I really thought I was more down to Earth. I believed beauty standards were beneath me and that my self-confidence was housed securely in there with my intellect and morality, a place impenetrable from outside influence. My mom instilled early on that my worth was determined by my actions, not my eyelashes. And then they told me my hair would fall out. I lost my shit.
Of all the things to fear, how I looked should have been far down on the list but vanity reared its ugly head in a most severe way when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was devastated that, simultaneous to the myriad of torturous treatments, I would also be unrecognizable to myself.
And privacy. Did I mention privacy? Keep your pity to yourself. Pleaseandthankyou.
Stripping away some of my vanity has been valuable, but I’m also proud I held tight to some of it. There is no reason to surrender feeling beautiful to this disease. And I won’t do it.
Below are some of the things I’m doing to ease the cosmetic effects of chemotherapy treatment.
Penguin Cold Caps have allowed me to keep the hair on my head but it requires a strict hair regimen. You must keep your scalp totally bored during treatment to avoid aggravating the hair follicle. Human hair pH is between 4.5 and 5.5 which is alkaline. Even water gently throws that off so you have to jump through some hoops.
- I only wash my hair 2 times weekly using Acure Repairing Shampoo. It has no parabens or sulfates and is pH balanced, as directed on the cold caps website. Opaque and volumizing shampoo and conditioner is not pH balanced. I really had to hunt for the pH of most shampoos so don’t assume.
- Most conditioners were discouraged. I use it’s a 10 miracle leave-in plus keratin and spray it only on the ends (avoiding scalp).
- I tried Kenra Daily Provision but it left my fine hair greasy. It is pH balanced so it may be good for someone with different hair type.
- I spray apple cider vinegar (an alkaline wizard for all areas of the body) on my hair and scalp after shampoo while I’m still in the shower and rinse it out only lightly so I don’t smell like a salad.
- I comb extremely gently with a wide-tooth plastic comb. No brushing, blow drying, or irons. I create pin curls if I need a style (but don’t use gel, heat, or hairspray to set).
- I use only satin pillow cases to avoid friction while I sleep.
- I’m only just now taking Biotin and Silica supplements but I wish I would have been taking them the whole time. They are to support the hair follicle nutrient-wise.
I have thin, fine hair to begin with so thinning is noticeable, but probably only to me. I just take deep, calming breaths whenever I’m combing and it seems like I’m loosing tons. I’ll be honest, there were tears over hair but I got through them.
I also prepared myself mentally for hair loss. My mom and I selected a wig right after the first treatment, just in case. If cold caps hadn’t worked, I knew just what to order from Candy at Parker Serenity Wig Spa in Austin, TX. I didn’t want to face this challenge but my mom made me and I’m glad she did. The wigs were gorgeous!
- To keep my eyelashes from thinning I use prescription Latisse from my med-spa. My lashes did thin and eventually all fell out anyway so don’t sweat this and invest in some monstrous falsies. I have really had good luck with the magnetic eye liner kind, though getting that shit off is an effort in futility.
- I also put Latisse on my eyebrows but they have thinned quite a bit anyway. Luckily, I can fill in with eyebrow powder and they look just fine.
- Microblading is something some women try prior to starting chemo, though not after chemo begins since the risk of infection goes up.
My facial skin is very fragile and strange during chemotherapy and, like my hair, I had to abandon nearly all of my usual regimens. Luckily, I already had a long-standing relationship with Serenity Creek Med-Spa (Austin, TX) and they immediately crafted a new plan for me. I put my usual Retin-A, monthly medical-grade facial peels, and micro-needling on the shelf for when I’m well again.
Chemo has really affected my skin negatively. My hope is that I can bring my skin back to its original glory once this phase of treatment is complete. For now…
The week after chemo, my skin gets very acneic (while also strangely dry). I predict this is simply toxins trying to exit my body through the skin but my Mom says it because I take a steroid prior to each chemo round. Then, everything is dry as a lizard. Make up your damn mind already, skin!
- My aesthetician recommended mybody Break Free Hydrator. It is a probiotic acne facial lotion that doesn’t have the harsher glycolic and salicylic acid I would usually use for breakouts.
