Helping women with cancer to Look Good Feel Better

“A morale boosting makeover raised her spirits immensely and a global charity was born.”

After I got home from hospital I thought ‘At least I’ve still got my hair.’ And then it fell out. I cried.” – Marie, Kiwi cancer survivor

Cancer and cancer treatment are no fun. You’re probably feeling tired and nauseous; your sense of taste may have gone haywire; your memory could be shot and your head feeling like it’s in a continual fog; your mouth may be ulcerated and other parts of your body in pain; you could have either constipation or diarrhoea; and your weak immune system lays you open to infection.

Then your nails break, your skin goes blotchy and your hair falls out. Every person with cancer experiences a different set of symptoms and side-effects. But none of them think those symptoms and side-effects are particularly pleasant – and seeing an unrecognisable face staring back at you when you look in the mirror doesn’t help.

Look Good Feel Better helps women cope with those changes in appearance, boosting their self-esteem and emotional resilience so they can better handle the medical battle they have on their hands.

It started in the United States when, in 1987, a doctor asked former Personal Care Products Council president Ed Kavanaugh how to get a makeover for a cancer patient he was treating. The woman, said the doctor, was so depressed and self-conscious she wouldn’t venture outside her hospital room.

Kavanaugh arranged donations of makeup and organised a makeup artist to visit. The results were astonishing: the woman’s spirits lifted and she began laughing again, for the first time in weeks. The doctor credited the makeover with improving her attitude and emotional approach to her treatment. Realising that other cancer patients might experience a similarly profound result, Kavanaugh brought the Personal Care Products Council, American Cancer Society and National Cosmetology Association together to create a programme to help other women with cancer, and Look Good Feel Better was born.

It has since spread to 20 countries around the world.

Look Good Feel Better arrived in New Zealand in 1992, when it was founded by the Cosmetic Toiletry & Fragrances Association of New Zealand (CTFA). It now runs in 23 towns, cities and regions from Paihia to Invercargill, with 181 workshops, run by 460 volunteers, reaching 3000 women, every year.

During the 2 ½ hour workshop, trained volunteers show women how to cope with the appearance & side-effects of their cancer treatment, such as dry, flaking skin, swollen or gaunt faces, scars, pigmentation changes, acne, brittle fingernails and, of course, hair loss. The volunteers take the women through a step-by-step skincare regime and shown how to apply cosmetics to help camouflage loss of eyebrows, eyelashes and changes in skin colour. Then they are shown how to use wigs, turbans and scarves to look stylish no matter how much hair they have lost.

At the end of the workshop, every woman goes home with a complimentary beauty kit of cosmetics and skincare products donated by the CTFA. Each year the association donates $2.5 million worth of products to Look Good Feel Better.

The effect on the participants is more than skin deep. Here’s what one woman said: “Not only did my body feel really bad, it was hard on the ego knowing I also looked really bad – no hair, eyebrows, stubbly eyelashes, blotchy acne skin, not to mention the excess pounds. But a couple of hours of Look Good Feel Better and I felt everything the name says.”

Look Good Feel Better can’t cure cancer – but it can help to restore the self-esteem of women who are feeling emotionally and physically low. And those women can then muster more emotional resources to deal with the other effects cancer is having on their lives.

Because after a workshop, they do, literally, look good and feel better. Click here to visit the Look Good Feel Better New Zealand website.

To find out more about Curves involvement in New Zealand at our website.

Look Good Feel Better also operates in Australia. Click here to visit the Australian website.