Person applying hand cream

22 January 2020

Skin is our largest organ. It is vital to look after it, as it has an essential role for our physical well-being and provides protection.

As chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, skin becomes even more important. During chemotherapy you may experience side effects with your skin, which can include:

• Dryness and itching. At first, dry or itching skin may seem like a mild problem, but it can increase the risk of inflammation, eczema and sores which can lead to infection.

• Discolouration of skin and nails

• Sensitivity, which means that the skin reacts to things that it would previously have tolerated. These can be things such as toiletries, cosmetics and household products or environmental factors like sun, wind and cold. Reactions can include dryness, redness, soreness and bumps.

• Sores

However, there are several ways to prevent or manage these effects, which are what we’ll focus on in this post. Being prepared earlier on can be very useful in helping to limit the effect of chemotherapy on your skin.

Here are some useful recommendations for you to care for your skin and prevent or treat the side effects of chemotherapy:

• Avoid extreme weather changes.

• Avoid hot baths and showers.

• Use fragrance-free soaps, shampoos, detergents and washing powders.

• Avoid tight-fitting clothes. Soft fabrics such as cotton are preferable.

• Folds between areas of skin such as under the breasts or on the tummy should be kept dry after baths or showers, as moisture left in these areas can cause irritation.

• Moisturise your skin frequently after each shower or bath and as needed throughout the day. Use creams and ointments rather than lotions; the thicker the topical product, the longer-lasting moisture it provides. Remember to reapply your cream or ointment every time you wash your hands.

• Protect your hands with gloves when doing household or outdoor chores.

• Seek advice from your treating team before getting artificial nails such as acrylics and gels, as their effect on weak or damaged nails hasn’t been confirmed yet.

• If your skin becomes flaky or really dry regardless of all the precautions you take, you will need to discuss with your doctor for further advice.

• Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 that provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

• If you have itching or eczema along with the dryness, you may consider emollient creams or over-the-counter hydrocortisone (steroid) 1% cream to small areas only. (Do not use hydrocortisone cream on your face/large areas or broken skin unless advised by your doctor).

• Check with your medical team before swimming or using hot tubs and saunas

If you have any tips on skin and nail care during chemotherapy that other members might find helpful, please share them on the forum.

Below are some useful websites if you would like to read more about this:

Cancer Research UK – How to care for your facial skin

NICE Guidelines - Skin Conditions, Management

Macmillan Cancer Support – Caring for skin and nails