Skin Changes and Care
Some chemotherapy drugs can cause changes to your skin or nails. These changes can include the following:
- Itching, dryness, redness, rashes, and peeling
- Acne-like rash, if you take an epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) medication
- Increased sun sensitivity
- Darkened, yellowed, brittle, and cracked nails
- Darkened veins in the area of the IV
How to Care for Your Skin
Itching, dryness, redness, rashes, and peeling
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid long, hot showers. Use lukewarm water and mild soap. Gently pat skin dry with a soft towel.
- Limit tub baths to less than 30 minutes.
- Use a hypoallergenic moisturizing lotion over your entire body. Apply while skin is damp from bath or shower, and reapply frequently throughout the day.
- Choose body-care and cleaning products (soap, shampoo, lotion, and laundry detergent) that are free of dye, alcohol, and perfume.
- Avoid perfumes, colognes, and aftershaves.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Choose clothes and bed sheets made of soft cotton.
- Don’t use acne skin care products; they can make the rash worse.
- Keep your face clean. Your doctor may recommend medicated creams or soaps.
- Use hypoallergenic lotions. Avoid creams with mineral oil, petrolatum, or lanolin.
- Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.
- If you wear makeup, be sure it is hypoallergenic.
- Use a mild shampoo if the rash occurs on the scalp.
- Avoid shaving areas where the rash occurs.
- Avoid direct sunlight. Stay in the shade as much as possible when outdoors.
- Wear protective clothing, including long pants or skirts, long-sleeved shirts, and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Do not use a tanning bed.
- Use SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. Remember to apply it to the back of the neck, the tops of feet and ears, and the top of your head if you have no hair.
- Use SPF 15 or greater lip balm.
Dark, yellowed, brittle, or cracked nails
- Wear protective gloves when washing dishes, gardening, or doing housework.
- Keep fingernails and toenails clean and trimmed. You may use products that strengthen nails as long as they do not cause irritation.
- Avoid biting nails.
- Avoid artificial nails.
- Do not wear tight-fitting socks and shoes.
- Moisturize your hands and feet often with a hypoallergenic lotion or cream.
- Tell your health care providers if you have painful, red areas on your fingers or toes. It may be a sign of infection.
Look Good. . .Feel Better
The Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness-Survivorship Center offers a free class called Look Good…Feel Better in partnership with the American Cancer Society. In these classes, licensed cosmetologists teach beauty techniques to help those going through cancer treatment boost self-image and cope with physical side effects of treatment. Call the Wellness Center at 801-587-4585 for more information.
Skin changes from radiation therapy depend on a number of factors:
- Number of treatments
- Total dose of radiation
- Body part being radiated
- Prior sun exposure of the radiated skin
- Your general health
After 10 treatments some people do not notice any change in their skin from the radiation. However, after 30 treatments, all people experience some degree of skin reaction. This may include dryness, redness, peeling, tenderness, itching, or blistering. Skin reactions happen gradually and may continue for a while after treatments end. Most effects are temporary and resolve after two to four weeks.
What Can I Expect?
- Skin reactions happen only in areas where the radiation enters and exits your body. Ask your doctor if you are unsure where your treated areas are.
- After a week or two of treatments, your skin will start to become dry. It may darken, turn pink to red, itch, or feel tender. You should take care of your skin from the first day of radiation, before you notice changes.
- After about two weeks, you will lose hair in the treated area. Hair usually begins to grow back within three to six months after treatment ends. Hair loss may be permanent and depends on the dose of radiation you receive.
- Symptoms may go on after your last treatment. If you have questions or need help with a skin problem, ask your health care provider.
How Can I Protect My Skin?
- Wash skin gently with warm water. Do not scrub. Use your hand rather than a washcloth and pat dry with a soft towel.
- Use a mild soap that is free of perfumes or deodorants.
- Wear loose-fitting cotton clothes. Do not wear tight-fitting clothes that can cause friction.
- Avoid extreme heat or cold on the skin. Do not use heating pads, ice packs, or hot water bottles on the treated skin.
- Avoid exposing treated skin to the sun; it will be more sensitive. Use a PABA-free sunscreen with at least SPF 30 when outdoors, wear a widebrimmed hat, and avoid tanning beds.
- Use only an electric razor if you shave within the treated area.
What Can I Do?
- Apply a moisturizing cream, lotion, gel, or oil to radiated skin. Choose products for sensitive skin, and avoid products with perfume or deodorant. If a product stings, stop using it.
- If your skin becomes tender or itchy, try using an over-the-counter one-percent hydrocortisone cream. If necessary, your health care provider may prescribe a steroid cream.
Look Good. . .Feel Better
Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness-Survivorship Center offers a free class called Look Good…Feel Better in partnership with the American Cancer Society. In these classes, licensed cosmetologists teach beauty techniques to help those going through cancer treatment boost self-image and cope with physical side effects of treatment. Call the Wellness Center at 801-587-4585 for more information.