Chemotherapy and/or radiation are necessary components of treatment for many women diagnosed with cancer but they can wreak havoc on your skin. Even though (in most cases) the benefits far outweigh the potential negative side effects, it’s helpful to know what you may be up against while undergoing treatment.
Chemotherapy drugs can damage skin cells, causing dryness, itchiness, and irritation. Some women may develop a rash or other skin discoloration and experience increased sensitivity to the sun. Radiation therapy often causes the skin on the part of the body receiving treatment to peel, itch, and become darker. You may experience swelling in the area as well.
The good news is there are things you can do to help prevent, soothe and maintain the health of your skin during chemo and radiation treatments. Many women find it helpful to start with some preventative skincare measures at least a week before starting treatment. This ensures that your skin has a healthy base before your therapy regimen begins.
Tips For Healthy Skin Throughout Treatment
- Try taking short, warm showers using gentle, fragrance-free cleansers. And avoid scrubbing your skin.
- MOISTURIZE; this may be the single most important tip of all. Use thicker creams and ointments that are more readily absorbed into the skin, preventing dehydration. Apply moisturizer within 15 minutes after showering, again at nighttime, and after washing your hands.
- Make sure to use a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB light, with an SPF of at least 50.
- If you’re dealing with red, itchy skin, a steroid cream containing cortisone can be soothing and reduce inflammation.
- Avoid using skin care products with alcohol, especially on your face. Alcohol is drying and can exacerbate the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
- Avoid exfoliants. Cancer treatments can affect the skin’s cell growth process, so exfoliating scrubs can damage the skin.
Skincare Products That Soothe, Prevent, & Protect
The number of skin care products on the market can be overwhelming for sure. And most of them boast a long list of ingredients with harsh chemicals and fragrances that aren’t well suited to women undergoing treatment for cancer. Below is a list of a few gentle, fragrance-free we love. The best part is they’re inexpensive and easy to find.
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($14) is #1 dermatologist recommended for dry, cracked skin. It’s preservative and fragrance free, extra emollient, and long-lasting.
- L’Occitane Shea butter Ultra Rich Lip Balm ($12) This is a bit pricey for a lip balm but it’s fragrance and flavor free and is made with soothing shea butter.
- Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50 ($11) We love this sunscreen because it’s light, gentle, blends in quickly without leaving a sticky residue, and most importantly protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Dr. Cynthia Bailey’s Chemotherapy Skincare Kit ($67.50)
Designed by dermatologist and cancer survivor, Dr, Cynthia Bailey, this kit contains 7 skincare products made specifically for those undergoing chemotherapy (and they’re the products Dr. Bailey used during her own cancer treatments.) The kit includes a few of Dr. Bailey’s signature products, like the All Natural Face and Body Lotion, Natural Lip Balm, Dry Skin Hand Cream, and All Natural Foaming Liquid Hand Soap as well as some well-known favorites like Bag Balm and a Vanicream Cleansing bar. You can find this kit at www.drbaileyskincare.com.