Every October, we see proud pink ribbons pinned neatly on the chests of those who know – it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The statistics from 2018 show that 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12.4%) will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Most of us know someone who is fighting this battle—whether it's your wife, mother, sister, grandmother, or best friend, it is a cause worth educating yourself about and getting closely involved with.
This month is a time to educate ourselves about the trials of those we know who have fought breast cancer, and encourages us to learn more about what patients dealing with all types of cancer go through so that we may find an actionable way to help. As individuals, we at Luminance are deeply concerned and committed to making a positive difference. As a company, we are built on the idea that it is our job as part of the global community to do good in every way we possibly can. That starts with making ourselves aware and active in fighting for the health and wellbeing of our customers and their families.
Anyone who has undergone chemotherapy or radiation can tell you that the process is exhausting, emotional, and often painful. Chemotherapy, the introduction of drugs to the body, infiltrates mutated cell clusters, and kills them off. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not discriminate in what it attacks, so patients often feel dizzy, weak, queasy, and sore afterwards. Radiation works differently, delivering high energy particles to make tiny breaks in the DNA of tumorous cells. The radiation site is local, but the intensity of the radiation itself can cause significant discomfort. Cancer treatment takes a heavy toll on the comfort and confidence of every patient.
Some of the most common afflictions that cancer patients deal with during and after treatment center around their skin. Ailments include itchy or painful rashes, dry, flaky or scaly skin, bruising, burns, scars, extreme sensitivity to light, and broken skin.
Depending on the type of treatment the patient is undergoing, frequency of treatment, type of cancer, and preexisting conditions, the skin can be a major source of pain. This is especially true in areas like hands and feet, behind knees and elbows, underarms, and areas with delicate skin, like your neck and face. Once treatment begins, they're likely to notice changes in their skin within a few weeks.
Effects on Skin
Cancer causes the skin to reach acidic pH conditions, as this is the type of environment where cancerous cells can thrive. When a patient’s skin is so far out of balance that it actually becomes acidic, they’re likely to notice symptoms like peeling, flaking, extreme dryness, and high sensitivity to both light and to personal care products they may have enjoyed in the past. Many people find that their usual body lotions, creams, makeup, sunscreen, and soaps are much too harsh for their skin. What was once a replenishing, relaxing experience, turns into something painful and worsens their post-treatment conditions.
The problem that cancer patients have with commercial products is one we are familiar with at Luminance. Many chemo-specific drugstore and high-end products, like lotions, cleansers, toners, soaps, body washes, and acne products, contain harsh chemicals, fragrances, paraffins, waxes, salts, metals, preservatives, and toxins. While this is a typical qualm for someone with sensitive skin, the stakes are much higher for someone who is fighting through chemotherapy or radiation. These unnatural products only serve to worsen skin ailments, causing discomfort if not pain, and prolonging the healing process after each treatment session.
Learning which products and ingredients to avoid can be overwhelming, especially for a patient who is already oversaturated with rules, regulations and restrictions in most other areas of their life as they fight the disease. There are so many resources, medical journals and commercial business pitching different information about what their skin can handle during treatment that it can be tricky to decipher what is true and what is merely a marketing ploy. While we can’t sift through all of the individual studies, articles and product labels, we can offer some simple guidelines to help them research and reach their own conclusions.
Remember, if you or someone you love is going through cancer treatment, you should always refer to a medical professional to finalize your decisions.
Treating cancer in a nonhomeopathic way requires a great deal of chemicals, causing your body to go into defense mode and limiting its ability to self soothe. That’s why using a chemical-laden drugstore face wash can cause your skin to burn or extend the healing process of scabs and scars. In all cases, these products will only further any problematic skin conditions. That’s when we recommend you turn to something natural that your skin recognizes as a friend not a foe. Natural ingredients will be soothing to your skin, letting it heal while working toward a balanced, healthy complexion. Rather than putting your skin through a more intensive battle with toxic ingredients, we suggest you seek out those that are gentle, pure. Find the things that just feel good.
What to avoid
During and after treatment, patients should avoid all ingredients and products that will disturb the pH balance of their skin or cause irritation as well as those that inhibit rehydration—restoring moisture and comfort should be a top priority. Lesions should be monitored carefully and treated with ingredients that skin can accept naturally without perceiving it as a threat. It's also important to use products that won't cause any more irritation or pain.
- Fragrances and Colors –Synthetic fragrances and dyes are usually an undisclosed list of chemicals that are extremely irritating to the skin, not to mention toxic to the immune system. For a cancer patient, perfumed products will cause more pain, dryness, rashes and inflammation. Dyes are inherently carcinogenic and cause light sensitivity and irritation due to their heavy metal concentration.
- Paraffins, Mineral Oil and Waxes –Often marketed as a healthy skin softener or lip balm, many patients look to waxy products to keep rough patches smooth. What they don’t realize is that paraffins and other waxes are made from petroleum byproducts which cause heat rash, burning, blistering and poor circulation.
- Preservatives, Parabens and Salt –Preservatives and salts go a long way towards keeping commercial products stocked on shelves, but they have absolutely no place in your self care routine as someone fighting through chemotherapy or radiation. Known endocrine disrupters, they will cause the skin to dry out and can even absorb into the skin and potentially cause tumors to advance.
- Astringents –Using an astringent toner to remove discoloration, rough patches or clogged pores should be avoided by every cancer patient both during and after treatment. These ingredients are extremely harsh and will cause the skin to burn, cause immense pain and leave scars.
