Best Chemotherapy Skincare Guide : Tips for Glowing Skin During Treatment

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In this article, we’re going to talk about how to care for your skin during chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Before we start, I got a message from a follower last week who’s about to begin chemotherapy. It was late at night when I read it, and I felt I had to share some tips on Instagram Stories right away. I was surprised by how many people are either going through treatment themselves or know someone who is—a friend, family member, or relative.

That’s why I decided to write this article. Even if it doesn’t help you directly, I hope it will help someone you care about. Many oncologists don’t give advice on skin care during treatment because it’s not something they typically learn about. Unfortunately, I have had a few loved ones go through this, so let’s get started.

If you don’t have time to read this post right now, why not save it for later?

Best Chemotherapy Skincare Guide : Tips for Glowing Skin During Treatment

what is chemo and radation?

Before we start, what exactly is chemo? Chemo is a type of medical treatment that targets specific markers on tumor cells—certain molecules on tumor cells that are rapidly multiplying. Unfortunately, it can’t tell the difference between these cells and other fast-growing cells in your body, like hair follicles, which is why you lose hair. It also affects your nails because they are constantly growing, and your skin, which is constantly shedding. So, chemo can impact your hair, nails, and skin.

Radiation, which we’ll discuss towards the end of this article, works by burning the cancer. However, it also burns through your skin, causing burns.

This article covers both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I’ll try to differentiate between them when discussing treatments, but some information applies to both.

how does chemo and radation affect your skin

Starting with chemotherapy, before we get into skincare, let’s talk about how your skin will change. Your skin will become more sensitive, even if it never was before. This sensitivity will last as long as you’re undergoing chemotherapy. The good news is that many of these issues will go away once your treatment is over. You don’t need to worry about this forever; it’s a temporary problem that should improve in the long run.

During chemo, you might experience dry skin, acne breakouts, and hyperpigmentation, which means your skin and even your nails may develop more discoloration. You’ll also be more sensitive to the sun, depending on the type of chemotherapy you’re receiving. There are many other possible skin issues, like hives and Stevens-Johnson syndrome, but those are beyond the scope of this discussion.

what lifestyle changes you need to make during treatment:

To keep things simple, now that you have sensitive skin, it’s best to use fragrance-free products to avoid irritation or inflammation. First, make sure all your skincare products are fragrance-free. Next, avoid hot showers because they strip your skin of natural oils, making it dry and irritated. Use lukewarm water instead.

When it comes to soap, use it only on areas like your armpits, chest, and groin to keep these areas clean and prevent bacterial buildup. You don’t need soap on your whole body, but you can use a gentle product lightly if needed.

For laundry detergents, choose those that are fragrance-free and gentle, like All Free or Tide Free. These are often formulated for babies, so they’re very mild, but they can be pricey due to marketing. Avoid fabric softeners.

Finally, wear clothes made from natural, soft materials like cotton or cashmere. Avoid synthetic or rough fabrics, and dyed materials if possible. Wearing a white cotton shirt, t-shirt, or tank top under your clothes can help protect your skin from irritation caused by rubbing.

best cleansers for Cancer patients:

Since we talked about body care, remember to save the soap for areas that need it most. If you do use a body wash, make sure it’s very gentle. I recommend Cetaphil’s Restoraderm or Sensitive Skin Restoring Body Wash—it’s excellent for people with allergic skin. I love it because it’s so light and gentle. Another favorite of mine is Aveeno’s Calm and Restore for sensitive skin. It has oatmeal, which is very soothing.

Speaking of oatmeal, you can add it to a lukewarm bath to nourish your skin. You can also add a bit of mineral oil to your bath. Despite what some people say, mineral oil is not bad. It helps reduce water loss from your skin, known as TEWL (Trans Epidermal Water Loss). These two body washes are great options for gentle, all-over body care.

best body Care for Cancer patients:

After you get out of the shower, you need to lock in that moisture immediately. Skip the mist because your skin is already soft. Try Aquaphor’s body spray ointment; it’s great because it doesn’t leave a sticky residue. Aquaphor is like Vaseline with lanolin, so be cautious if you’re allergic to lanolin, which comes from wool. But it’s really easy to apply.

