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Tips for Skincare During Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast Cancer and Your Skin

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you probably have more questions than answers – and that’s completely normal. Breast cancer treatment impacts your entire body, including your skin, hair, and nails, and you may experience some of the following:

  • Dryness
  • Itching
  • Peeling
  • Skin tenderness or discoloration
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Thinning or brittle nails
  • Hair loss

Very Important Tip: Many of these symptoms can be managed effectively with the tips listed below, but don’t be shy about contacting your doctor if you feel something isn’t right. It’s better to ask for help than to try and manage something that may be more than just a common side effect. There is never a stupid question and the best advice you can get always comes from your doctor.

Choose Products Carefully –Since chemotherapy and radiation take a toll on the body, try to avoid products that contain fragrances, unnecessary chemicals, and additives because your skin will be fragile and more susceptible to irritation. If possible use a 100% natural oil or butter for your moisturizing needs.  Ingredient labels can guide you toward products that provide rich moisture as well. Look for products that contain deep penetrating moisturizers such as Vitamin E, Cocoa Butter and Coconut Oil.  You’ll also want to avoid exfoliating products, like facial and body scrubs (and loofahs). These products remove dead skin cells, and while they are usually okay for normal skin, they can damage your sensitive skin while you’re undergoing treatment.

Pamper Your Skin Before, During, and After Treatment – Undergoing radiation or chemotherapy will interfere with your skin’s ability to stay hydrated, so babying yourself before, during, and after treatment can really help. Dry, flaky skin is common because cancer treatments often reduce the amount of natural oil your body produces. But you can stay ahead of it and even minimize this side effect by using products that add moisture and lock it in. One way to do this is to apply a rich moisturizer, like cocoa butter or petroleum jelly, to your skin right after you step out of the shower. If your skin is still slightly damp, the moisturizer will form a protective barrier and hold that precious hydration in your skin longer.

Reduce Irritation by Being Gentle – No matter how perfect your go-to skin care and body products may have been in the past, they can suddenly irritate your skin when you’re undergoing treatment. Keep the word “gentle” in mind at all times, and you can minimize your side effects. This includes avoiding products with alcohol in them as well as washing your hands or face too frequently. Alcohol can be very drying, and frequent washing strips essential nutrients and hydration. If you need a gentle cleansing bar, look for one that is fragrance free and contains nurturing ingredients, like shea butter or Vitamin E. These ingredients help condition and protect your skin. Finally, try rinsing or showering with tepid or lukewarm water. Hot water can strip skin of vital moisture and further irritate it.

Be Diligent About Sun Protection – While every person responds to radiation differently, it’s quite common for radiated skin to be more prone to skin cancer in the future. If you’re going to be in the sun, even briefly, take precautions to protect yourself. Hats, long sleeves, and pants are not always optimal (especially on warm days), so apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Choose a physical sunscreen or sunblock with a high SPF (30 or higher) and look for one that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which deflects the sun’s rays. Your doctor can recommend a product that protects your skin without being overly drying.

Tip: Be sure you use enough! Some experts recommend using one ounce (think of a full shot glass) to cover your entire body. To be on the safe side, apply one layer, let it dry for 10-20 minutes, and apply a second layer on top. And don’t forget to reapply, especially if you’re in and out of the water frequently.

The diagnosis of breast cancer can be devastating to the  patient, their family and friends.  It attacks all ages and races.  The treatment can take a toll, both emotionally and physically. Changes to the skin, hair and nails is a common side effect and as these changes occur they may cause additional stress.  Although our helpful tips will not make the situation go away, we do hope they help provide you with ways to lessen your discomfort and have some relief.  For all our readers who may be suffering or who have a loved one suffering from breast cancer we stand with you. Stay strong!

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