Be the Boss Over Cancer

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Cancer treatments can make skin sensitive, dry, dull, flaky, itchy, fragile, grayish, yellowish or any combination of the above. To keep your skin as healthy as possible, your primary goal is to restore lost moisture without causing irritation. Fortunately, this is easier than it sounds.

According to Manhattan dermatologist Steven Victor, the damage cancer treatments do to skin is neither irreversible nor untreatable. In fact, during treatments you will likely have many of the same concerns as anyone whose skin is dry and sensitive throughout the year. Below are some dos and don'ts for healthy skin:

What to do:

  • Find a mild, fragrance-free soap, even if you usually use a scented bar. Dr. Victor recommends Dove, Neutrogena, Caress and Cetaphil.
  • Cancer treatments can make skin very dry. Now is the time, whatever your usual skin type, to use hypoallergenic, rich, creamy cleansers and moisturizers designed for dry and sensitive skin. Apply moisturizer immediately after washing, when your skin is still damp, for maximum absorption. Dr. Victor's favorite brands are Lubriderm and Eucerin. Avoid products with alcohol, which has a drying effect.
  • Always protect your skin from the sun and elements. Chemotherapy and radiation enhance photosensitivity and can make you highly susceptible to sun damage. Use fragrance-free protection with an SPF of 15 or higher and wear a hat (and a scarf and gloves in cold weather).
  • Even if you usually steer clear of makeup, your skin will be grateful now for a moisturizing foundation applied with a cosmetic sponge. (More on Makeup.)
  • Take warm -- not hot -- showers and baths; warm water is much less drying to skin. This goes for washing your face as well.
  • Keep your nails short to keep from scratching itchy skin and treat yourself to a luxurious silk pillowcase, which will feel cool and soft on your face.
  • According to Dr. Victor, a humidifier in the bedroom is helpful as well.
  • Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. A hydrated system means hydrated skin. Avoid soda and cut down on coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages, which act as diuretics.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables -- your diet affects your skin more than you might think. These foods have a high water content and help keep skin healthy. Cut down on salty, processed foods, which lead to dehydration when consumed in excess. (More on Nutrition.)
  • When you are feeling up to it, exercise. Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the skin and will enhance your complexion as well. (More on Exercise.)

What not to do:

  • Don't scrub your skin with a loofah or rough bathing accessories. Switch to a soft sponge and pat -- don't rub -- your skin dry. Also note that cotton balls can catch on flaky skin.
  • Don't exfoliate -- it can make sensitive skin raw and red. Your new creamy moisturizer should alleviate flaking.
  • Don't use scented products, which can irritate skin and make you nauseous.
  • Don't forget your scalp. If the skin on your face is dry, the skin on your scalp is surely dry too. Use conditioner and avoid blow-driers and curling implements if possible. If you are wearing a wig, you will have to pay extra attention to the delicate skin on your scalp -- let it breathe when you can.
  • Don't let your lips get chapped -- the cycle is hard to stop. Use Blistex, Chapstick or Carmex.
  • Don't blast the heat or the air conditioning, both of which suck moisture