Local expert's tips for caring for skin during cancer treatment

Jennifer Young (right) demonstrates massage techniques to therapists.

Jennifer Young (right) demonstrates massage techniques to therapists at Weavers' House Spa - Credit: Submitted

Depending on the drug or treatment you are having, some cancer treatments may affect the condition and appearance of your skin and nails.  Some chemotherapy drugs may make your skin dry and more sensitive to sunlight, others can cause your palms and soles to become red and sore, known as palmar-plantar syndrome. 

While radiotherapy can change the skin colour in the treated area and make your skin red, sore or itchy.  If you’re having hormonal therapy drugs, you may find that they can cause dry skin, rashes and, rarely, spots. 

It’s important to report any skin changes, to your doctor or nurse, especially rashes, which should be checked straight away. And check with them before using any skincare products. 

Here Macmillan Cancer Support shares some advice for caring for some of the most common skincare issues which you might experience. 

Tips for dry skin 
Wash with lukewarm water, using mild, unperfumed, soap-free cleansers. Soap will make your skin drier. 

Use unperfumed bath and shower products. If your skin feels sensitive, or if you are having a targeted therapy drug, avoid products containing colouring. 


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Long, hot showers or baths will make your skin drier, so avoid them. Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it, with a clean, soft towel. 

Moisturise your skin regularly – see below - apply lotions, creams or ointments soon after you have washed. 

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Keep your nails short to protect your skin from scratches. 

If you have dry or sore lips, use a lip balm made from moisturising ingredients such as petroleum jelly, shea butter or glycerine. You should avoid petroleum jelly if you’re having radiotherapy to the head or neck or if you’re using oxygen. 

Cleansing your face 
Use a gentle cleanser that does not remove the moisture from your skin – creamy cleansers could be a good option. Avoid your eyes. 

Remove cleansers with a damp cotton wool pad or a clean, damp flannel. 

If you use a toner, avoid products which contain alcohol, which can dry your skin 

If you have dry skin, moisturise after bathing or showering

If you have dry skin, moisturise after bathing or showering - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

About moisturiser 
If you have dry skin, use moisturiser at least twice a day on your face and body. You may find that you need a richer moisturiser than usual. Avoid products containing sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), especially if you have eczema as it can irritate the skin. 

Moisturisers containing oatmeal can be soothing for dry or sore skin. You could try tying a muslin bag filled with oatmeal over your bath tap and let the water run through it to soothe your skin in the bath. 

Certain cancer drugs can cause skin to become itchy

Certain cancer drugs can cause skin to become itchy - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When skin is very dry it can become itchy. An emollient or moisturising cream containing oatmeal, menthol or 10% urea. Your cancer nurse specialist or oncology team might also be able to prescribe products to help. If you are having radiotherapy or targeted therapies, check with the staff at the hospital before using any skin products. 

Tips for oily skin 
If treatment is making your skin oily: 

Use a good cleanser and a light, oil-free moisturiser. 

A wash-off cleanser can be a good option – work it into your skin before washing it off. 

Use a soft flannel or muslin cloth to remover the cleanser. 

Avoid exfoliating or harsh products that strip the skin of moisture. 

Take care in the sun 
Some drugs and treatments may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.

The best way to protect your skin is to cover up and stay out of string sunlight. But when you’re out in the sun:  

Wear loose clothes made of cotton or natural fibres to cover up. 

Protect your face and neck by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. 

Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, between 11am-3pm. 

Apply a suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, that protects against UVA and UVB rays with at least four or five stars. 

Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. 

Inside Weavers' House Spa in Lavenham

Inside Weavers' House Spa in Lavenham - Credit: nicksmithphotography.com

Spa time 
If you’re going through cancer treatment, self-care is a priority.  
Weavers’ House Spa at The Swan at Lavenham specialises in skincare and relaxing treatments for cancer patients. They use Jennifer Young skincare products, which are specially formulated to combat the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Senior spa therapist Hannah Stewart has worked at the spa since it opened in 2015, specially tailoring treatments to people’s skincare needs. 

“Every case is different, however some common side effects of chemotherapy could be dry skin, sensitive skin, hair loss, brittle nails and achy muscles,” says Hannah. "Talk time is now needed more than ever and understanding our client’s need from us is always front of mind to deliver an outstanding experience.” 

As Hannah explains, the ingredients used in Jennifer Young products are organic and plastic free, to reduce the chances of reactions on the skin. “The most effective ingredients for treating a client after chemo would be grapeseed oil to soothe the skin and rehydrate, St John’s wort for its anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin E as an antioxidant and to heal the skin and encourage skin cell regeneration.” 

There are also ingredients which can ease the side effects of radiotherapy on the skin, which might include redness, tender skin that’s sore to touch, dryness and inflammation. 

“The most effective ingredients for treating a client after radiotherapy would be rosehip to reduce scarring, protect and heal the skin and fight against ageing and sun damage, calendula to smooth and brighten the skin’s appearance and encourage collagen production and apricot kernel oil to even skin tone and reduce the ageing process,” says Hannah. "Each Jennifer Young treatment has been created with care and attention to what could be the most vulnerable time for a client. We use discreet and effective ways to ensure client comfort and modesty are front of mind,” she continues. 

The treatments are also designed with a client’s emotional wellbeing in mind. “The effects of the light touch techniques used in the massage alleviate muscular aches and pains, encourage a sense of wellbeing and calm and aid to a good night’s rest whilst helping to restore emotional balance,” says Hannah. “The benefits of these treatments are phenomenal, from encouraging blood circulation to reduce scarring and produce new, healthy skin cells to restoring and hydrating skin that's feeling tired and worn out.  

“The products also hydrate the hair, skin and nails to help with regrowth to be to its healthiest.”  

To find out more, visit theswanatlavenham.co.uk  

If you are having cancer treatment, check with your doctor or nurse before using any beauty products or treatments.

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