Look Good Feel Better helps men deal with some of the side effects of cancer treatment including skin changes, hair loss, stress, and other issues. Looking good can help you feel better – physically and emotionally. And feeling better can put you in charge. Maybe it’s an important event; a family outing; Saturday night with friends; a big meeting… the list goes on.
Whatever you want to do, you shouldn’t have to compromise because you don’t look “right” or feel quite yourself. In fact, physicians agree a better outlook can begin by reducing the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. This information will help you apply grooming basics to look confident and feel in control. It’s full of practical, easy-to-follow tips you can use to get on with your life.
Always comb hair gently and use a mild shampoo. As hair starts to thin, consider cutting it short or even having it neatly clipped to the scalp by a professional stylist. The close-cropped or “shaved head” look is popular with many men and can offset concerns about patchy hair loss. Just remember, doctors caution against shaving the scalp with a razor, which can cause hard-to-heal cuts that can result in infection when blood counts are low.
There are many hat and cap styles today for sports, sun, cold, rain, wind and pure style
– it’s relatively easy to find something you like to cover and protect your head. If hair loss really bothers you, there are also hair prostheses that can conceal bald spots. As hair starts to grow back, these can be phased out.
When eyebrows are thinning, try using a brow pencils for minor gaps – be wary that drawing in the whole thing can be too obvious on men. Instead, try wearing glasses with heavy frames, which can add definition to the area – no prescription required!
Even if you’ve washed with the same soap for years, now may be the time to switch to something formulated for sensitive skin. A water-based liquid face cleanser or gentle soap can help. Use warm (not hot) water to open pores and protect surface capillaries. Don’t rub with gusto or use a granular scrub before shaving: this can cause razor-burn.
During treatment, when you are at risk of bleeding and infection, your doctor may suggest that you switch to an electric razor to prevent potential cuts. Warm skin first with water or hot towel and rinse afterward with cool water. Avoid alcohol, menthol or strong fragrance. If you feel you must use a manual razor (discuss with your doctor first): keep it sharp, always rinse after use, and shake off excess water without wiping. Soften hair follicles with shaving cream, leaving it on your face for about one minute before the first stroke.
To reduce stinging, let skin rest a bit from shaving before applying other products. To smooth and relieve dry or flaky skin, dampen a cotton ball with alcohol-free toner and gently swab over face. Next, apply a pea-size amount of light moisturizer on cheeks, forehead and chin – or just on dry patches – and rub in softly. If blemishes are an issue, avoid products with harsh disinfecting ingredients and consult your doctor instead.
Sunscreen isn’t only for the sand and slopes, it’s for every day – especially during chemotherapy, which can cause sun exposure-related skin reactions. Sunburns often occur on ears, lips, back of neck, and arms. A spray-on sunscreen makes it easier to reach a thinning hairline. Moisturising sunscreens help out if skin is dry. Doctors warn against tanning during treatment, so if this look is important to you, ask your doctor if you can use a men’s self-tanning cream or bronzer instead.
Using concealer to hide facial discolorations and dark circles under the eyes is a foreign concept to most men. But you’d be surprised how often it’s done. Hyper-pigmentation (dark spots) and sallow skin, both of which can be side-effects of treatment, can be covered using a concealer or tint. Find a concealer that precisely matches your skin tone, dot on any dark spots, blot excess, and blend edges until hidden. Or pick up a moisturiser with a tint and smooth on just as you would any face lotion. It’s as simple as that.
The right workout can increase energy and reduce stress. However, speak to your doctor and listen to your body: don’t go overboard. Also keep in mind that extra pounds during treatment can be caused by “edema” (water retention) or hormonal changes, not exercise habits. Talk with your physician about your exercise regimen and whether a change is needed. When platelet counts are low, avoid high-risk sports to prevent bleeding from injuries or rough contact.
Now is a good time to practice moderation. If you smoke, make the effort to quit: always a positive step for health. If you drink alcohol, limit consumption – and follow any alcohol-related precautions on your prescriptions. Also allow adequate time for rest and avoid pulling all-nighters or working round the clock.
You may notice your hands and feet are dry or cracked, or your nails feel brittle. Most often a bit of TLC can help you deal with these annoyances. (However, if the areas become painful or inflamed, consult your doctor.) First off, keep feet cool, dry and clean and don’t pumice or scrub too harshly. Use nail clippers gently, so you don’t cut the skin. Good oral hygiene is also important during treatment, and you should consult your dentist for more information on dental and oral care.
It can be hard to relax – especially during such a difficult time – so try to find a
means to relieve stress. Massage therapy is one popular choice: relaxing the muscles can often relax the mind. Other techniques such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation may also be useful: discuss the options with your doctor.
It helps to have family and friends that you can turn to for emotional support. Some men seek out others with cancer to talk and share experiences through local or online support groups. The Cancer Council Australia, can connect you with others affected by cancer.
Remember that knowledge is power. Take notes and bring questions to appointments. Seek out reliable cancer information to help you make informed decisions about your treatment and care.