What to expect: skincare
Before your diagnosis, your skin care regimen likely included a daily application of lotion and the occasional sunscreen. While undergoing radiation or chemotherapy, however, women may notice a change in their skin’s needs and sensitivities and struggle to adjust.
Here are some things to expect from your skin during treatment– and ways you can take control.
Irritation. During radiation or chemotherapy, you may notice various types of irritation. There may be soreness, tenderness, or itchiness around the particular areas being treated. Although this is skin’s natural response to unnatural conditions, there are measures you can take to lessen the discomfort.“Avoid wearing bras when you can. And don’t wear scratchy material,” recommends Nathan Bradley, a three-year radiation physicist working in Tampa Bay. He also suggests examining the soap and laundry detergent you are using. If it is scented or harsh, consider temporarily switching to something gentler.What you can do: If you are receiving radiation therapy on your breasts, take any precautions you can around the area.
Discoloration. Depending on the intensity of your treatment, you may notice your skin changes colors. Dr. David W. Cathcart, who served as an occupational medicine physician in Missouri for more than 20 years, stresses the range of colors that a patient may discover and what they can mean.“Some people know their skin changes colors,” started Dr. Cathcart. “Sometimes your skin turns green or gray. As physicians, we tend to look at the skin to get an overall assessment of someone’s health. If you have a fever, for example, the skin will be red or flushed. If you’re anemic your skin may be pale. The color of the skin may be reflective of the side effects that are going on as a result of your treatment.”“Some patients don’t want to complain,” says Bradley. “So they will never report different symptoms. But we can’t read your mind. It’s hard to help if you don’t tell us.”What you can do: Notify your doctor of the discoloration, as it may be an indicator of something more serious.
Dryness. Experiencing dry, flaky skin is not uncommon following radiation or chemotherapy. This is especially true if you are already prone to dry skin or if you live in a cold or arid climate.“I did experience dryness [during chemotherapy],” said Rach DiMare, a 29-year-old fashion blogger living in Chicago and faces especially harsh winters. “Especially around the lip area. But it was temporary. I had drier skin than usual. [My doctors] just told me to be smart about it.”Look for lip balms with SPF, like Blistex Deep Renewal or Aquaphor Lip Repair. For her part, Rach also suggests Beauty Counter’s facial oils.“For women with super, super dry skin, it has jasmine oil which is perfect for replenishing moisture back into your skin,” she added. “You can put three or four drops directly on the skin. Especially during especially frigid winters.”What you can do: Drink plenty of water and moisturize your skin. Heavier moisturizers like Cetaphil, Eucerin, and Aquaphor may be best. You may have to apply the ointment up to three times a day.
Sensitivity to sunlight. During radiation or chemotherapy, you may notice that you are getting sunburned quickly. This is because some chemotherapy drugs may cause your skin to absorb UV rays more potently.What you can do: “We can tell you to avoid sun, but you can’t in some places like Florida,” Nathan reasons.If staying out of the sun is not an option, try to remain covered as much as possible. Generally, SPF30 sunscreen is sufficient protection, but your oncologist can recommend a sunscreen that is best for your skin type. Apply it generously before going out and remember to reapply every few hours. If your family and friends are headed for a pool day, it is best to avoid chlorine altogether—the chemical may be too harsh.
It is important to remember that your skin’s response to chemotherapy or radiation will be different from other’s experiences. Try not to operate based on other patients’ reactions to their treatments because there are multiple factors that make your situations different.
Your stage, complexion and age can all serve as factors of varying skin conditions during treatment.
“Some women have fair skin. Age is sometimes a factor. Some women stay inside while others go on a cruise. Some receive 16 treatments, others 25. Some we have to treat quickly because they have an event coming up,” Nathan explains.
The best thing you can do when you are unsure is to communicate your symptoms to your doctor. At that time, he or she can recommend what is best for you personally. Remember, the dryness, irritation, and discoloration you experience during treatment often fade a few months after completion. If not, then see your doctor during a follow-up appointment, and begin discussing further action.
Adjusting to your skin’s changes can be tough, but with patience and a few preventative measures, you can lessen your distress and manage with more comfort and ease.