American Cancer Society’s Look Good ... Feel Better program is a community-based, free national service that teaches female cancer patients techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during cancer treatment.

Looking Up: The Complete Guide to Looking and Feeling Good for the Recovering Cancer Patient
Suzy Kalter

A lot of useful information about hair loss, exercises, and cosmetics

The Cancer Resource Guide: Dealing with the Cosmetic Side Effects of Your Treatment
Cosmetic Image Enhancement Program at Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Natural Hair, Skin, and Body-Care Products

Aubrey Organics


Mastey Products
1-800-662-7839 or
(805) 257-4814


Salon 475
Lori Irsay's Salon 475 in Highland park, Illinois, is one of the few salons to specialize in cosmetology for cancer patients. Lori is a nationally recognized expert in hair replacement for cancer patients. In 2007 she opened a second location, "Look Alike Solutions," in Green bay, Wisconsin.

Look good, feel better

If I was going to be really ill, I thought that the last thing I would care about would be my appearance. In one sense this was true. But I also found that looking in the mirror could be quite depressing on days when I felt and looked unwell. And depression was something I didn’t need when I was trying to boost my immune system.

Along with many patients, I found that if I made the effort to look good, I would find myself feeling better. Furthermore, I found that how I looked and felt also affected how other people treated me.

Former cancer patients told me that I would never want to wear my “chemo clothes” again, because they would remind me of the treatment sessions. They were right. I heard of patients making a bonfire of their chemo clothes as a celebration and ending ritual after their treatment was complete. I decided to buy specific clothes for chemotherapy, which I could throw away once I was done.

Everyone is different, and many patients are very happy wearing tracksuits and jeans. Although I sometimes did too, I preferred to find outfits that had some style and were fashionable as well as comfortable. For me, this was not a time for drab and dingy colors or styles. I purchased some inexpensive but attractive and cheerful clothes that suited me, were easy to get on and off, and were comfortable to lounge around in. I was glad I did. In the midst of chemotherapy, when I felt tired and nauseous, comfortable clothes made a big difference. And due to all the tests and so forth, I found that I had to get in and out of my outfits frequently.

When not in chemo, I took care to look good and dress well, even if it was just for me. If I looked good, I felt better—no question about it. Looking good helped to boost my spirits and my immune system. It always gave me a lift when people told me that I looked great. I think they were happy to see that I didn’t look like a cancer “victim” or what they imagined a cancer patient would look like. I looked and felt like someone who was going to live.

Nurturing Myself

Some are blessed to be completely unconcerned about their appearance. However, I had a great need to nurture myself, and I felt that learning to love myself and take care of myself was an important part of my personal path of healing.

For several months before my diagnosis, I had felt the need to nurture and take care of myself in a better way. I had returned to the local hot springs after not having gone there for some time, and I worked on getting more exercise in my life.

After the diagnosis and after I had done everything I needed to for my treatment, I then made taking care of myself a priority. I developed a routine of self-care. I took time showering, using a soft bristle brush and later a cactus-fiber cloth. I applied lotions and essential oils to my body and my hair. I took time to cleanse, tone, and moisturize my face. I played uplifting music or mantras. I wore makeup—even when I was unlikely to see anyone. I painted my nails in a delicate pastel color (something that I had not done in years).

Many cancer centers, including Cancer Treatment Centers of America, teach that addressing the physical changes that come with cancer and its treatment is an important part of the healing process. This can lead to a more positive attitude, greater self-esteem, increased personal comfort, and a greater sense of well-being.

This was very true for me. I had seen many cancer patients in my years as a medical doctor, and I did not want to see myself become or even look like a “cancer patient.” On my hospital visits, I noted the fellow patients who looked good. In some ways their appearance seemed to suggest that they were on top of their situation, and I looked to them for inspiration. (I do not mean to denigrate anyone’s appearance. I know that there are times when we cannot look good and the effects of our illness show through. But I know that doing my best to look good was helpful for me and for my own healing.)

My mother and sister were very generous and sent me “glad money” with which to pamper myself. They knew me very well and wanted to cheer me up even though they could not be physically present with me. When you are not earning an income and money is scarce because of medical bills, gifts from friends and family can be a real boost and a blessing. Courtesy of my family, I was able to consult a beautician and makeup expert to get a makeover and to seek advice on natural skin-care products.

It felt good to be taking care of myself—something that Elizabeth from the mind-body program at the hospital had taught me. I treated myself to a visit to a day spa and had a facial, manicure, and body massage. These visits always boosted my spirits and took my mind off the cancer and the treatment. They also helped to give me a sense of control over my illness.

