Caring for the skin during chemotherapy

How to Treat

One important component to healthy, functioning and resilient skin is proper hydration. Having skin well hydrated prior to starting a series of chemotherapy treatments is an enormous help. Extremely dehydrated skin is a common side effect. These patients’ daily regimens should include products that contain urea, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, and other humectants. These types of ingredients draw moisture from the dermis up into the epidermis, plumping and hydrating the skin while improving overall function. It is equally important to ensure that light occlusive agents like squalane, niacinamide, dimethicone and cyclomethicone are applied to bind and retain this increased moisture within the skin. Well-hydrated skin will be poised to handle the chemotherapy with fewer complications.

Typically what appears to be acne breakouts during chemotherapy is actually folliculitis, an inflammation or infection in the hair follicles. Unlike acne, increased sebum and bacteria production are not part of the underlying cause, rather the drugs are believed to be the trigger in the development of these follicular irritations. Folliculitis can appear on the face, the scalp or anywhere on the body. Inflammatory cells inside the follicles create irritation that draws leukocytes, or white blood cells, to the follicle. Folliculitis needs to be addressed gently, as this compromised skin is hypersensitive and prone to reactions. Traditional drying and surface-stimulating acne treatments will prove too harsh for this condition, and could result in greater reactivity and follicular distress. Gentle products that clear the follicles of cell debris, such as low percentage salicylic acid, will help shorten the duration of the outbreak.

Also important for clearing folliculitis is reducing the inflammation with ingredients like hydrocortisone, resveratrol, bisabolol, willowherb and white willow bark, while fighting any local infection with sulfur, salicylic acid, azelaic acid and antibacterial botanicals, like calendula and tea tree oil. Products containing these types of antibacterial, anti- inflammatory and keratolytic ingredients are a great choice for clearing folliculitis, wherever it appears on the body, including the scalp.

Hyperpigmentation is a common side effect of chemotherapy. For this reason, it is important to use gentle melanogenesis inhibitors before, during, and after treatment. Because many of the common melanogenesis inhibitors can be irritating, it is absolutely critical to only use ingredients that are not drying, stimulating or irritating. One must be especially careful with hydroquinone because it is likely to irritate this sensitive skin. We recommend using products that also contain anti-inflammatories and are hydrating.

Sensitivities and allergic reactions are also common side effects of chemotherapy. It is especially important for the chemotherapy patient to avoid the use of products containing synthetic colors, fragrances, or other known sensitizers. Additionally, good hydration, anti-inflammatory ingredients, and topical steroids can bring relief and be soothing to this severely stressed skin.