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, you’ll want to restore lost moisture without causing irritation. Fortunately, this is easier than it sounds.
In most cases, the damage that cancer treatment causes to the skin is both treatable and reversible. In fact, during treatment 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 maintaining healthy skin:
What to do:
- Use a mild, creamy, fragrance-free cleanser and a rich, hypoallergenic moisturizer. Cancer treatments can make skin very dry; so, regardless of what your usual skin type is, now is the time to use products designed for dry and sensitive skin. Avoid products with alcohol, which has a drying effect.
- Apply moisturizer immediately after washing, when your skin is still damp, to ensure maximum absorption.
- 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 benefit now from a moisturizing foundation applied with a cosmetic sponge.
- Take warm — not hot — showers and baths; warm water is much less drying to skin. The same goes for when you’re washing your face.
- Keep your nails short to help prevent you from scratching itchy skin, and treat yourself to a luxurious silk pillowcase, which will feel cool and soft on your face.
- Consider using a humidifier in your bedroom, which can help keep the air from getting too dry.
- 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, and these foods have a high water content, which can help keep skin healthy. Cut down on salty, processed foods, which lead to dehydration when consumed in excess.
- When you are feeling up to it, exercise. Exercise increases the flow of blood and oxygen to the skin, which enhances your complexion.
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 likely dry too. Use conditioner and avoid blow-dryers and curling implements, if possible. If you are wearing a wig, you will have to pay particular 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 a lip moisturizer or lip balm regularly.
- Don’t blast the heat or air-conditioning, both of which suck moisture out of the air and, in turn, out of your skin.