Cancer treatment side effects on skin
Here we go, your cancer treatments have begun or are about to. Your oncologist or care team has undoubtedly presented you with your course of treatment, which could, depending on your case, involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy or immunotherapy. Over the past few years, treatments have considerably improved the prognosis of people living with cancer. That said, more than 80% of them will develop cutaneous side effects caused by certain cancer treatments. Moreover, almost half of these patients will suffer skin reactions of varying severity following radiation therapy. Despite this, rest assured that all this can be soothed or even abated with a combination of dermocosmetic products tailored to skin weakened by oncology treatments.
Taking care of your skin and hair
As soon as your cancer treatments begin, start using makeup removers and face cleansers that respect the skin’s pH, as well as creams and balms, sun protection and hypoallergenic products that have been clinically tested under dermatological control and that are suitable for sensitive skin.
Hair loss frequently occurs during chemotherapy. Until your hair grows back (the amount of time varies from person to person), avoid anything harsh, such as perms, dyes, hair dryers and curling irons. Gently massage your scalp in small circular motions. Opt for ultra-gentle hair products, but avoid baby shampoos, which aren’t suitable for adult hair. If you have any doubts whatsoever, consult your care team.
Relieving skin and hair side effects
Here are few key pieces of advice for better recognizing and relieving unpleasant side effects on your skin and hair that could occur during your cancer treatments.
Itchy, dry skin.
If your skin is dry, red, cracked or itchy, always use ultra-gentle personal hygiene products (soap, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.) and skincare products (cleansers, makeup removers, creams, balms, cleansing oils, etc.) for the face and body. Soothe the driest or most irritated areas with a repairing balm. Daily use of dermocosmetic products suitable for sensitive skin will help hydrate your skin and reinforce its barrier function while alleviating itchiness. Refrain from scratching to avoid aggravating the problem. Otherwise, you will cause irritation and rashes, creating a cycle of itchiness and scratching and increasing the risk of infection. To help you hold back, keep your nails short. Additionally, stick to natural ingredients that are gentle on skin. Finally, avoid wearing overly tight clothing, which could increase rubbing against your irritated skin.
If you have any doubts whatsoever, consult your care team.
Dry hands and feet.
With few sebaceous glands, the thinner skin of the hands and feet is very susceptible to external aggressors, such as the cold, overly hot water, rubbing from shoes, and detergents. Some medication, chemotherapy and targeted oncology therapies can cause hand-foot syndrome, characterized by redness, swelling, chapping, tingling or pain in the extremities. Generously applying moisturizing creams and emollients suitable for sensitive skin day and night can help relieve discomfort.
To limit cracking, put on gloves before doing manual work or household chores, and wear soft and comfortable shoes. Furthermore, avoid sun exposure and apply sufficient sun protection (anti-UVA/UVB with an SPF of over 50). Lastly, drink lots of water to prevent dehydration and help eliminate skin toxicities.
After surgery, skin begins scarring, a healing mechanism that allows cells to renew themselves and wounds to close. When repairing itself, the skin forms a scar, and care must be taken to avoid infection. Surgeons recommend gently massaging non-seeping wounds as soon as the stitches are removed. If in doubt, ask your doctor if it’s OK to massage the scarred area. If so, apply a thin layer of a moisturizing cream or balm that has been tested under dermatological control and that’s suitable for sensitive skin onto the wound in small circular motions. Massaging the scarred region relieves discomfort and itching while promoting lymphatic drainage to reduce swelling. If the thought of touching your scar doesn’t excite you, use a sterile compress to spread the repairing skincare on your scar, or solicit the help of a loved one or health professional.
Avoid exposing your scar to the sun to prevent compromising the healing process and increasing the risk of permanent or unsightly marks. Protect it with a sterile bandage or clothing. Once the skin has scarred, remember to apply adequate sun protection (anti-UVA/UVB with an SPF of over 50) every two hours.
Taking care of skin during radiation therapy.
Reddening, chapping, itchiness, darkening… The skin’s reactions to radiation therapy are abundant due to the radiation that penetrates the skin to reach the affected zone. These skin side effects generally dissipate a few weeks after treatment; however, browning and scar tissue may persist. Some patients may not even develop any skin reactions.
If your skin is hot or red, use a thermal spring water spray immediately after your session; its soothing and anti-irritation properties will provide you with much-needed comfort. Once home, coat the irradiated skin with a generous layer of cream that you had left to chill in the refrigerator beforehand for an enhanced feeling of freshness. Ask your oncologist or your care team which products are suitable for relieving discomfort around the irradiated area. Also remember that before each session, your skin must be clean, dry and free of moisturizer.
When you take care of yourself, even for just a few minutes a day, you’re nurturing your physical and mental well-being. Heed your feelings, emotions and needs, and be kind to yourself. Take time for yourself, whether that means taking walks in nature, doing yoga or Pilates, meditating, writing, singing, making art or simply taking a nap. Take care of your body during cancer treatments with therapeutic massages or oncoesthetic care, which can do your body a world of good; in addition to easing muscle and artery tension, nausea, stress and anxiety, they can help you enjoy a very well-earned moment of wellness.