An interesting incident illustrated this principle for me. A friend had sent me a small sample bottle of a very expensive moisturizing skin product. I used it and really liked the effect that it had on my face. When I decided to buy a larger bottle of it, I could not find it anywhere in Montana. A girlfriend from Minneapolis called and asked if there was anything at all that she could do for me. Would I like anything?

I sheepishly told her about the product that I could not find. It seemed so silly even to mention it, given everything else that was going on in my life. But she, bless her heart, took the time to track down the product at Bloomingdales and sent it to me. It was like getting a Christmas package in April. It made me feel very special, and that bottle of lotion did a tremendous amount to boost my morale. Looking back, I think that this incident sent a message to my body that I loved it and was willing to spend time and energy to nurture it. Bernie Siegel calls this sending a “live” message to your body.

Taking good care of my body began to take effect, and the results were soon evident. My skin looked better and more radiant than I can ever remember it having looked, although I am sure that better diet, vitamins, and exercise (not to mention prayer) had their effects too. I lost the weight I had gained in the previous few years and had more energy than I had had in some time.

People came up to me to tell me that I looked really well. When I looked in the mirror, I could tell that I was looking better than I had in years. I even looked younger.

Skin Care and Cosmetics

Skin care can be very important for those undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment. I found that more natural products, preferably organic, were definitely better for my body. They were a little more expensive, but they were worth it for the way that they made me feel. Many health stores have them. Read the labels and be discerning. Unnecessary chemicals can be an added load on your immune system. When you think about it, you can absorb a lot of lipstick and makeup into your body during a lifetime.

Chemotherapy patients often find that they develop dry skin and need more moisturizers. Certain types of cytotoxic drugs can also produce photosensitivity (abnormal sensitivity of the skin to light), and that means staying out of the sun and using a good sunscreen.

One tip we received in the image-enhancement classes at the hospital was to avoid any possibility of bacterial infections from mascara or other cosmetics that are used for long periods of time. Mascara should be replaced every few months, and products should be taken from their containers via spatulas or cotton buds so that the container is not contaminated with bacteria that might be picked up from the skin. Usually these small traces of bacteria would not be a problem, but when the immune system is impacted by chemotherapy, even small things can become much more significant.

Some of the other skincare products that I used included vitamin-E cream for the breasts to help reduce scarring from surgery and to help the skin deal with the effects of radiation, Melaleuca (Australian tea tree oil) and arnica ointment, to help with the disinfection and healing of intravenous sites, comfrey and goldenseal cream, and chamomile cream.

Journal Entry

February 13, 1999
Meditation and thoughts on preparing for chemotherapy
      I consciously let go and surrender my body, my breast, and the cancer to the care of the angels and to Mother Mary. I do not need to sacrifice myself or my body or any part of my body unless God wills it. I do not need to martyr myself. I am learning how to live rather than how to die. I breathe in peace and exhale tension. I breathe in love and exhale pain and grief.
      My immune system is strong and healthy. Its mission is to clear the unhealthy cancer cells. My immune system recognizes unhealthy cells and eliminates them from my body. I send love throughout my body and dissolve the unhealthy cells. The cancer is becoming obvious to the immune cells and millions of healthy cells come to the rescue. The healthy immune cells seek out and recognize the unhealthy cells and remove them.
      I have no fear of the cancer. I have no fear of the chemotherapy and the radiation. As the Bible says I can eat any deadly thing and it will not hurt me. My body easily receives the chemotherapy and accepts the needles and the intravenous canulas. I feel calm and relaxed and there are no side effects. I feel good before, during, and after my treatments.
      I am surrounded by love, prayers, and well wishes from those who love me. I am eating well, I have energy, and I do activities that I want to do. I am at peace. I am vibrant and calm. I am spiritually aware. I am satisfied with all that I am doing and becoming.
      I feel strong, energetic, calm, and good. My mind is clear of all negativity. I am able to think well, to concentrate and focus. My heart, soul, mind, and body are healing, strengthening, and overcoming the cancer. I am relaxed and happy.
      I am flooded with gratitude for God and his wondrous creation of me, my body, and my immune system. The all-seeing eye of God will help to find and eliminate the cancer cells. Together we eliminate that which I have created that is not of God and replace it with God-like qualities and virtues. All is well.


Excerpted from A Journey through Cancer, by Neroli Duffy