After a breast cancer diagnosis your skincare routine is not really on the agenda as your oncology team focus on your treatment plan.
We all know about the more common side effects of cancer treatment but perhaps less well known are the effects on skin. The one and only mention of skincare during my treatment was a quick statement by one of the nurses when she said, 'your skin might be more sensitive than usual.' Other than that, there was no advice or further information provided.
The effects of cancer treatment on my skin were not something I was prepared for because I was only expecting to deal with hair loss and nausea.
There are many things you can do to counteract the effects on your skin and it's great to start by understanding why these effects might happen in the first place.
Why Is Your Skin More Vulnerable?
Your skin can be damaged by several cancer treatments. Chemotherapy targets all your cells including healthy ones and reduces the amount of oil your glands secrete. As skin is the largest organ in your body the effects are more visible. Radiotherapy can also affect the area that is treated and various medications may also have an adverse effect on the skin. In addition, hormone therapy can have a big impact on the skin as the aim of this treatment is to reduce oestrogen levels which is the hormone that keeps skin looking young and fresh.
What Can You Do About It?
If you understand what might happen to your skin, then you can be more prepared to deal with it. If you have a better understanding of the ingredients in your skincare products, you can make more informed decisions about the products that are right for you.
As your skin may be more sensitive you will need to carefully consider the ingredients in the products that you use. It may not be possible for you to continue using some of your favourite products. Products with as few ingredients as possible are the way to go as you have much less chance of irritation. Avoid products with fragrance as they can trigger a reaction and the chances are that your treatment can make you less able to tolerate fragrances anyway. Avoid harsh surfactants and alcohol for skin cleansing as these can dry your skin out making it more vulnerable.
One of the most common effects of cancer treatment is dry skin. Moisturise with an oil to nourish your skin. Using oils can also improve skin tolerance. The trend for using oils has increased enormously in recent years and my first oil love was argan oil. Find an oil that works for you and you will be truly amazed at how effective they are.
Review the products that you normally use in the shower and look for gentle alternatives. Many products contain sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) which is too harsh when your skin is vulnerable so choose products that don't contain this ingredient.
One of the best and most simple treatments for dry hands and feet is pure coconut oil. For baby soft skin opt for virgin coconut oil which has no additives. It melts on contact with your skin and hydrates and soothes dry, rough hands.
Your lips can become very dry and sore and therefore more prone to cracking. The skin on your lips is thinner than elsewhere on your body so they are much more vulnerable. Use a natural balm regularly.
As well as being more sensitive generally your skin will be much more sensitive to sun damage. Take extra care in the sun during and after treatment. Use a high factor natural sunscreen and look for the ingredient non-nano zinc oxide because it provides full spectrum UV protection and keeps moisture locked in.
Hair loss is one of the most difficult side effects of cancer treatment and it's the most visible. If you choose to wear a wig your scalp may need extra care and attention. It can get dry and as a result itchy. You can use an oil to deeply condition your scalp. You don't really need to actively wash your scalp either, just rinse in the shower.
Find a combination of skincare products that works for you and don't forget that what you put in your body is just as important for your skin as what you put on it.
Above all else be kind to yourself and take one day at a time!