Healing Your Skin during Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are challenging treatments for your body, producing many secondary effects. They have a significant impact on your skin, your hair, your nails, and your eyes. While most patients prepare for the common secondary effects (like taking time off to lessen the impact of fatigue) our surveys have found that over two-thirds of patents underestimate the impact of radiotherapy and chemotherapy on their skin, because these patients believe that focusing on skin damage during cancer therapy is superficial.

It is not.

Skin damage that occurs during radiotherapy and chemotherapy has an impact on your quality of life, your self-esteem and how people interact with you. Some of the possible skin changes during or shortly after radiation treatment include: Dryness, itching, swelling, peeling, and redness. As your skin condition is apparent, it can leave you exposed to others’ criticism and judgment. And it can be painful, to the point that some people discontinue treatment.

Your self-esteem is important.

Can you do anything to offset skin and hair damage? Yes! Some creams, with topical corticosteroids or topical anti-inflammatory medicines can reduce radiation burns. These drugs are obtainable via a doctor’s prescription.  There are also a number of over-the-counter products you can use, so ask your radiation therapy team to recommend products that will not irritate the skin or interfere with treatment.

Remember that some products can irritate the skin, as it is more sensitive during radiation. Avoid products with perfumes (which may further irritate your skin) or with metals (such as aluminum, which may interfere with your treatment). Instead, use fragrance-free soaps such as our own AlraSoap, a specifically formulated product. Also:

  • Timing is everything: Do not use moisturizers within two hours before your radiation treatment, and don’t apply any skin lotions within four hours of a treatment.
  • Bathe or shower only once a day, since soap and water can dry your skin.
  • Be gentlewith your skin; use a soft washcloth instead of a loofah, scrubs, brushes, or sponges.
  • Pat dry, instead of rubbing.
  • Moisturizers work best when applied just after bathing, while the skin is damp.

Most skin reactions occur within the first 2 weeks of treatment, and usually go away 4 to 6 weeks after treatment is finished. So, continue to moisturize the affected area for at least a month after treatments are completed, and then as needed.

Remember

  • It’s important to take care of your skin during treatment
  • Avoid products with perfumes (which can irritate your skin) or with metals (which can interfere with your treatment).
  • Continue to moisturize your skin for at least a month after treatments are completed, and then as needed.