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Coping with changes to how you look

It can be hard to accept changes to how you look. Find out what you can do to help you cope.

Talk to people close to you

The best source of support for most of us is family and friends. You may feel worried about upsetting them. But it can help to share your feelings and the people close to you will want to support you. And if the changes are causing problems with intimate relationships it can help to speak to your partner.

Photograph of living with cancer couple on bench

Sometimes counselling can help you to work through any worries you have. 

Find out what to expect

Many people find that knowing about possible changes helps them deal with them later on. Talk to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist before you have treatment.

Talk to people who have had a similar experience

Some people find talking to other people who have been through something similar reassuring, but it isn't helpful for everyone. Talk to your doctor or clinical nurse specialist if you would like to do this. They might be able to put you in touch with someone who has been through a similar experience. Or they could let you know of any support groups that might be able to help. 

Cancer Research UK has an online forum called Cancer Chat. You might find it helpful to join the forum to talk to other people who have had a similar experience. 

Do things in your own time

It is important to give yourself time to adjust to changes to how you look. There may be things that are more difficult to cope with than others. Thinking about what will make it easier and making plans can help you cope.

For example, you might prefer to look at the changes to how you look for the first time alone. Or you may want someone to be with you when you look for the first time in the mirror.

And there will come a time when you will need to go out again. Going out will feel scary at first when you have changes to how you look, and it might be tempting to keep putting it off.

It might be helpful to go out the first time with someone you are very comfortable with. Try to be prepared for mixed reactions. People can react unexpectedly, especially if you don't know them well. Some people might be shocked and might not hide their shock. Others will be very at ease and make you feel comfortable very quickly. 

Children can be very honest and might ask direct questions. It can help to be prepared for this. 

Don't feel that you have to explain to people if you do not want to. After all, it's your body and you don't have to tell people what has happened if you don't want to. 

Use wigs, hats and scarves to cover hair loss

You can wear hats or scarves to cover hair loss. It is best to experiment and do what makes you feel the most confident. A wig will cover hair loss and might help you feel more confident. 

Use camouflage make up

Camouflage make up can be very useful to cover scars or skin grafts that are different colours. There are lots of colours for all skin tones. There are some specially trained skin camouflage experts that work in the NHS. Ask your doctor or nurse if you have this in your hospital.

Some organisations can give you information about using camouflage make up. They can teach you how to apply it and tell you about the best products to buy. Some want a healthcare professional to refer you. Others allow you to refer yourself. These organisations include:

Getting the make up

You can buy some camouflage make up over the pharmacy counter or direct from the supplier. Others you might be able to get on prescription from your GP. This isn’t guaranteed though. Your GP can tell you what might be available on prescription.   

Using face make up to feel better

Make up can help you feel more confident and more like yourself. You can use it to define your eyes and eyebrows if you have lost them. Don’t worry if you’re not used to wearing make up. It will become easier with practise.

Getting help and support

There are people who can help and support you. Not everyone feels comfortable asking for help. Talk to someone you trust. You can ask your specialist nurse, doctor, GP, dietitian or physiotherapist for support.

Some organisations can put you in touch with people in your area who have had the same problems. 

You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, to talk about any concerns you have.
Last reviewed: 
10 Jul 2019
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    K Jones
    Omnigraphics Incorporated, 2017

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    National Cancer Survivorship Initiative (NCSI), March 2013

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

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  • Hair camouflage: A comprehensive review
    S Saed and others
    International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 2017. Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages S75 – S80

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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