Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Caring for Your Skin During Cancer Treatment October 17, 2011



I’ve had the privilege to volunteer for The American Cancer Society’s great program Look Good …  Feel Better for over a year now.  When I run a session of the program the first thing that I talk about is caring for your skin while undergoing cancer treatment.  I wanted to share some of those tips in this post though please keep in mind that the information contained in this post is not meant to negate or replace the information you are receiving from your oncologist.  If you have any questions about the information contained in this post please ask your doctor.  Furthermore, the information that I am presenting here is general in nature so your specific needs may be different.

The September issue of the spa professional publication Les Nouvelles Esthetiques & Spa contains quite a few articles that address the care of cancer patients.  The article Chemotherapy and the Skin by Jennifer Linder, MD is a great resource for both the cancer patient and the skincare professional.  It starts off with some important information:

As we know, chemotherapy is necessary to eradicate various types of cancers, but it undeniably wreaks havoc on the skin.  As the largest organ of elimination, the skin of those undergoing chemotherapy has an overwhelming task.  In addition to simply trying to process the drugs that are introduced into the body during these necessary treatments, the skin also is reacting to the unavoidable increase in emotional stress that a cancer diagnosis will likely cause.  …

Common side effects 

Chemotherapeutic drugs’ most common effects on the skin are severe dryness, sensitivity, allergic reactions, flushing, hyperpigmentation, photosensitivity, and folliculitis (an acne-like skin rash of the follicles).  Additionally, these patients are more susceptible to developing infections due to the suppression of their immune systems.  For these reasons, a gentle approach to treatment and home care product use is critical.

Be sure to baby your skin during cancer treatment:

  • Look for skincare products labeled “for sensitive skin”, “gentle”, and “soothing”
  • Fragrance can irritate sensitized skin so make sure your skincare products are fragrance free
  • Use warm water when you wash your face and body and don’t stay too long in the shower.  Long, hot showers, no matter how good they feel, dry out the skin
  • Gently pat your face and body dry after showering and washing your face.  Rubbing your skin will just irritate it.
  • Moisturize with products that contain both humectant and occlusive ingredients.  Humectant ingredients draw moisture to our skin and occlusive ingredients prevent moisture from evaporating from our skin
  • Use body and face moisturizer immediately after you shower when your skin is still damp.  Damp skin absorbs skincare products better
  • Consider switching to dye and fragrance free laundry detergents

Sun protection is key during cancer treatment since chemotherapy can cause photosensitivity:

  • Always use a sunscreen of spf 30 daily even if you are only leaving the house for a short period of time
  • Since chemical sunscreen ingredients can irritate sensitive skin look for a sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as its active ingredients (Vanicream is a good choice)
  • Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses when you are outside or in the car
  • Try to avoid sun exposure between the peak hours of 10 am to 4 pm

More resources and further reading:


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