How to Care for Your Skin After Cancer Treatment

May 24, 2017

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause changes to your skin during and after cancer treatment. Follow these tips and check in with your doctor regularly to ensure your skin is in the healthiest condition possible throughout your cancer experience.

Chemotherapy

hand cream, skin careDry skin is a common side effect of chemotherapy. If you experience dry skin, using mild soaps and lukewarm (not hot) water, cleansing lotions, and creams may help. You should also avoid hormone creams, such as hydrocortisone, which can be harmful to the skin.

Moisturizers may also help combat dry skin. For the most effective results, apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp and take special care of the sensitive areas around eyes and lips. Many moisturizers also contain sunscreen, which you should use year round when anticipating being outside for a prolonged period.

Chemotherapy may also alter your skin tone. If you use foundation, you may want to adjust the color you use. A cosmetologist can provide specific tips to improve the look and feel of your skin during treatment.

Radiation

During radiation, you may experience itchiness, temporary pigmentation changes, or skin irritation.

If the treatment areas itch, it is important to inform your radiation therapist and to not scratch skin near the treatment area. Some creams, lotions, and other cosmetics may leave a coating that can interfere with your treatment, so you should only use products which your radiation oncologist or nurse suggests. Avoid cosmetics that are scented or contain metals such as aluminum.

Keeping treated areas out of the sun and away from extreme temperatures is also crucial. Unless your doctor approves, you should not use sunscreen on treated areas until you have completed treatment. Cover up instead with clothing, wide-brimmed hats, or sunglasses, and seek out shade when exposed to the sun. You should not put tape, adhesive dressings, or Band-Aids on treated skin as this may cause skin peeling.

Some radiation oncologists may also ask that patients receiving radiation to the breast wear cotton bras with no underwire. Doctors also recommend avoiding shaving treated skin until you have finished treatment and your skin has recovered. If you must shave, you should use an electric razor.

Consult with your doctor if you experience any signs of infection or changes in skin color during radiation or chemotherapy. Visit Friends’ Place on the first floor of Dana-Farber’s Yawkey Center for Cancer Care for skin care products and other items, including head coverings, wigs, and prosthetics.