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; or a big meeting. Whatever you want to do, you shouldn’t have to compromise because you don’t feel quite yourself.
In fact, health professionals agree a better outlook can begin by reducing the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. This information is practical, easy-to-follow and will help you apply grooming basics to look confident and feel in control.
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 pencil for minor gaps – be wary that drawing in the whole brow can be too obvious on men. Instead, try wearing glasses with heavy frames, which can add definition to the area – no prescription required!
Looking after you skin
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 the skin too hard 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 the skin first with water or a hot towel, and rinse afterwards with cool water. Avoid applying alcohol, menthol or strong fragrance to the skin.
If you feel you must use a manual razor, discuss with your doctor first and be sure to keep it sharp, always rinse well 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 the skin rest after shaving before applying other products. To smooth and relieve dry or flaky skin, dampen a cotton ball with alcohol-free toner and gently swipe it over the face.
Next, apply a pea-sized amount of light moisturiser to the cheeks, forehead and chin – or concentrate on dry patches – and rub it in softly.
If blemishes are an issue, avoid products with harsh antibacterial ingredients and consult your doctor instead.
Sunscreen should be applied every day, especially during chemotherapy when skin is far more sun sensitive. Sunburns often occur on ears, lips, the back of the neck, and arms. A spray-on sunscreen makes it easier to reach a thinning hairline. Moisturising sunscreens help if skin is dry.
LGFB follows the recommendations of the Cancer Council Australia in regards to sunscreen use.
There are two types of sunscreens:
- chemical sunscreens (that most of us are used to) absorb UV rays and must be applied on clean, dry skin before moisturiser, and take 20 minutes to work
- physical sunscreens (like zinc) reflect UV rays and as their name suggests, provide a physical barrier. They are applied to the skin after other skin care
There are a number of important things to note about sunscreen:
- A minimum SPF30 broad spectrum sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outdoors, and re-applied at least every two hours.
- Sunscreen needs to be applied liberally – at least one teaspoon on each limb, front and back of the body, and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears, including ears (and the scalp if hair loss has been experienced). Most people apply less than half this amount, which means they get far less protection than the SPF stated on the bottle.
- No sunscreen, even if it is reapplied regularly, offers complete protection against UV radiation. Always use sunscreen in conjunction with other forms of sun protection like protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, and seek shade when outdoors. A hat that provides shade on the neck is particularly important if hair loss has been experienced as a result of treatment.
- The Cancer Council also recommends patch testing of sunscreen prior to first time use, as skin can be much more sensitive while undergoing treatment.
- Always store your sunscreen in a cool, dry place and be mindful of its expiry date. Although some moisturisers contain SPFs you should always use sunscreen underneath.
For more information on sun protection, visit lgfb.org.au/practical-tips/
Health professionals warn against tanning, especially during treatment, so as an alternative speak to your doctor about using self-tanning products or bronzers instead.
Using concealer to hide facial discolorations and dark circles under the eyes is a foreign concept to most men. But 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, lightly dot it on any dark spots, blot away any excess with a tissue or cotton bud, and blend it in gently.
A moisturiser with a tint can also be used, and should simply be smoothed in to the skin in the same way any face lotion is used.
The right workout can increase energy and reduce stress. However, speak to your doctor and listen to your body – it’s important you don’t go push yourself too hard.
Also keep in mind that extra weight during treatment can be caused by water retention or hormonal changes, not exercise habits. Talk with your health professional about your exercise routine and whether a change is needed. When platelet counts are low, avoid high-risk sports to prevent bleeding from injuries or rough contact.
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.
Keep feet cool, dry and clean and don’t scrub them too harshly. Use nail clippers cautiously to ensure 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 available to you with your health professional.
It helps to have family and friends that you can turn to for emotional support. Some men also seek out others dealing with a cancer diagnosis through local or online support groups, to talk and share experiences. Your health professionals, particularly social workers, or the Cancer Council Australia can connect you with others in a similar situation.
Remember that knowledge is power. Take notes and bring questions to appointments. Seek out reliable information to help you make informed decisions about your treatment and care.