If not, Vaseline is my go-to, and it should be yours too. The small baby jars of Vaseline are better than the big ones for some reason. They also come in stick form, which I love. Vaseline is amazing for your skin, and you should always have it with you. Use it on your cuticles to lock in moisture and prevent damage. You can even use it to seal your face over your moisturizer. I absolutely love these for your body.

For your lips, which can get dry too, Vaseline works if you’re not sensitive to it. Be cautious with Weleda Skin Food; it has essential oils that might cause an allergic reaction. Apply a thick layer on your lips, but stop if you feel any discomfort.

To take care of your body, use mineral oil, gentle body cleansers, and avoid harsh soaps and hot water.

best mists for Cancer patients:

When it comes to your skincare, especially for your face, the main goal is to keep it hydrated. I love using a face mist, and there are plenty to choose from. For example, Evian has a face mist that claims the minerals in their water help reduce redness, which is great. If you want to pamper yourself, it’s worth spending a bit extra on products that make you happy. If using an Evian bottle makes you feel special and cared for, go for it. Your mental health is crucial during tough times, and feeling good about yourself can help a lot.

A wise family friend once told me that the soul controls the mind, and the mind controls the body. I believe that. Your soul is strong, and it will guide your mind to push through difficult times. When your mind is strong, your body will follow.

If you’re on a budget, you can still pamper yourself. Fill a spray bottle with tap water, bottled water, or even Evian water. You can also buy small vaporizers online that turn water into a fine mist, which is great for hydrating your skin, especially in dry areas. It’s a useful trick. I’ve even tried adding a hydrating serum to the water, but be careful; it might clog the vaporizer if it’s not high-quality.

You can use a face mist throughout the day to keep your skin hydrated. These products can be a bit pricey, so if money is tight, consider getting a basic spray bottle from Amazon. This can be a great first step in your facial skincare routine.

best  hydrating serum for Cancer patients:

Follow it up with a hydrating serum, like I mentioned before. I’m not sponsored by any of these brands, just so you know. Aveeno’s Calm + Restore Oat Serum is a good option. They have a whole line dedicated to cancer research, which is worth looking into because they’ve been formulating with cancer patients in mind for years. Avène’s serums have a bit of fragrance, so be cautious, but their Hydrance Intense is a good hydrating option.

I also really like Dr. Jart’s Ceramidin Liquid. Now, technically, this is a hybrid between an essence and a toner, not just a serum, according to the company. It’s infused with ceramides, which act like mortar holding the bricks (your skin cells) together. I think of it as a serum because of its hydrating, cushiony feel. Brands can classify their products however they want, but in my book, this one is a serum. So, Dr. Jart’s Ceramidin Liquid is another great hydrating option.

best Moisturizers & Sunscreen for Cancer patients:

Once we’ve applied the hydrating serums, let’s lock that moisture in with some thicker moisturizers. We’ve talked about this before: the Cicaplast B5. It’s packed with panthenol and vitamin B5 to protect your skin barrier. It also has zinc, which is great for calming any irritation. I love using this on the face, and it’s also good for radiation patients.

If you need something more, Vanicream offers a huge one-pound tub with a pump. It’s fragrance-free and very thick. If you can’t tolerate the B5, Vanicream is a great alternative for your face, though it doesn’t contain zinc.

For serious skin irritation, even on your face, Triple Paste is excellent. It does leave a white cast, but it works wonders. I used it on my niece when she was in diapers, and it saved us from many skin irritations. Calamine lotion and calendula are also great for soothing itchy skin, as recommended by some of you on Instagram.

