Perhaps the most unexpected side effect of chemotherapy is dry, itchy, uncomfortable skin… but how to prevent, or at least treat, dry skin during chemotherapy, hopefully without adding another drug to your prescription round-up? There are a few things you can do, or not to, that will keep your skin hydrated and happy while you battle on. Here are 8 ways to avoid dry skin during chemo.
1. Avoid Hot Water
While a steamy hot shower may sound like relaxation heaven, it can wreak havoc on your delicate skin. The over-warm water strips away your skin’s precious natural oils, making it even drier. Fill your tub with warm water, and add a little hypo-allergenic bath oil in your favorite scent, instead.
2. Slather up Right after Your Bath
Your pores are open, and your skin more receptive to lotion, right after a nice warm bath. This is the perfect time to apply lotion to soothe your dry skin during chemo. Use a thick, rich emollient, one with a scent like lavender (to relax you) or mint or citrus (to invigorate you).
3. Use Hand Lotion after You Wash
During chemo, your body will be more susceptible to infection, so your doctor will remind you that the best way to prevent picking up an unfriendly bug is to wash your hands frequently. Unfortunately, all that hand-washing, while necessary, will contribute to your dry skin during chemotherapy. Prevent it by applying lotion after each hand-washing, and if possible, use a soap that contains moisturizers.
4. Apply before Bed
My friend Jackie, a breast cancer survivor, shared with me her strategy for soothing dry skin from chemo: apply a thick layer of lotion to your hands and feet before bed, then wear gloves and socks while you sleep. As you sleep, your skin will absorb the lotion, and when you wake up, the dry, itchy, cracked skin you went to bed with will magically turn into soft, smooth skin!
5. Go Gentle
The last thing you want right now is a rash from harsh soaps, shampoos, and the like. At least for now, switch to products that are hypo-allergenic, and free of irritants like sulfates, synthetic fragrances or dyes, phthalates, or propylene glycol. I love Hope in a Jar (the Therapeutic Moisturizer for Dry Sensitive Skin version) by Philosophy. It’s so gentle, and it works so well!
6. Use an Ammonium Lactate Cream
If your dry skin during chemo gets to be too bad, ask your doctor for a recommendation for an over-the-counter or prescription-strength ammonium lactate cream. I know you don’t want to add another medication to your already long list, but this is a cream, not an injection or pill, and it really can help soothe flaky, itchy, irritated dry skin from chemo.
7. Treat Yourself
It’s silly to tell you to try and relax during one of the most stressful times of your life, but stress really can make skin irritation worse. If you can afford it, schedule a massage at a local spa, or even just get a pedicure with your best friend. The human touch will help ease your stress, and the top-notch moisturizers won’t hurt, either!
8. Don’t Forget the Sunblock!
During chemo, your skin may be extra-sensitive to sunlight, so now more than ever it’s important to protect your skin with a good, broad-spectrum SPF 30 (at least!) sunblock. Apply it half an hour before sun exposure, and reapply every 2 hours you’re outside. Remember, the skin on your scalp may be especially sensitive if your hair has thinned, so protect your head with a scarf or hat, too!
Here’s to hoping you won’t get dry skin from chemo, but if you do, you’ll have these handy tips in mind to help prevent and soothe it. Combine all of these tips for the ultimate hydrated-and-happy-skin regimen! If you’re a survivor, which of these tips have you used, and which worked best for you? And do you have any other ideas to share for preventing or soothing dry skin during chemo? Please share!
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