Volunteering with Mary Washington Regional Cancer Center’s “Look Good Feel Better” program, Fredericksburg esthetician Jen Robinson noticed the cancer patients she worked with appeared to be well informed that chemotherapy and radiation treatments would cause a loss of their hair and nails.
“But they didn’t have an understanding of how their skin would be impacted,” Robinson said. “Our skin is our largest organ, and these treatments kill everything, skin included. It can really take a toll.”
Filled with compassion for those suffering from these side effects, Robinson wanted to do more.
Last spring, she earned a certificate as an oncology-trained esthetician, and recently opened Piel Bella Spa at 4520 Plank Road, Suite 101, the first in the Fredericksburg region to offer services specifically catered to cancer patients and survivors.
“It’s also a normal spa with all the services typically provided—facials, detox, anti-aging,” Robinson said. “It’s my regular clients who come that make it possible to not have to turn oncology patients away.”
Robinson said her consultations are always free. “I’m really trying to work with all financial situations and offer services to anyone who needs help,” she said. “And if nothing else, depending on the condition, I can provide a list of ingredients to avoid or ingredients that will help.”
Julie Ricketts, who owns Fredericksburg’s Downtown Salon, also has volunteered with the Mary Washington Look Good Feel Better program for the last 20 years, the past two with Robinson.
“Jen took that extra effort to become an oncology-trained esthetician and has been able to fill in the gaps that I could not,” Ricketts said. “Her extra education really took us up a level, helping us do everything possible to teach what will keep your skin best maintained during chemo and radiation.”
The certification involved four eight-hour days hearing lectures and participating in clinicals, with exams at the conclusion.
“Through the certifying organization, Oncology Spa Solutions, I have access to products that meet certain quality standards for treating a variety of conditions caused by the severe trauma of cancer therapies,” Robinson said. “Many people experience problems with their skin for years after treatments are over.”
The focus of doctors and medical personnel is primarily on lifesaving, which is as it should be, Ricketts said.
“As much as doctors and nurses care—and what a wonderful job they do!—we understand their focus has got to be on survival,” she said. “But these are mothers and wives and employees, still going to work and caring for children and making dinner, even though they’re sick from the treatments and feeling miserable.”
She said they need to have someone show them how to take care of themselves and prevent additional problems.
“Of course I’m not a doctor, I don’t treat open lesions, I can’t diagnose,” Robinson said. “But so many of these patients don’t know how medicines and treatments overlap and interact with each other. They don’t know what to change to make things better, and I can help with that.”
In addition to protecting the complex systems within the body, skin helps with temperature regulation, immune defense, vitamin production and sensation. An average adult carries roughly eight pounds and 22 square feet of skin.
“It’s amazing how much issues with the skin can have an impact on our well-being,” Robinson said. “We can soothe and hydrate and prepare the skin for cancer treatments so the side effects are lessened, we can treat the skin throughout to help it recover, and continue its care as problems recur or continue after treatments are over.”
Ricketts said the Look Good Feel Good program only reaches a small percentage of people in the area who could benefit from it.
“We only do it three, maybe four times a year—and it may end altogether because it looks like we might be losing funding,” Ricketts said. “Jen’s spa can really make a difference in helping people who really need it.”
Originally from Texas, Robinson and her family moved to Fredericksburg from Colorado in early 2016. Over their 15 years of marriage, Robinson and her husband, Jason, have moved 11 times while he served in the Army. Now Jason is retired and working in IT for the government as a civilian. The couple and their two sons, ages 13 and 14, hope to stay in Fredericksburg a long time.
“I’ve been wanting to make a career move that is more meaningful to me, where I feel I’m really serving others and making a difference,” Robinson said. “We love the Fredericksburg community and hope to make a contribution here.”
Although she has been providing professional esthetician services to clients in their homes, Robinson wanted a place where they could escape and really feel pampered.
On Aug. 11, she held a grand opening for Piel Bella Spa, located in the medical offices off Plank Road behind Sakura Japanese Steakhouse.
Here, she can control the temperature and atmosphere and all her supplies and treatment options are accessible.
“I’m so thrilled to have this new location,” Robinson said. “I really am trying to make it a retreat from the world and everything they’re facing—to nurture souls as well as skin.”