Looking your best can have you really feeling your best — and that’s particularly important for cancer patients. We all know how satisfying it is when our skin is smooth, our nails buffed and polished, and our hair perfectly styled but for those undergoing treatment for cancer, finding that fulfillment can be especially hard.
Many patients encounter challenges and changes to skincare during chemo and other therapies to treat cancer. As the treatments attack and kill cancer cells, they are also affecting skin cells, the body’s first and most visible line of defense against the outside world. Rashes, dry and brittle nails, and itching skin are all common impacts on skincare during cancer treatments, along with the more well-known side effect of hair loss in chemo patients. In a way, changing skin health can be a good thing, as it signifies cellular changes, suggesting a treatment is heading in the right direction; however, for patients who are already battling serious side effects, disruptions to their lives and financial stress, having another thing to worry about will seem like anything but positive news. And while effects on skin health may seem a nuisance in the grand scheme of obstacles that cancer patients are facing, dry, cracked skin can be extremely painful as well as put patients at further risk of infection, meaning it’s important that they take skincare during cancer treatments seriously.
There are ways that patients can promote skin health — before, during and after treatment. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center advises patients to begin a skincare regimen about one week before undergoing chemotherapy. The facility suggests using fragrance-free products, such as soaps and laundry detergents, and opting for moisturizing creams and ointments instead of lotions. Avoid hot baths and always apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 when going outside. Once treatment starts, continue these practices and add in some new ones depending on the symptoms. For instance, ammonium lactate creams can help with dry skin, prescription steroid medications are best for itching and bleaching creams are effective at minimizing changing pigmentation.
One of the best ways to minimize the physical and emotional effects of changing skincare during cancer treatments is to be prepared. Patients should talk to their doctors and find out exactly what to expect. This can be particularly important for regimens that will cause hair loss, which can be an emotionally taxing process for patients. Knowing ahead of time if this is coming down the pike, patients can preemptively cut their hair, refrain from coloring it (as this can put patients at further risk of hair loss) and explore financial assistance for cancer patients that can help with the purchase of wigs and other products.
Cancer can affect every part of a patient’s body, and the skin is no exception. But with some pre-planning, research and a commitment to smart skincare during cancer treatments, patients can put their best face forward.