Spa Treatments During Cancer? Visit a Certified Oncology Esthetician


Research has shown that massage, facials, reflexology, and other spa treatments can all help reduce stress, nurture the skin, slow the appearance of aging, and even reduce side effects from cancer therapies and medications.

Because so many people are now turning to spa treatments for health reasons, today’s therapists need to know a lot more than just how to make you feel good. I was fortunate enough to meet one spa owner and esthetician who is taking her responsibilities very seriously. Beverly Miller owns and operates Tranquility Spa & Wellness in St. Charles, Illinois. We attended a training course together on oncology esthetics (given by Morag Currin, pioneer of the Clinical Oncology Esthetics (COE) certification for licensed estheticians), and I was so impressed that she paid for most of her staff to take the course with her. They’re all committed to making a difference in the lives of cancer patients and wanted to gain certification before promoting themselves as a spa that works with fighters and survivors.

“We have five estheticians working at the spa,” Beverly said, “and I wanted all of us to have this knowledge. We’re very involved in a center in Geneva called the Living Well Cancer Resource Center, and we would like to be able to donate our services there.”

Beverly says that her personal experience with cancer made her want to do more: “Over the last several years, I’ve had many of my clients come in and say, ‘I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer,’ or ‘I just found out I have ovarian cancer.’ I’ve seen friends and clients go through chemotherapy and radiation and I’ve seen what it does to their skin. The treatments, medications, and surgeries create unique situations that you have to know how to deal with so you don’t cause any injuries.”

When talking with Beverly about the need for additional education, she pointed out that there have been a lot of changes in the industry that require it. “Back when I started, spa treatments were mainly a ‘fluff and puff’ sort of thing you did to pamper yourself on a special occasion,” she says. “Since then, science has learned a lot more about the skin and body, and we now have more beneficial ingredients in our skin care products like antioxidants and peptides. More likely than not, one of us will detect a suspicious mole or dark spot on the skin before anyone else does, making us the first line of defense against skin cancer. And our spas aren’t just about looking pretty anymore—we’re catering to people’s health and well being with things like acupuncture, reflexology, and yoga classes, in addition to the standard massage and facial treatments. So we have to be a lot more educated to fulfill that role.”

After the course was finished, Beverly said the most important thing she learned was to be extra careful with people who’ve had lymph nodes removed. “It’s very important to know how not to massage, because you could cause lymphedema [long-term swelling],” she said. “I want to create a safe haven for my clients. No matter what they’re going through, I want them to feel comfortable in my spa, and know that they’re putting their bodies in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing.”

When asked what advice she would give people living with cancer when looking for the right esthetician, Beverly said, “Call the spa or wellness center. Check their certifications. They should have their basic training, plus additional training from the International Dermal Institute (for estheticians), or from a course like this one. When you go in, observe how they react. Do they have you fill out an extensive questionnaire? They need to know if your blood count is low, for example, so that they’re extra cautious about risk of infection. Finally, if I were going through cancer, I would call and say, ‘Do your estheticians know how to treat someone going through cancer?’ And I would make sure to tell them everything about my condition.”

Today, armed with her new knowledge, Beverly is excited about expanding her services. “A spa treatment is soothing, relaxing, and truly healing. It can definitely help you deal with the side effects so you feel more confident and refreshed.”

Have you found the perfect esthetician or massage therapist to help you during your treatment? Please share your story.

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