatment so use non-acetone polish remover and advise her to do the same at home. It is recommended not to use acrylics or other nail wraps that can cause damage or trap bacteria that may cause infection.”

Brow tips

Christina Jenkins, director, Lash Perfect

“Chemotherapy is harsh on your body and losing your hair is one of the unfortunate side effects. The drugs from the chemotherapy attack other rapidly growing cells in your body, including those in your hair roots. The amount of hair that falls out differs from person to person depending on the type of drug, dosage and how the individual reacts to the drug. 

Because eyebrows frame the face and make up 90% of facial expressions, they are a big thing to lose. Brow Perfect is a salon treatment that recreates depth and dimension to eyebrows by applying individual brow extensions both directly onto the skin and onto existing brow hairs. The treatment can fill gaps, extend the brow line, enhance the brow shape or even create a brow where there is no hair. 

The first step is mapping out the brow shape. The self-adhesive eyebrow stencils can act as a guide to ensure the final result is symmetrical. 

There are two different types of adhesive used in the treatment. One to attach extensions to existing brow hairs and the second, Hi Tack adhesive, to attach extensions to the skin. Because skin secretes natural oils, the extensions adhered to skin last up to seven days. Those adhered to existing brow hairs can last twice as long.”

Make-up tips

Carly Boyt, communications manager, Look Good Feel Better

“Skin will often be much drier during cancer treatment so it’s a good idea to use a gentle cream cleanser, followed by a rich moisturiser.

Chemotherapy can cause flushing, so applying a small amount of colour-correcting concealer before foundation can help even out skin tone.

If you are using an eye pencil, roll the tip on the back of your hand to soften it before applying. Use it close to the eye line, this will define and shade the eyes, creating the appearance of eyelashes that might have been lost through treatment.

It’s a good idea to use non-waterproof mascara that can be removed gently and easily, but if your client is finding that her eyes become teary after treatment, waterproof mascara is fine as long as she removes it gently.

Lips can often become dry so advise clients to carry around a lip balm and apply it throughout the day to keep lips comfortable and moisturised. 

For more information LGFB have produced a ConfidenceKit, which covers skincare and make-up; wig selection and styling; scarf tying and nail care, and can be downloaded free from