Beauty routine with RA
Credit: Eileen Davidson

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can pose challenges in various aspects of daily life, including with our beauty routines. Before my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I worked as an esthetician in busy salons and spas. I was able to not only keep up with my beauty routine, but also provide my clients with pampering — all in a day.

Now with RA, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia, I couldn’t imagine going back to the physical job of back-to-back pedicures, facials, and waxing. Not when I struggle some days to complete these tasks for myself.

Some days, washing my own face can cause me pain, but if I don’t do it, I will end up with clogged pores, acne, and just feel gross. Yet with chronic illness, I often find myself having to just resign to feeling “gross.” The feeling when you can’t shower for a day or two (and your hair becomes matted) because fatigue is raging. It happens more than I would like to admit.

Overcoming Beauty Routine Hurdles with Comorbidities

Arthritis isn’t my only barrier to my beauty routine. Anxiety and depression play a role, too. Some days it can feel hard to see the point of taking care of myself. While being an esthetician taught me a lot of beauty tricks and tips, I have had to adjust my routine to accommodate the physical and mental toll of chronic illness.

With some adaptations and modifications, it’s possible to maintain a fulfilling beauty routine that caters to the specific needs and limitations of those with arthritis. I’ve outlined what has helped me.

Prioritizing Self-Care for a Radiant Appearance

How I manage my RA affects my appearance. Consuming a healthy diet enhances the radiance of our skin, while the consumption of high-inflammatory foods takes a toll on both our skin and joints. Similarly, staying hydrated and exercising play a crucial role in my overall wellbeing.

Strength training and range of motion exercises facilitate everyday tasks for individuals with RA, while regular aerobic exercise works wonders for our skin. Another practice that contributes to both my well-being and a fresher appearance is using a sauna as part of my RA regimen. The sauna leaves me feeling lighter, less creaky, and my skin more radiant.

Pacing for Success

Pacing myself has been one of the biggest lessons of living with RA. If I overdo it, I may end up in pain or experience a crash from fatigue.

  • Give yourself plenty of time and take breaks during your grooming routine. If you feel strain on your joints, switch to another activity or rest. For example, I often need to rest while raising my shoulders to do my hair.
  • Lay out everything you need the night before to avoid searching for items in the morning.
  • Remember that rest is as important as exercise. If you struggle with painsomnia or anxiety, consider using a good under-eye concealer and simplifying your beauty routine.
  • Opt for sitting down while getting ready, including in the shower. Invest in a shower chair or a spa/sauna bench if traditional chairs are unappealing.

RA-Friendly Skincare and Makeup

For me, RA-friendly skincare involves prioritizing user-friendly packaging, maintaining consistent sun protection due to medication side effects, establishing a dependable skincare routine, understanding my unique skin type and needs, and adapting exfoliation methods to address sensitivities associated with RA symptoms.

Choose products that are easy to handle and apply.

I tend to opt for lightweight packaging with wide grips or handles that can make a significant difference in the ease of use. However, if your favorite product does not come with a RA-friendly handle, try the following:

  • Purchase foam to add to thin handles to make it easier to apply makeup. They are available in different sizes and shapes. It will be some trial and error to find the right one for you but there are options available on Amazon.
  • Opt for products with pump or spray applicators, as they require less manual dexterity compared to products in jars or tubes. If you experience thumb pain, however, this might not be the right option for you.
  • Consider continuous spray bottles — all you have to do is transfer the product from one bottle to another.
  • Stock up on rubber grip pads to easily opening jars that require twisting your wrists or fingers.
  • Speak to an occupational therapist to personalize your adaptations. Give occupational therapist and RA patient Cheryl Crow from Arthritis Life Cheryl a follow for many occupational therapy and arthritis tips and tricks, not just beauty related.

Wear sunscreen year-round.

Many of our medications can cause photosensitivity, and many of our medications have side effects that can increase our chances of certain types of cancer. Sunscreen will not only protect you from skin cancer and burns but also help protect your skin from signs of aging and wrinkles. We should be wearing sun protection every day, including on cloudy days.

Many day creams and makeup have SPF in them. Personally, I love the Supergoop products for their SPF focus creams and powders. When it comes to make up with SPF, I am a fan of IT cosmetics CC cream. Having a powder with a SPF in it makes it easy to touch up during the day.

Create a skincare routine you can stick to.

In my opinion, a good skincare routine is better than any makeup. I’ve found The Ordinary, which is fragrance free, is affordable and offers easy-to-apply products that pack a punch. I try to focus on skincare with potent natural ingredients and a focus on being environmentally friendly.

However, there is no shortage of great brands — from professional to drugstore — so it’s about finding which one works best for your needs and your budget.

Learn your skin type and what it needs.

As someone with oily skin, I need to take care of my skin regularly or I’m going to have clogged pores and acne. With arthritic fingers it can be harder to do extractions like I used to in my spa working days. Regular cleansing, exfoliating, and masking is key to reducing excess oils and blackheads.

  • Taking care of our skin on the bad days can seem daunting but there are products and devices that can make it easier for us.
  • Try cleansers that can be used with or without water, such as micellar waters or cleansing oils, to minimize fatigue during the cleansing process.
  • If it’s painful to wash your face with your hands, use facial brushes and microdermabrasion tools. There any options — from electric to silicone for the face and body.
  • Finger pain? Try the palm of your hand or facial cloth.

Don’t forget to exfoliate.

