How can I protect my skin during chemotherapy?

Depending of the type of chemotherapy, skin can become more photosensitive, drier and patients sometimes develop dark spots, rashes and inflammation.

It is important not to use any products that could compound irritation, so avoid artificially perfumed and coloured products and anything with ingredients that tend to cause dryness, exfoliation and peeling. This includes: AHAs, BHA’s (salicylic acid and willow bark), retinol and harsh surfactants (Ammonium lauryl sulfate, Sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate). Check your shampoo ingredients, as whatever you wash your hair with in the shower will affect your skin too, harsh ingredients in shampoos can be the cause of skin irritation and dry patches on the body. Use a good, broad spectrum sun cream to counter the increased likelihood of damage from UV radiation.

I would suggest using a hydrating moisturiser with good emollience and occlusive properties. Look for products with aloe vera, algae, glycerine and colloidal oats. Butters such as shea, avocado and mango and oils that are helpful to dry skin: argan, camellia, rosehip, moringa and pomegranate. If you can, choose one with additions like: hyaluronic acid, panthenol, niacinamide, phytokeratins and peptides. If your skin is ok with plant extracts, then an extract with a high polyphenol content should help strengthen the skin.

It is especially important not to put anything on your skin that irritates, and ingredients that have been fine in the past may not be tolerated as well during this treatment. So keep it simple to begin with and then add the extras gradually. They should increase the strength of the skin and help repair damage, but any active ingredient is potentially an irritant, so it might be an idea to keep a record of what you find soothing and anything that causes even a very slight reaction leave out for now.

I think a rose, calendula, algae, honeysuckle or lavender hydrosol could be a gentle and effective way to keep skin clean and well-hydrated. These should also be well-tolerated, as long as you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to them. I believe that some essential oils, when used in the right concentration, can also help, but now wouldn’t be the time to experiment. When the treatment is completed, you may find that adding rose, helichrysum, frankincense resin, myrrh, chamomile, vetiver or geranium essential oils can help with skin hydration, but keep well within safe levels (I particularly like Robert Tisserand’s book ‘Essential Oil Safety’ and tend to follow his guide in this). A reputable producer is vital as a number of oils are sold with additional aroma chemicals or cheaper oils added. There is usually a ‘therapeutic window’ with botanicals; too little and they do nothing, too much and they can cause a myriad of problems, so use carefully, but consider addIng them when your skin isn’t coping with this additional chemotherapy load.

I hope the treatment is successful and completed minimal side-effects.