- Scrubs –Much like astringents, scrubs should never be used in a cancer-specific skin care routine. During and after treatment, skin is extremely fragile and should not be exposed to any rough abrasives, including exfoliating scrubs, washcloths and mechanical skincare devices.
- Metals –Metals are present in many personal care products (masks and deodorant) as they can sneak through a base made from poorly filtered water. Metals can cause even more severe problems for those undergoing radiation as the presence of excess metals can disturb the effectiveness of the treatment.
- Low Quality Essential Oils –Certain essential oils are extremely beneficial for cancer patients as they can provide holistic healing and aromatherapy to ease nausea and fatigue. The problem with many products made with essential oils is that the oils themselves are not responsibly sourced. Often, they are made from plants that have been sprayed with pesticides, which can make their way back into the patient’s system. It's also crucial to look into the distilling methods used to extract oils from plants – some companies use chemicals to pull out the scent rather than fractional distillation.
While some products are labeled and marketed as "gentle" or "organic," it's important to note that legal loopholes allow companies to add such identifiers to their products so long as 70% of the formula is organic. Since most are at least 70% water, this leaves plenty of room for companies to sell an "organic" product that is seven parts water to three parts chemicals, fillers, preservatives and dangerous toxins. One of the easiest ways to determine whether the ingredients in your favorite products are safe is to look them up here.
What to Look For
Once you know what to avoid, it should be easier to select ingredients and products that you know you can trust. For someone whose immune system is compromised, it’s imperative to use ingredients that are not only wholesome in their nature, but that are sourced responsibly from farms that use transparent cultivation processes. The goal of a skincare regimen should be to heal burns, reduce bacteria, keep inflammation at bay, cool and balance the skin, restore proper pH levels and keep pain at a manageable level. Of course we cannot list all of the good ingredients here (there are plenty!), but we’ve chosen a few to highlight as they are readily available and commonly recommended by oncologists and dermatologists alike.
- Properly Distilled Water – Without using proper distillation methods, water can be contaminated with bacteria, metals and toxins that can seep into the bloodstream, causing complications or interference with cancer treatment. To ensure completely pure water, a reverse osmosis filter is the most reliable resource.
- Organic Peppermint Essential Oil* – Peppermint oil is wonderful as a cooling, anti-inflammatory agent. A responsibly sourced oil will be completely pure and help to relieve pain attributed to radiation burns.
- Organic Lavender Essential Oil* – One of the most beneficial therapeutic oils, lavender works well for healing burns. It also has anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumoral properties that will help to soothe irritation after treatment.
- Organic Tea Tree Essential Oil* – If you have open wounds or skin lesions, tea tree oil is an excellent way to minimize bacteria. It’s important to note that open wounds or broken skin should always be dressed properly and monitored by medical professionals.
- Avocado Oil – Avocado oil contains oleic acid, which works to reduce flare ups in the skin and can also inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. It controls microbial infections and keeps inflammation down. Avocado oil is also rich in Vitamin E, which helps restore healthy oil to the skin to keep it lubricated and comfortable, and even aids in new skin growth and healing wounds.
- Candelilla – Candelilla wax prevents moisture loss, accelerates wound healing and is a preferable choice over beeswax. Patients who find that they have extremely chapped lips will find comfortable, lasting relief from balms that use candelilla as it soothes existing dryness and irritation without loading up the lips with heavy ingredients.
- Rosewater – Rosewater, when properly concocted, can go a long way towards regaining balance in your skin’s pH. When a patient’s skin becomes too acidic from cancer and the resulting treatment methods, pure rosewater will gently lower the pH level and restore hydration and comfort.
**Note that in their purest form, essential oils are too strong to be used directly on skin and can cause burns. They are a wonderful addition to products and should be diluted in a primitive or carrier oil, like borage or avocado. Kim likes to say that essential oils are nature's pharmacudicals, and while they work wonders, each essence and its carrier oil should be administered with informed and calculated intention**
We Can Help
During and after chemotherapy or radiation, patients can see the effects on their skin up to a year post-date. As their skin heals, they’ll need to use products that cleanse gently and restore all moisture without restricting the skin’s natural ability to breathe and expel toxins as necessary. The soap they use on their face and body should be effective in eliminating bacteria, but should never dry out the skin or poison the body with synthetic fragrances and colors.
Here in the Luminance studio, we make products that will work beautifully for patients in any stage of the treatment and healing process. In particular, our Rosewater Toner is made from the purest possible reverse osmatic distilled water and perfectly pristine rose petals that will help to bring your skin back into a comfortable, healthy pH level. Our Delicate Cleanser, Cream Cleanser, and soap bars are all made from organic ingredients and are never marred by synthetic colors or fragrances.
For dry body skin, we recommend using our lotions and butters as they utilize the gentle healing ability of avocado oil. These creamy concoctions will feel heavenly on itchy skin and will help to minimize the appearance of scarring once treatment has been completed.
If you're battling dry, chapped, or peeling lips, Vegan Lip Balm uses avocado and coconut oil along with flower stem wax to keep your most sensitive skin smooth and healthy. For those who suffer from nausea or an upset stomach, the peppermint flavor offers a subtle touch of aromatherapy.
If you or someone you love is going through treatment for cancer, we'd like to offer a special code on all purchases from our store, both online and in-studio. We are more than happy to discuss what your skin concerns are and recommend products from our shelves that will help get you through this trying time. We can also help you to decipher certain ingredients on the labels of other products you are considering, and would love to help connect you with trusted resources that can help ease your skin back to health.
We are allies. We will always make products that are honest, pure and without gimmick. While we'd love for you to try our line, we are primarily interested in finding what works for you—what makes you feel your best.