Care of Cancer Challenged Aesthetics Clients


All around the world, there is a huge interest in changing the way people are taking care of themselves.  There is a much stronger consciousness when it comes to taking care of our bodies, but also our minds, spirit and in nature. This growing impetus for a paradigm shift from a reactive state to a proactive state needs to be applied in the world of spa.  People with health challenges want to be embraced as an equal to those with no health issues; educated on prevention and be offered services modified for their challenges. 

Image: Global Spa Wellness


Question: If a new client calls or walks into the spa requesting a service and reveals that they are undergoing active cancer treatment, or that they are in recovery, how should this be handled? 

Ideally the Spa would have at least one individual on staff who would be able to educate the client on what the safest treatment options would be, as well as any possible side effects that could occur.

Question: What if there are no spa therapists on staff who are properly trained to handle these special client needs?

The Spa should either decline offering the service, or at the very least, have the client sign off that they have consented to the service, knowing full well that the therapist does not possess the recommended formal training that is suggested in this area. During the service the spa therapist should be in constant communication with the client, as well as making thorough notes on procedures, conversations and observations.  

The ‘uneducated’ spa therapist may unknowingly provide a service without modifications which may exacerbate, or increase any possible risk(s).  Certain risks can cause harm to this client.

Question: What if that same potential client, or an existing client DOES NOT reveal they are undergoing active cancer treatment, or that they are in recovery?

This risk is why the spa should always have a policy that includes a thorough medical intake form completed by every client, as well as ensuring that the therapist takes comprehensive notes about the services and products used on that client in every treatment.

As a repeat client, regular or irregular, there should be some sort of a relationship between the client and the therapist where the client feels comfortable enough to share any new medical conditions. The therapist needs to pay attention to what information the client is sharing with them at all times. The client may be able to communicate any noticeable side effects and how the therapist might modify the service for greater comfort.

Question: What if the spa owner/director is not interested in having clients who are undergoing cancer treatment skin/body care services at the spa due to a ‘liability’ issue?

First and as a minimum; ensure that the spa has this mandatory medical history intake form in place, and next; consider getting the spa therapists properly trained as a risk prevention measure.


Oncology Aesthetics Foundation Training (OAFT) for Spa Therapists

Trained spa therapists will always be an asset to the business. They not only add a strong level of security to clients who are at risk, but they will also help build the business because their expertise can meet this fast growing industry need. Put yourself in the client’s shoes: What if you became a cancer sufferer?  What if having your monthly facial was your most favourite thing in the world?  What if all you were asking for was a safe place to relax? How would you feel if you were denied this service?

Question: How can spa therapists gain knowledge and the confidence to work with people living with cancer?

Oncology Training International (OTI) offers the Oncology Aesthetics Foundation Training (OAFT)).  This advanced training is now available in classroom or online.  The International Society for Oncology Esthetics approved 24 hour curriculum governs standards and content taught.  Therapists are taught about the disease, its treatment and most importantly; how to modify ALL skin and body care services according to the side effects the client is experiencing.

The training covers modules which discuss what cancer is and what is going on in the body.  Cancer treatments are discussed, together with many possible side effects resulting from treatment. Here are some examples of how therapists are taught to modify their spa services according to side effects:

  • Lymph nodes may be removed for breast cancer or melanoma cancer to check if cancer cells have metastasised (spread).  This could result in a lifetime risk for lymphedema in the area.  Therapists need to be aware of what lymphedema is and how to handle it appropriately, as it is not in the scope of our licence to perform manual lymphatic drainage on areas of lymphedema.
  • Venous access devices could be in either the décolleté or the arm.  Port-a-caths are inserted under the skin, and are not to be worked over with regular pressure.  PICC lines have an entry space into the skin which if accidently bumped or pulled, could be pulled out of the vein which would require the client go back in to the hospital to get this re-inserted.
  • An anti-inflammatory drug such as Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid which can present with side effects on the skin.  This drug can also weaken the immune system, making it easier for a person to get an infection.  Waxing may not be a good option if the skin is thin and fragile as a result of these side effects.


Cancer Statistics keep rising

In order to create more awareness and cancer prevention guidelines, all spa therapists should know about the disease. Understanding what modifications need to be made and what professional behaviours should be demonstrated when providing spa services, is vital. 

  • A client wearing a mastectomy bra because she has breast forms, can create a feeling of uncertainty for an untrained spa therapist, as to how she should respond and behave. 
  • A client wearing a natural hair wig may either be concerned about protecting it during a facial treatment; or she may wish to remove it.  But how will the untrained spa therapist know the best way to avoid damaging the hair piece during the treatment; or respond to a female client with a bald head?

Question: What are the chances that we will have clients with cancer coming to our spa/clinic?

According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), in 2012 there were 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide. By 2030, the global burden is expected to grow to 21.7 million new cancer cases and 13 million cancer deaths simply due to the growth and aging of the population.

Who is your client base?  Do you have an aging market?  Just remember cancer does not discriminate; it affects both men and women, children and adults, all races. Good chances are an existing client could have a cancer history, or they may become a statistic in the future.


Documented Evidence is Powerful

You as a spa therapist can make a big difference to a person with cancer from a psychological standpoint.

A clinical study underway in Italy is showing an improved quality of life (QOL) and improved levels of depression and anxiety.  This study uses combined expertise of psychologists and beauticians, and has been underway for 3 years.

The volunteers that participate in the clinical study actually provide skin and body care services that include (if no exacerbating side effects are present) facial and corrective makeup, nail painting, demonstrations on how to wrap scarves on the head, reiki and they have image consultants who help them choose colors to make them look healthy.

Question: What should our focus be when working with people living with cancer?

Symptom relief; relaxation and safe modifications to a skin/body service of the clients choice, UNLESS there are actual contraindications.

Question: Can we cause harm if we don’t modify our skin and/or body care services?

Yes, absolutely. Clients can feel a lot worse after a service (sometimes a few hours later or the following day). 

  • The client may be thrombocytopenic (bleed/bruise easily) or they may be on medications that can exacerbate a negative response.
  • Skin that is sensitive or reactive may not be able to tolerate regular skin care products; or chemical or physical exfoliation services.
  • Clients with fatigue may not be able to handle a regular spa service with the allotted time frame either.  Sometimes the client thinks they can handle a regular service, but their body is saying otherwise. 



In order to help facilitate this paradigm shift to a proactive state, OTI needs to collaborate with like-minded organisations and individuals to bring this to the forefront.  Ultimately, spa professionals with empathy and compassion will bring about a new ‘face’ to spa when opening up to all people, irrespective of their mental and/or physical issues. 

A personal note from the author: Working with people with health challenges is far more rewarding as the outcome is profound!


Morag Currin Biography

Oncology Aesthetics expert, Morag Currin saw a gap in the circle of care in the world of cancer where patients are psychologically devastated by the side effects of the disease, and treatment.  Her successes include a clinical study “Health in the Mirror” at San Raffaele Hospital, Milan – Italy; plus she teaches OA in 9 countries currently.  Her work has appeared in numerous national and international publications and she currently serves on the advisory committee of Cancer Knowledge Network (CKN) and the International Society for Oncology Esthetics (ISFOE). She authored Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner’s Guide (Allured Books 2009 and 2014) and Health Challenged Skin: The Estheticians’ Desk Reference (Allured Books 2012).



Posted April 18, 2018

Tanning, Beauty

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