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Notes on Caring for your Complexion during Cancer

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most common medical treatments used to fight cancer. They involve using potent chemicals and beams of intense energy to stave off and destroy cancer cells, stopping them from multiplying and spreading in the body. While the skin-related side effects of chemotherapy vary from person to person, it’s common to see drastic changes in the skin and experience entirely new skin conditions during this period. The intense treatments and drugs used to fight cancer can also see the skin can become thinner, weaker and increasingly sensitive, so it’s important to adapt your approach to skincare and really listen to the needs of your body. Radiotherapy can often cause the skin to become thin, red, dry and inflamed while Chemotherapy has common side effects of increased sensitivity to the sun, changes to the colour/texture of the skin, and itchy rashes. When it comes to caring for the skin during this moment in time, keep it simple with a nourishing and straightforward regime including a cleanser, moisturiser, face oil and a good quality SPF 50 +.

Look for lab-produced products with natural elements
It’s common for those undergoing these intense treatments to seek out natural formulations over those with ‘chemical’ ingredients, I recommend finding the perfect balance between the two. There are some incredible lab-produced products that have natural elements designed to soothe sensitised skins, these are a great place to start. It’s important to avoid irritating ingredients such as essential oils and anything that contains fragrance, which are commonly found in natural products.

Use gentle, non-stripping ingredients
While your skin may have been able to tolerate them in the past, I’d recommend steering clear of any ingredients that could potentially irritate the skin. These include harsh alcohols (benzyl alcohol, SD alcohol, denatured alcohol and isopropyl alcohol), sulfates (sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate) and certain preservatives (such as propylparaben, butylparaben, isobutylparaben).

Put exfoliation on hold
Throughout the course of cancer treatments, the skin can become more fragile than usual. It’s best to avoid harsh actives and instead reach for ingredients that are suitable for highly sensitive skins. This means putting down the physical scrubs, AHAs, BHAs, chemical peels and retinol.

Nurture the skin’s barrier with a protective moisturiser
The skin’s barrier is made up of a fine film of amino acids, oil and sweat. It performs an important anti-microbial function, preventing bacteria from entering the body. Cancer treatments can impair the skin’s barrier and interfere with its important function, opening patients up to an increased risk of infection. I’d recommend using a nourishing, hydrating moisturiser formulated with ceramides, essential fatty acids that support the skin’s barrier. Occlusive heavier creams should also be avoided as they may trap heat into the skin so instead look for lightweight creams that can be applied several times a day if necessary.

Quench dehydrated skin
A healthy diet full of anti-inflammatory ingredients can help to support the body and boost a lowered immune system. Increasing water intake and eating fatty fish, nuts and healthy oils can add hydration to the skin. Along with increasing water intake, skincare ingredients including squalane and hyaluronic acid can help with dehydration. Both function as humectants, meaning they draw in moisture from the atmosphere and trap it into the skin for long-lasting hydration. It’s also best to bathe in lukewarm water, as hotter temperatures can further dry out the skin. After showering gently pat the skin dry with a towel and apply moisturiser while the skin is still damp.

Finish with a broad-spectrum SPF
Chemotherapy can result in increased photosensitivity, so it’s vital to finish your skincare routine each morning with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF 50+. Apply a generous amount in an even layer across your face, ears, neck, decolletage and back of hands, remembering to top up every two hours when outdoors.