Exfoliating our skin is crucial as it removes dead skin cells, unclogs pores, and promotes cell turnover, resulting in fresher, smoother, and brighter skin. This process also enhances the effectiveness of skincare products by allowing them to penetrate deeper into the skin. Additionally, regular exfoliation diminishes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, improves uneven skin tone and texture, and contributes to healthier, more radiant skin, particularly beneficial when RA symptoms make a spa visit feel necessary.

  • When experiencing inflammation in your hands, opt for gentler exfoliation methods such as mask, powder, or liquid exfoliants instead of abrasive textures.
  • Consider investing in a skin spatula to facilitate painless exfoliation while achieving smooth skin and removing blackheads.
  • Make exfoliation more comfortable by using a facial steamer or incorporating it into your post-shower routine.
  • Remember to carefully read the label of exfoliants to determine how often and when to use them, as many are not suitable for daily use, especially if you have sensitive skin or during months with increased sun exposure.

Be careful with waxing and medications or skin conditions.

Since my RA diagnosis and treatment journey, my skin does not tolerate waxing very well, so I stick to shaving, dermaplaning, or tweezing to prevent further discomfort from my skin tearing. Waxing and our medications can cause a severe reaction if our skin is thinned out from the medication. The same can go with laser hair removal; it’s something I would avoid but this is a conversation you should have with your rheumatologist.

Simplify your makeup routine.

Here are some key elements that can save you time and energy.

  • Use a tinted moisturizer or BB cream instead of heavy foundation to provide a lightweight and natural-looking base, which is also more comfortable to wear.
  • Opt for cream-based products like blushes and eyeshadows for easier application and blending.
  • Apply eyeshadow using fingers or choose makeup brushes with larger handles for assistance.
  • Select waterproof mascara to protect sensitive eyes from sunlight, especially while on certain medications.
  • Invest in long-lasting, high-quality makeup to minimize the need for frequent touch-ups.
  • Purchase travel-sized products to lighten the load when carrying makeup for touch-ups.
  • Use primer and setting spray or powder to prolong the wear of your makeup.
  • Simplify your routine by using an eyebrow tint to color your eyebrow hair.
  • Prioritize comfort in your makeup routine by doing what feels best for you.

Hair Care with Arthritis

When it comes to hairstyling, choosing hairstyles that require less manipulation is beneficial but sometimes less fun. Since my RA diagnosis, I have had to learn to embrace the natural textures of my hair, which is somewhere between wavy and curly. I used to straighten my hair daily, but with RA I couldn’t imagine going through that kind of trouble every day.

  • Turn to hair tools with ergonomic handles, such as hair dryers or curling irons, to make the process more comfortable.
  • Use tools like a blow dry brush, hot rollers, foam rollers, or a heated brush.
  • Consider using the Dyson air wrap or Shark air wraps if they are in your budget. These make curling your hair even easier but come with a hefty price tag. I was gifted with a Dyson by a friend, and it certainly made styling my hair a lot easier and pain free.
  • Try products like mouse, gel, or curl enhancers to tame curls and reduce styling time with curling irons or straighteners.
  • Focus on nourishing your hair instead of overworking it with too much heat styling and over-coloring.
  • If coloring your own hair, do a solid color to make maintenance easier.
  • Use a silk pillowcase to protect your hair from tangling and breakage.
  • Wear a hair mask while in the sauna. My favorite product line for hair is Olaplex, which is low fragrance, works great, and helps repair my hair.
  • Consider skipping daily washes, which can strip away natural oils, leaving your hair dry. If you exercise frequently, opt for rinsing your hair and applying conditioner to the ends or freshen your roots with dry shampoo.

Vitamins and Supplements for Health

A concern for many people living with arthritis, as well as other health conditions, is hair loss. Consult your rheumatologist about potential supplements to address hair loss. Before adding any new vitamins or supplements to your routine, seek advice from your physician or pharmacist. This ensures that the supplements are suitable and safe for your individual needs and health conditions.

Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another due to individualized factors. For example, if you inquire in a Facebook group of women with RA about hair growth solutions, you’ll receive diverse responses, including recommendations for folic acid or biotin.

  • Folic acid is sometimes prescribed alongside arthritis medications to combat hair loss. If this approach doesn’t yield results, discuss alternative treatments with your doctor, addressing both hair concerns and arthritis management.
  • To promote overall health, including skin, hair, and nail wellness with arthritis, consider incorporating collagen-rich foods like bone broth or collagen peptides.
  • Consume omega fatty acids from sources such as fatty fish or flaxseeds to reduce inflammation and support healthy skin and hair.
  • Incorporate biotin-rich foods like eggs into your diet or consider taking biotin supplements to strengthen nails and enhance overall hair health.
  • Before making any changes, consult your physician to ensure these dietary adjustments align with your specific health needs and conditions.

Caring for Hands, Feet, and Nails

Dry cracked hands and feet have the risk of getting infected, which is problematic for someone who is on medications like biologics and living with an autoimmune disease. Try the following to care for your hands, feet, and nails:

  • Apply cuticle oil and hand cream regularly to nourish and prevent dryness and cracking from constantly washing or sanitizing our hands. Buffing cuticle oil into our nails can help make them stronger and healthier.
  • Consider foot soaks, cracked skin salves, and creams designed for callus removal. Parrafin wax is also helpful for soothing achy arthritic hands or feet while helping to soften dry and cracked skin.
  • Be cautious with artificial nails with arthritis and make sure the salon is using proper sterilization of equipment to minimize the risk of infection.

Be a More Proactive Patient with PatientSpot

PatientSpot (formerly ArthritisPower) is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for people living with chronic conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.

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