Hello Dr. Bailey,
I have been following your blog for awhile now and have learned a lot! I always look for zinc in my sunblock now!
I started chemotherapy for breast cancer. My skin is very sensitive and I was a strawberry blond before chemo. My chest is always red and looks sunburn. It looked like this before chemo too. I know that I should stay out of the sun during chemotherapy and I wear sunblock, drink water, and wear long sleeves. What else would you recommend so that I can keep my skin moisturized and clearer looking? I really hate the red that is around my chest and neck, any advice for that while I’m on chemo? Thank you, Suzanne
I wish you an easy chemo period that passes quickly. I always tell my patients who are undergoing chemo to nurture themselves in every healthful way they can and to be patient with their body while it holds up to the treatments.
That includes your skin. During breast cancer chemotherapy treatment, your skin, hair, and nails may become brittle, dry, and sensitive. Cell turnover is diminished or halted all together during chemo treatments, meaning that the current cells of your skin may not be getting renewed like normal. This means that you need to treat your skin with care. In short, the vitality of your skin, hair, and nails is going through the same struggles as the rest of you and will benefit from all the TLC you can provide.
I recommend a gentle, non-irritating, and richly hydrating skin care regime for all of your skin, your nails, and your scalp. The key points are:
1. Moisturizing your skin immediately after washing and toweling dry.
- For your body, this means applying moisturizer after the bath or shower.
- For your face, this usually means applying moisturizer in the morning and at night.
- For your hands, this means moisturizing after washing many times during the day.
- For your lips, this means using a hydrating lip balm throughout the day.
2. Cleansing your skin with gentle cleansing products only. Apply them only where you need them and be sure to rinse them off thoroughly with warm water.
- For your body, this means you typically only need to soap up the parts of your skin that have the body odor glands (apocrine glands) including your armpits, groin, buttocks, and feet. If you still have oily skin when you are on chemo, you’ll also need to use cleanser on the oily areas of your back, neck, and chest too.
- For your face, this means using the mildest cleanser that gets off your makeup and products, but that isn’t so harsh as to dry out your skin. Don’t shoot for that tight “squeaky clean” feeling after washing because it means that you removed too much of your natural oils and actually irritated your skin.
- For your hands, this means using cleanser only on your palms most of the time. Skin on the back of your hand rarely gets into germs and grime, and it’s fragile and prone to dryness. Also, the space between your fingers and under your rings trap cleanser, so be careful to rinse all the cleanser off well; retained cleanser will irritate and “burn” your skin, worsening some of the hand-skin problems that occur during chemo.
If your skin is excessively flaky, but not tender or sensitive, then you may be able to use a very fine exfoliating scrub in the shower. I wouldn’t recommend an exfoliating shower sponge or mitt when your immune cell counts are low during chemo because these can harbor germs like staph, which you need to avoid as much as possible. When your immune cell counts come back up you can use a shower sponge or cloth. I love these for regular skin exfoliation and exfoliated skin always looks and feels prettier.
Dermatologist’s Product Recommendations for People Undergoing Chemotherapy
You can read more about my recommendations for products that are perfect for the skin care by clicking the blue links below. These are all products that I recommend for my patients who are undergoing chemotherapy. They’re gentle, hypoallergenic, and non-irritating, yet they provide elegant skin care and help you to feel good about how your skin looks and feels while you’re under treatment.
Green Tea Antioxidant Skin Therapy – Replenix Power of Three Cream to help soothe facial redness and inflammation.
VaniCream Moisturizer for face and body
Ceralip Lip Balm hypoallergenic lip therapy for healing sensitive, dry, chapped lips
Dr. Bailey Skin Care Mineral Makeup, which is gentle and gives natural makeup coverage that’s hypoallergenic for sensitive skin
It’s also really important to continue sun protecting your skin by wearing the same mineral zinc oxide physical sunscreens that I always recommend. This will help with the redness that can happen on the chest from sun damage too. Click here to see my sunscreen comparison chart to pick the right sunscreen for your skin.
The chest redness that comes from sun damage also blushes and flushes when a person gets warm, so staying cool can help.
My favorite treatment for sun damage on the chest is Intense Pulsed Light Treatments. When your cancer treatments are over, ask your oncologist if these treatments are okay. If so, then find a dermatologist and ask her if the treatments are right for your skin.
I hope that helps.
Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist
If you have questions about skin care or skin health, please send them to me using the Contact Dr. Bailey button at the top of the page.
Disclaimer: Please realize that availing yourself of the opportunity to submit and receive answers to your questions from Dr. Bailey does not confer a doctor/patient relationship with Dr. Bailey. The information provided by Dr. Bailey is general health information inspired by your question. It should not be a substitute for obtaining medical advice from your physician and is not intended to diagnose or treat any specific medical problem (and is not an extension of the care Dr. Bailey has provided in her office for existing patients of her practice). Never ignore your own doctor’s advice because of something you read here; this information is for general informational purpose only.
The Best Skin Care for Breast Cancer Treatment and Chemotherapy