Are Beauty Products For Cancer Patients A Rip Off?
Updated: Apr 25
This topic is close to my heart, having finished 18 horrendous months of cancer treatment less than a year ago.
The standard staged approach to treating primary cancers has a huge, detrimental impact on the skin - particularly when it comes to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At a time when hair loss can severely knock someone's self-confidence, making the most of the face can become a massive deal for cancer patients. So beauty products are an absolute necessity.
As well as being a much-needed pick-me-up, gentle cleansers, tonics, serums, and moisturising creams help to look after the skin at a time when a person is at their most vulnerable - and likely to be wearing more makeup than usual. Nobody undergoing harsh systemic treatments wants to look how they feel. Dreadful.
Enter 'bespoke' beauty brands, offering products that marketing campaigns imply have been developed 'especially for cancer patients'.
According to Cancer Research UK, around 56,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer alone in the UK each year. Tens of thousands more are told they have other cancers. So the market is there for anyone inclined to exploit it.
Skin Issues During Cancer Treatments
Good skincare is vital during both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. While the first impacts the entire body, the latter usually only affects the area being treated.
During chemotherapy, my skin became very thin and dry everywhere except my face. I had to be careful not to cut or graze myself and be especially vigilant around pets. A tear in the skin is a serious infection risk; one that can be life-threatening. Washing, drying and moisturising has to be carried out carefully - but no special products are required. So long as they are gentle, there should be no issues. I certainly never had any.
When it came to my face, I carried on as usual. Again, no problems.
Note: I did use a lip balm twice a day and kept a jar of Vaseline handy because the inside of the nose can become sore.
With radiotherapy, it is a different story. The area being treated must be kept well-moisturised and clean. However, products containing certain ingredients - such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate - are not advised. Unfortunately, they are so common you often have to really shop around to find something that is not infused with them. If treatment requires a bolus, extra care is likely to be required for quite some weeks after irradiation has finished because it specifically ensures the therapy targets the skin. (I'm still 'tanned' from it!)
While not always easy to source, there are still moisturisers out there that are up to the job. E45 cream (not lotion) and Moogoo are just two.
Where a beauty brand could make a real and positive difference to cancer patients' lives is with a cream specifically designed for radiotherapy. But they aren't doing that. They are going with anti-ageing, need-to-feel-good products - with fancy packaging and spa brand prices to match.
Who Are Beauty Brands Targeting?
While they are targeting cancer patients directly, there is a huge emphasis on gift bundles and care packages - meaning friends and family of patients are being encouraged to buy too. The inference is that they will make someone they care about feel better. While I am not doubting that any gift is a welcome respite from the misery of cancer treatment, the prices being asked for them are extortionate - in some cases over £100.
The brands know that friends and family are less likely to understand what products can and can't be used - whereas the patient would have been offered qualified advice and, quite likely, been given a free care package that contains almost everything they need. The 'big sell' for the brands is that their products are 'cancer products'.
No, they are not; they are bog standard natural lotions and potions.
I stuck with gentle, organic products that cost next to nothing compared to 'cancer' skincare.
That's me (below), trying to have a lighter moment in between chemo and surgery (I had chemo first).
Cancer Patients Targeted When Finances Are Tight
What really gets my goat about this is that people with cancer are often worse off during treatment. Many are not working and will have little to no disposable income. In fact, research conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests that four out of five people affected by cancer are on average £570 a month worse off.
Imagine getting the message that, while you are worrying about things like hospital transport and asking yourself 'Is the treatment working?', you should be using this or that specific product on your face - the area of the body least likely to be impacted.
Brands are targeting a niche market with a very specific message and products in packaging designed for maximum appeal. I am afraid, they have got to offer more than mere eye candy to charge well over the odds and retain any kind of respect.
Expensive Doesn't Mean Better
I was prompted to write this post by a brave woman who spoke out against the cancer beauty industry and attracted an instant Mexican wave of support. She was commenting on a Facebook advert for 'cancer' beauty products, saying the prices were extortionate and that it was not fair to target vulnerable people in that way. She, herself, was a cancer patient and said she could not afford to spend so much on skincare.
Many other cancer patients piled in, saying exactly the same.
It's a poor show when people with cancer have to educate everyone else on what is not acceptable.
They pointed out, as I do now, inexpensive products can be just as good.
When A Specialist Service Is Required
There are certain instances when a specialist is required. For example, massage should only ever be given by a therapist trained to treat cancer patients. This is because common massage techniques can lead to or worsen lymphoedema, a condition that causes swelling in limbs. It can be particularly troublesome for those who have had lymph nodes removed.
In summary, I find it unacceptable that a woman undergoing cancer treatment should be considered a demographic for premium beauty marketing campaigns.