– What inspired you to start Beauty Despite Cancer?
‘Women don’t stop being women when they are diagnosed with cancer.’ I often find myself saying this as a way of explaining why I started www.beautydespitecancer.co.uk and why I created Defiant Beauty, skincare and beauty collections for cancer patients.
I have a scientific background. Some years ago, at exactly the time I had decided to re-train as a therapist (aroma therapy, beauty therapy, nutritional therapy and product formulation) I was asked, by a team at my local NHS hospital, to create a skincare range for cancer patients. I had no idea why they needed a skincare range or why the HNS team asked me to help. I went to the local chemo ward to find out and learned a lot.
During my therapy training, I was being taught not to touch cancer patients. I was working with women in treatment who wanted and needed the acceptance of touch. They also wanted beauty treatments and help to improve their nail condition.
I am a scientist, I ask ‘why?’ and I look for evidence. If I am being taught a fact, I expect a scientific reference to help me to gauge the reliability of the fact. My beauty and holistic training was telling me not to touch cancer patients and not giving me hard evidence to support the inference that we could do harm by touch.
I sensed a double injustice – people affected by cancer were being ignored by the beauty industry –cancer patients are told to avoid certain ingredients that are most in main-stream beauty and cosmetic products. Gone are the luxurious and delicately fragranced, beautifully wrapped serums, lotions and potions only to be replaced by thick white gloopy cream from a plastic pump topped dispenser – that’s what cancer suffers had to face as their new skincare regime. As well as the lack of skincare products cancer patients also had no access to touch therapies. Therapists were being taught not to touch anyone who had been diagnosed with cancer and insurers were refusing to insure anyone who did. I am not great with injustice. I decided it was time to make change – the skin care range was created and the accredited courses written. I made sure that insurance for the therapists we train would not be an issue.
– What have the responses been like from women living with cancer who use your products?
The Beauty Despite Cancer range was specifically developed at the request of a group of patients and ex patients from my local hospital who asked me to work with them to develop a skincare range that could be used by cancer patients. The staff joined in and Defiant Beauty was the result.
The response from those living with and beyond cancer to our range has been overwhelmingly positive. Beauty Despite Cancer was developed at the specific request of those affected by cancer; there were no other products available that were suitable, and so with the Defiant Beauty range those who face treatment for cancer no longer face a potential loss of identity.
‘Research has shown that the low point of treatment is the moment when one sees oneself in the mirror and no longer recognises the reflection.’ I always mention this research when I am speaking
at conferences and exhibitions and when chatting to patients. On one memorable occasion, a
beautiful patient came to me after a talk and said ‘the research is right, the low point is when we
don’t recognise our reflection but it is not in a mirror. No-one looks in the mirror anymore, it is when
we catch sight of a reflection in a shop window and don’t know who is looking back at us’
These words have stayed with me. It is my mission to help those living with and beyond cancer to
recognise themselves, physically and emotionally. Beauty treatments, specialist products and the
knowledge of how to work appropriately with those affected by cancer, allows people to recognise
Equally as important is the need to maintain normality. Anyone who wanted a beauty treatment
prior to their diagnosis would want beauty treatments after their diagnosis – women don’t stop
being women when they are diagnosed with cancer. However, they have been banished from
beauty, just when they needed it most. Many medical teams tell patients to be very cautious of
beauty treatments and, therapists are taught not to touch someone for years after diagnosis
(without specialist training) – no matter the benefits of specialist beauty for those affected by cancer
– finding a treatment can be yet another challenge.
As part of the Beauty Despite Cancer website we have a blog section where we write blogs and
testimonials from those who have used our products, and it is clear to see the positive impact the
beauty range has had for those suffering from cancer, not only on their skin but also on their
– What kind of beauty and skincare considerations do women living with cancer have to take into
account, that might have been different to their usual regime?
It is not cancer (the disease) that causes bad side-effects; it is the cancer treatment that reacts
negatively with the body. Not only are patients likely to lose their hair, their skin may become so
sensitive, sore and itchy that they may not be able to tolerate the beauty brands that they previously
loved. Nails can become fragile, ridged or may fall off, lips become chapped, mouths ulcered and
sore, the palms of the hands and soles of the feet swollen and blistered and eyelashes and eyebrows
thin or lost.
Cancer patients are also told to avoid certain ingredients that are most in main-stream beauty and
cosmetic products, for example the medical team who helped to develop the Defiant Beauty range
would not allow plant oestrogens to be included in the products as some cancers are fed by
oestrogens. This meant that plant oestrogens such as aloe vera, avocado and soy were not ‘allowed’
into the skincare collections. In addition, the products had to be fragrance-free. So as well as having
to cope with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, those living with cancer also have to try to find
skincare products that can alleviate the painful side-effects of the cancer treatment, and also try to
replace their normal beauty or cosmetic products, whilst still enabling them to feel beautiful. When
asking the patients what they wanted from the Jennifer Young collections they asked for natural and
organic ingredients that helped with their skin and nail conditions.
– What are some general self-care tips to women living with cancer who might be afraid that they’ll
lose their beauty or identity through treatment?
Cancer patients do not want to look like cancer patients; they want their appearance to remain the
same. Most are horrified at the idea of their (what should be private) medical condition being
broadcast to all through the medium of their appearance. Those with cancer do not want to have to
deal with pity from others; they want to remain anonymous. They do not want cancer to become
I hear this all of the time from cancer patients, each one thinking it is just them, or not wanting to
ask about maintaining their appearance as they have cancer and so, to worry about how they look is
shallow and unnecessary, but worry they do. Shallow and unnecessary it is not. For women living
with cancer worrying that they may lose their beauty or identity through treatment I would say do
not be afraid to want to claim ownership over your body, beauty and identity. You have a right to
want to maintain normality and not be defined by your cancer diagnosis. This is the reason the
Beauty Despite Cancer website was created- so women affected by cancer and rejected from the
beauty industry can still access beautiful, high-quality skin-care and cosmetic products.
The Jennifer Young skincare and cosmetics ranges have been specifically formulated using all natural and soothing ingredients, specifically targeting the most prone areas, and the side-effects that are
caused by cancer treatment. We do not use ingredients that cancer patients are advised to avoid, or
ingredients that could aggravate the skin and body.
We are also determined to provide those affected by cancer with a natural make-up range that they
can use to provide the normality of life before cancer.
©Jennifer Young 2018 all rights reserved