Skin Care During Cancer Treatments: Adapting Your Routine for Chemotherapy and Radiation

Skin Care During Cancer Treatments: Adapting Your Routine for Chemotherapy and Radiation

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can have profound effects on the body, and the skin is no exception. As the largest organ and primary protective barrier, it becomes particularly vulnerable during these therapies. Understanding how to care for your skin before, during, and after treatment can minimize side effects and prevent further complications.

Why Skin Care Is Critical During Cancer Treatments

The treatments aimed at fighting cancer can often leave your skin sensitive and prone to adverse effects, ranging from mild irritation to more severe reactions that could impact your overall comfort and the treatment process. Common skin changes during chemotherapy or radiation include redness, dryness, flakiness, peeling, itchiness, soreness, and rashes.

It’s essential not to pick, scrape, or exfoliate irritated skin, as it’s more susceptible to infections due to its compromised state. These skin reactions typically begin a few weeks into treatment and can take time to resolve after treatments end.

Preparing Your Skin Before Cancer Treatments


Starting a good skincare routine before undergoing cancer treatment can strengthen your skin’s barriers. Use lukewarm water and gentle cleansers that are free from harsh chemicals, such as Alpha Hydroxy Acids, which can aggravate already sensitive skin. Cleansers containing soothing ingredients like aloe vera are more suitable. It’s best to avoid sponges or cloths, which can harbor bacteria, and instead use your hands to ensure thorough rinsing.

Enhancing Moisturisation for Cancer Patients: A Detailed Guide

As a seasoned skin therapist and salon owner, I understand the critical importance of maintaining skin hydration, especially for individuals undergoing cancer treatment. Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can severely compromise the skin’s natural moisture barrier, leading to dryness, irritation, and sensitivity. Here’s a comprehensive approach to moisturizing, which is crucial for preserving skin health and comfort during such challenging times.

Key Principles of Effective Moisturisation

Choosing the Right Moisturiser

The goal is to replenish and lock in moisture while protecting the skin’s natural barrier. Look for moisturizers that are specifically formulated to be gentle and replenishing. These products should be:

Fragrance-Free: Fragrances can irritate compromised skin, potentially leading to dermatitis or other skin reactions.

Hypoallergenic: Minimizes the risk of allergic reactions, which is crucial for sensitized skin during treatment.

Rich in Essential Ingredients: Ingredients should actively support skin recovery and barrier repair.

Recommended Ingredients for Cancer Patients

Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): Helps build proteins in the skin and locks moisture in, thereby strengthening the skin barrier.

Hyaluronic Acid: A powerful humectant that attracts and retains moisture, helping to hydrate and plump the skin effectively.

Ceramides: Essential lipids that form the skin’s barrier and help retain moisture.

Glycerin: Another effective humectant that draws water into the outer layer of the skin.

Aloe Vera: Known for its soothing properties, aloe vera can help calm irritation and hydrate the skin gently.

Application Techniques

Apply Moisturiser on Damp Skin: After cleansing, apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp to lock in extra moisture.

Gentle Application: Use light, soft motions to apply the moisturizer. Avoid rubbing or pulling, which can further irritate the skin.

Frequent Reapplication: Moisturizing multiple times a day—especially after washing or bathing—can significantly aid in maintaining skin hydration and elasticity.

Additional Remedies for Itchy or Extremely Dry Skin

Colloidal Oatmeal Baths: For soothing severe itchiness or irritation, a warm bath with colloidal oatmeal can provide immediate relief. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe and comfort the skin.

Cool Compresses: Applying cool, wet compresses to itchy areas can calm the itch and reduce the urge to scratch.

Environmental Considerations

Humidify Your Environment: Using a humidifier, especially in dry climates or during winter months, can add necessary moisture back into the air, helping to keep your skin hydrated.

Avoid Hot Showers: Very hot water can strip your skin of its natural oils. Opt for lukewarm water when bathing or washing your hands.

Protecting the Skin from the Sun

As a skin therapist with years of experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of sun protection, particularly for those undergoing cancer treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation often weaken the skin’s natural barrier, leaving it more susceptible to environmental aggressors like the sun’s UV rays.

Why Sun Protection Is Critical

Cancer treatments can render your skin fragile and sensitive. Radiation, in particular, can cause radiation dermatitis, leading to redness, peeling, and irritation in the treated area. Chemotherapy may result in photosensitivity, where your skin reacts more intensely to sunlight. Therefore, it’s imperative to minimize sun exposure and protect your skin diligently.

Sun Protection Tips for Cancer Patients

Wear Protective Clothing

Opt for long-sleeved tops and lightweight trousers made of tightly woven fabrics that can block UV rays. Clothes specifically designed with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) offer superior protection. Choose light, breathable materials to stay comfortable.

Choose the Right Hat

A wide-brimmed hat (at least 3 inches wide) can shield your face, neck, and ears from direct sunlight. Look for hats with a UPF rating or those made of tightly woven fabric to maximize protection.

Use Sunscreen Religiously

Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or higher to all exposed areas of your body. Ensure the sunscreen is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic to minimize the risk of irritation. Here’s what to look for:

Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide: Mineral-based sunscreens are gentle and less likely to cause irritation.

Broad-Spectrum: Protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Water-Resistant: Ensures longer-lasting coverage.

Apply at least 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

Seek Shade

Limit direct sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are at their strongest. Seek shade under an umbrella or a tree whenever possible.

Wear Sunglasses

UV rays can also affect your eyes. Opt for sunglasses with 100% UV protection to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them.