The 411: Oncology Esthetics

Esthetics can be so much more than a visit to the spa for a facial. Meet oncology esthetics: treatments that are specially designed to meet the needs of those living with cancer. Think calming facials and massage with modified techniques. We asked Jennifer Brodeur, a Montreal-based skin strategist and celeb skin guru (she’s worked with Oprah and Michelle Obama) all about this specific category that she’s so passionate about.

How did you become interested in oncology esthetics?

My initial love for skincare was fueled by an extraordinary woman Gillian McStay, the mum of my childhood best friend.  Sadly, she passed away from cancer when we were teens. It deeply affected me. However, it took another loss before I made the decision to get involved. My godmother Ulla (who was a force to be reckoned with) also lost her fight with cancer. I was asked to do her eulogy and, as I spoke, I could feel the anger rising inside of me. I knew then that I wanted to do something to help. I remembered her talking about how itchy her scalp was, and all of the other undesirable side effects from the treatments she was undergoing. It was then that I started my search and was driven to get involved in Oncology Training International trainings. I wanted to focus on a number of these aspects to help people with cancer cope with disease-related changes that can affect their body image and physical appearance during treatment. Oncology esthetics is an integrative approach to cancer care, which takes into consideration the importance of the dimensions of feminity, a patient’s identity and helps them regain a positive relationship with their body.

What kind of certification is required to practice oncology esthethics?

An esthetics degree is required to enroll in the class. We also have nurses who take the course. Once the class is taken, there is a test to obtain the certificate. We also urge students to do refresher classes every couple of years as things change rapidly. It is also imperative that students do a certain amount of hours working with oncology esthetics patients in order to gain hands-on experience.

How does oncology esthetics differ from traditional esthetic treatments?

From product selections to treatment protocols, it’s vital that the appropriate steps are taken to ensure a safe treatment. Advanced trainings are also crucial as cancer fighters and survivors can benefit from most spa/beauty and wellness services, everything from acupuncture, massage, essentrics, yoga and facials. When you consider as many as four in 10 people will get cancer in their lifetimes, there is a demand based on this staggering reality. It is estimated that there could be 23.6 million new cases of cancer each year by 2030.

Why is this service an important part of your job and life?

Working with women, helping them see their true beauty from within even in the most difficult and vulnerable moments means the world to me. That all starts with empathy, touch and education. Aging is a privilege denied to so many and we take it for granted. This is why I refuse to use the “AA word” (anti-aging).

What are the biggest lessons your work has taught you?

We have a tendency to worry too much. When you work alongside women who have been diagnosed with terminal cancer, but still manage to wake up every morning with a smile, I think we can all learn from that. It takes unimaginable strength and perseverance. I have a much better perspective on what’s really important.

What kind of innovation is taking place in oncology esthetics that people would be excited about?

A lot of progress is happening in Europe. Hospitals are getting on board, thanks to the incredible work being done by Angela Noviello in Italy. Clinical studies are being conducted to show the benefits of self-care. We seem to be creating a change, which I am very excited about. We want these changes to come to Canada. I would love to work more in collaboration with oncologists, therapists etc. Together we can make a difference.

Can you talk about the importance of safety in the oncology esthetics space?

Safety is key. It’s important to address the challenges and constraints of treating patients with cancer in a spa setting. Wellness treatments must be modified to accommodate all of these challenges and constraints. Bedding and some linens need to be modified as well. Treatment protocols and products being used all need to be taken into consideration.

An example would be the NADIR count (the blood cell count, particularly white blood cell count and platelet count, which is a side effect of chemotherapy or radiation therapy). If the count is too low, it’s best to reschedule.

What kind of beauty products do you recommend for those undergoing treatment (or even post-cancer treatment)?

What’s left out of the product is as important as what’s in the product. I recommend the same for both men and women who are undergoing treatment and even post treatment. My philosophy is always less is more. I recommend staying away from any ingredients that can be a potential risk to the acid mantle (skin) as they cause sensitivity, inflammation etc. For example: silicones, chemical screens, sensitizing colorants/perfumes, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, essential oils and drying alcohols. Also, it’s not the time to exfoliate excessively.

When I created my skincare line, peoni, I had oncology esthetics in mind. I wanted all health challenged skins (from Cancer, Lupus, celiac, MS, etc.) to have safe skincare and it influenced the ingredients that I included in the products.

Jennifer Brodeur, founder of JB Skin Guru, is a female entrepreneur, teacher, and skin strategist with over 20 years of experience in the beauty industry. She is also the French director and educator at Oncology Training International. For more info. on oncology esthetic services or the Peoni skincare line, visit

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