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What is Oncology Esthetics?

The American Cancer Society reported that as of 2016, nearly 15.5 million Americans were either currently living with cancer or had cancer at one point in their lives and were in some state of remission. Further, in 2019 alone, 1.7 million new cancer cases were diagnosed in the United States. This represents a massive pool of people who may benefit from skincare treatments designed specifically for those in the process of undergoing cancer treatment, or who have recently undergone treatment.

Oncology esthetics involves advanced education that is designed to provide estheticians with the knowledge of how to modify spa treatments to ensure a safe outcome for cancer clients. Most people will look for comfort and relief from the unpleasant side effects associated with cancer treatments and therapies, such as dryness, loss of elasticity, and rashes, among other issues.

Oncology esthetics complements medical oncology and falls under the integrative approach. Integrative oncology focuses on the whole person – mind-body-spirit. Integrative therapies take into consideration the unique needs of each oncology patient/client. Each patient/client has unique circumstances and may respond differently to cancer and/or cancer treatment, and estheticians trained in oncology esthetics will seek to approach skincare and other spa related treatments with a heightened level of sensitivity to the condition of those affected by cancer and cancer treatment.

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For example, modifications aim to reduce exposure to treatments that may have adverse effects on sensitive or reactive skin, such as:

  • Excessive heat, pressure and/or friction
  • Exfoliants such as chemical peels and harsh scrubs
  • Stimulating and irritating products

Modified esthetic services make sense for clients in active treatment or recent recovery. As specialists, oncology estheticians have a unique level of understanding of the long-term side effects of cancer treatments.

The Unique Duties and Responsibilities Involved in Working with Clients with Cancer

A client’s oncology treatment may significantly influence the way skincare treatments are applied. Therefore, oncology estheticians are trained to ask the most pertinent questions, such as:

  • Have any lymph nodes been removed, and where?
  • Has skin pigmented due to chemotherapy/radiation?
  • Is the patient on steroids?
  • Does the patient have phlebitis at the injection site?
  • Does the patient have a port, and where is it located?
  • Where is the patient’s immediate area of active radiation treatment?
  • Is the patient currently under chemotherapy treatment or in remission?

In general, the rule of thumb for estheticians working with cancer clients is “less is more.” In other words, less heat, less steam, less massage, and less product.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, oncology estheticians can be trained in a number of additional healing techniques, such a therapeutic reflexology, reiki, and aromatherapy for use in the oncology setting.

Estheticians certificated in Oncology Esthetics help provide relief for clients dealing with cancer, easing their symptoms and skin reactions and improving their overall sense of well-being. The modified spa treatments that oncology estheticians provide help clients cope with cancer, cancer treatment, and side effects.

Oncology estheticians have a unique skillset that allows them to understand how to safely and effectively treat the skin of cancer patients. These estheticians are sensitive to the psychological health of clients in their care, providing services that will address issues with skin affected by cancer treatment. During a spa service, oncology massage techniques are applied to help combat symptoms like anxiety, pain, nausea, fatigue, and insomnia.

Oncology estheticians, in addition to providing skincare therapies, may also provide services like:

  • Areola tattooing
  • Makeup (camouflage, lash and brow reconstruction)
  • Prosthetic/bra fitting services
  • Wig and hair fittings

Note: Providing these additional services may require additional training and separate state licenses.

Education and Certification for Oncology Estheticians

Oncology estheticians are held to the exact same state licensing standards as spa estheticians. This means all estheticians, whether they work with cancer patients or not, are required to hold the same state-issued license and meet the same requirements to qualify for licensure.

However, oncology estheticians often distinguish themselves from other practitioners through specialized education and post-licensure certification that promotes a unique understanding of the needs of cancer patients.

Education and State Licensing Requirements – State licensing boards govern the practice of esthetics (except for Connecticut, which has no practice requirements). This means aspiring estheticians must complete a course of education that meets their state’s licensing requirements. Most states require an educational program of about 600 hours. A number of states also recognize apprenticeship programs as a path to licensure, although hour requirements vary.

Once license candidates successfully complete the required course of education, they must then complete the state licensing process to begin practicing esthetics. For most states, this consists of passing both a practical and written examination. Some states use their own examinations, although most use the standard examinations available through the National-Interstate Council on State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).

Advanced Study and Certification in Oncology Esthetics – This training involves achieving an advanced level of knowledge of cancer, cancer treatment, and side effects. Therefore, licensed estheticians interested in pursuing this field of esthetics are best served by completing a formal course of study in oncology esthetics.

Although states do not license oncology estheticians independent of conventional practitioners, estheticians can earn specialized oncology certification by completing a rigorous course of study that involves classroom and lab, or classroom and online experiences.

A number of institutions offer oncology esthetics educational programs. The International Society of Oncology Estheticians and Allied Professionals (ISOEAP) recognizes two such programs:

Oncology Training International (OTI), Inc – the pioneer of oncology esthetics training – offers the Oncology Esthetics Foundation Training (OEFT), a three-day certification program that includes the following ten modules of study:

  • Cancer Crisis
  • The Disease
  • Cancer Treatment
  • Contraindications and Precautions
  • Psychological Therapy
  • The Spa Setting
  • Ingredients in Skin Care
  • Skin Cancer
  • Spa Business Practices
  • Standards of Practice and Administrative Considerations

The Institute of Integrative Oncology offers Greet the Day programs, which complement the work of a multi-disciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers, massage therapists, estheticians, and yoga teachers.

The goal of these programs is to teach professionals how to combine conventional and complementary therapies into a course of care that addresses the whole living person.

DISCLAIMER: Use of the term oncology has to be used in the correct context, or could be misconstrued as traditional oncology treatment, which ONLY medical professionals trained in this field of medicine can provide. Estheticians participating in this advanced training need to focus on esthetics/skincare services therefore must refer to their services as oncology skincare treatments or services, or oncology skincare consultations.