If you want to treat yourself, Skinceuticals Triple Lipid is amazing. It has ceramides and fatty acids to lock in moisture. And if you need even more hydration, slather Vaseline all over your face. It creates a thick barrier to help your skin retain moisture.

For your hands, I recommend O’Keeffe’s Working Hands. It’s an excellent hand moisturizer. You can also use Vaseline around your cuticles. If your hands are super dry, sleep with plastic cooking gloves at night. Cotton gloves just absorb the moisturizer and don’t do much.

best sunscreens for Cancer patients:

And then, for both your face and body, sunscreen is a must. Now, this can be a sensitive issue because people undergoing chemo often can’t tolerate chemical sunscreens. But if you can, I highly recommend the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer. It’s rich in ceramides and really helps restore moisture, making it a great choice.

However, if chemical sunscreens are a no-go for you, I suggest Think Baby, which is what I use on my niece. It’s 20% zinc oxide. Admittedly, it’s not elegant—you’ll look like a ghost, but it will protect your skin.

If you’re open to spending a bit more, the Physical UV Defense by SkinCeuticals is another option. The tinted version, while not universally flattering, blends better than the white one. It’s a combination of titanium and zinc, with no chemical ingredients, making it a solid choice for sun protection.

For those who can’t tolerate any sunscreen at all, consider using a face shield. They are fantastic. Who cares about looks—you’ll be the cool kid on the block, I promise. My fiancé refuses to walk with me in the summer when I wear mine, but I get stopped by at least four to five people asking where I got my amazing visor. It does a great job protecting your face and skin from the sun.

For those who can’t tolerate any sunscreen at all, consider using a face shield. They are fantastic. Who cares about looks—you’ll be the cool kid on the block, I promise. My fiancé refuses to walk with me in the summer when I wear mine, but I get stopped by at least four to five people asking where I got my amazing visor. It does a great job protecting your face and skin from the sun.

And if you can’t wear a face shield but still want to cover your body, get a UPF rash guard. I got one from a hotel I stayed at once. It’s not the prettiest, but I’ll link to some better options on Amazon that I actually own. They are fantastic for body protection.

radiation Care:

And shifting gears very quickly, let’s talk about radiation dermatitis. As I mentioned, it’s essentially a burn. The best remedy for a burn is Biafine, so stock up on it—I’ll link it below because it’s fantastic. You can even use Biafine on your face instead of Vaseline if you prefer, though it is a bit pricier. I absolutely love Biafine for treating radiation dermatitis, and it works wonders for the underarms too, where deodorant can be intolerable.

Speaking of deodorants, natural ones haven’t impressed me much. I’ve tried many because I’m slightly allergic to aluminum chloride, but I haven’t found a great one yet. My advice? Get your underarms botoxed. My fiancé had several patients undergoing chemo or radiation, and he botox their underarms with the oncologist’s approval—nine out of ten oncologists are fine with it. Botoxing your underarms means no more worrying about sweating, and it helps prevent moisture and skin erosions. Trust me on this one.

best hair care for Cancer patients:

Now, let’s briefly discuss hair. To start, minimize the use of heavy hair conditioners as they can weigh down your hair. Instead, opt for a very light detangler. Choose one with a fragrance you love because it doubles as a form of aromatherapy, helping to ease your mind. Keep in mind that no product will prevent hair loss due to the strength of chemotherapy. Personally, I recommend the detangler by LolaVie, Jennifer Aniston’s brand. I’m not endorsed by her at all, but I find the scent to be absolutely breathtaking, providing a beautiful moment of self-care.

Use this instead of thick conditioner to reduce the weight on your hair. If you feel brave enough, you might consider shaving your head preemptively.

The bottom line

And that wraps up our discussion on skincare during chemotherapy. I hope this article helps you, or someone you know who is undergoing this journey and needs some helpful resources and product recommendations.

Remember, your soul is your strongest asset. It fuels your mind, which is strong and ready to fight, and in turn, your mind controls your body.

My readers’ feedback matters to me. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below.

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