- Two weeks after chemo, my skin gets extremely dry and flaky. I use mybody myHero Ultra Rich Anti-Aging Cream.
- I rarely wear make-up anymore but the few times I have I used Lush’s Ultrabland for removal. It simply dissolved even the most serious eyeliner without scrubbing. Being gentle is key…especially if you don’t want to unintentionally rub off eyelashes and brows. It is also super emollient so it helps with dryness but doesn’t clog pores. Lush now has a vegan product just like Ultrabland except minus the beeswax.
- Coconut oil is my wild card hydrator. It is antimicrobial and all natural so I can put it pretty much anywhere, even zits. It also works as a great lube and mouthwash!
- For body, I have always lived by Queen Helene’s Cocoa Butter Hand and Body Lotion as well. It comes in a giant quantity and is very affordable so it is a staple at my house.
- I still go in to the med spa for monthly facials which usually entail a mild, superficial enzyme peel and sometimes a microdermabrasion. This helps get all the old, icky, toxic skin off so new, healthy skin can shine through, same as before treatment. I can’t wait to have nice skin that lasts more than a few weeks.
- I didn’t have this during chemo but I sure wish I would have. This company, Hemp 360, out of New Braunfels, TX creates all-natural, raw products with high-quality essential oils, some with CBD. I’ve started using their night cream and skin repair lotion and I really love it. It is a little greasy so careful you don’t fall asleep and leave an oil slick on your nice sofa.
I heard chemo would make my nails brittle and could even cause them to fall off! Also, a compromised immune system means that even a hangnail can land you in the hospital so hand and nail care is an easy, important task. I can’t trust the cleanliness of even the most reputable nail salon with white blood counts as low as mine so I just do them myself while binge watching Netflix. #multitasking
My nails did remain quite brittle throughout the full year of Herceptin treatments and beyond about another 6 months at least. The damaged bits needed grow out evidently. They are fine now and I never lost nails nor did they turn black or look gross. I just had to keep them tidy
- I splurged on Smith & Cult polish in a moment of “fuck you, cancer” and I don’t know if I can ever go back. It stays put, even without a top coat, and the glitter is superb. Also, with names like Vegas Post Apocalyptic, it is precisely in-line with a breast cancer patient’s mood.
- I also use Sally Hansen’s Miracle Gel and it works great too.
- To avoid any potential infections with cuticle tools, I stick to chemical means by dissolving dry cuticles with acid. Sounds super terrible but it doesn’t hurt a bit.
- I keep hand cream in nearly every room of my house so I can slather it on a few times a day. My hands got very dry so I needed serious goo. I was very sensitive to smell during chemo so my usual snickerdoodle cookie and Drakkar high-school boyfriend throwback scents were off limits. My favorite was one my friend got me from Home Depot of all places. She swore it was the best and she was right. O’Keeffes Working Hands is the only hand cream I’ll use from now on. No scent and does the job like a boss.
Horror stories of mouth sores and tooth loss had me panic stricken when I was first diagnosed but luckily, I have experienced none of that. However, taste is a challenge and I do notice my mouth is sensitive right after chemo. Also, some of the medicines they give me are downright awful and leave the most wrong aftertaste.
- I had read that bee propolis can help alleviate dry mouth and help heal mouth sores so I purchased Tom’s of Maine Propolis & Myrrh toothpaste before treatment. I don’t have any sores to heal fortunately so I can’t say it is doing what I hoped. But, my taste buds do start acting normally again after about a week following chemo so I’ll keep using it.
- I grind my teeth, especially when stressed and it causes sensitive teeth and gums. I just ordered a super-soft charcoal toothbrush to try. This would make a great gift as toothbrushes are kinda strange to think about but would be a blessing for someone who had a sore mouth.
- Biotene is a nice thing to have handy.
- I swish coconut oil in my mouth if it feels dry. Just be sure not to stop up your plumbing by spitting it into the sink…this stuff solidifies at room temp so spit it into the trash or over your balcony like a lady instead.
What are your secret beauty weapons for cancer fabulocity? Post them here. sweet cheeks!
Coconut oil as lube! Who knew? Better than Astroglide?