Caring for Skin and Nails During Cancer Treatment

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How should I take care of my skin?

During chemotherapy:

  • Some people experience very dry skin. If you're one of them, use mild soaps and lukewarm (not hot) water, or mild cleansing lotions or creams.
  • Moisturize! Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp and take special care of the sensitive area around eyes and lips.
  • Avoid all types of hormone creams (such as products containing hydrocortisone).
  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure and use sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher (many moisturizers include sunscreen) unless otherwise directed by your doctor.
  • Skin tone may be altered by the therapy, so it may be necessary to change your foundation color.
  • Consult a cosmetologist for specific techniques to improve the look and feel of your skin during treatment.

During radiation:

  • It's essential to leave the marks your doctor or radiation therapist may have applied. Don't worry: they will eventually fade away. In the meantime, use warm water without soap or creams in the treatment areas.
  • Avoid exposing treated areas to the sun. Do not use sunscreens on them until all your radiation treatments are completed, unless your doctor approves.
  • If the treatment areas itch, tell your radiation therapist. A light sprinkling of cornstarch may help. Some creams and lotions may leave a coating that can interfere with your treatment. Use only those products which have been approved or prescribed by your doctor. Do not scratch skin near the treatment area.
  • Temporary pigmentation changes, such as redness or tanning, may occur during treatment. Check with your doctor about using cosmetic concealer.
  • Do not use cosmetics, perfumes, or deodorants on treated areas before checking with your radiation therapist. A non-metallic deodorant is usually recommended.
  • Avoid extremes in temperature on treated areas (no heating pads or cold packs).
  • Most radiation oncologists prefer that female patients receiving radiation to the breast wear cotton bras with no underwiring.
  • Avoid shaving treated skin until treatments are completed and the skin has recovered. If you must shave, use an electric razor.
  • If your skin is still irritated after your radiation treatment is completed, ask your radiation therapist to recommend a moisturizer and sunscreen.
  • Immediately inform your doctor of any signs of infection or changes in skin color.
Alicia Scott shows a customer how to recreate her eyebrows.

What happens when eyebrows and eyelashes are lost?

  • Eyebrow and eyelash loss does not always occur; it is dependent upon the kind of therapy being administered.
  • We offer both eyebrow stencil kits and natural hair adhesive eyebrows, and can create a stencil of your eyebrow before loss occurs. Premade stencil eyebrow kits are also available for purchase at your salon or appearance center.
  • Check with your nurse or physician prior to using false eyelashes, in case of allergic reaction to the glue and increased risk of infection.

To recreate your natural brow line:

  • Buy brush-on eyebrow color or a pencil in a shade that matches your hair color.
  • Be sure all eye makeup is fresh and fragrance free.
  • Hold the pencil straight up against your nose, parallel to the inside corner of your eye. This is where the eyebrow should begin. Draw a dot just above the brow bone.
  • Looking straight ahead, place the pencil parallel to the outside edge of the colored part of your eye. Place a dot where the highest part of the brow line should be.
  • To define the outside edge of the brow, place the pencil diagonally from the bottom corner of your nose past the outside corner of your eye and draw a dot. Be sure the outer edge of the brow is not lower than the inside one, as this will create a down-turned expression.
  • Once you have the basic shape right, connect the dots into a brow line with feathery strokes of color, making the brow fuller on the inside corner and thinning as it moves out. With practice, drawing an eyebrow is as simple as applying lipstick (really!).

How should I take care of my nails?

Chemotherapy drugs sometimes cause mild, temporary changes in nails and nail beds. These may include brittleness, grooving, discoloration, change in growth rate, heightened sensitivity, and lifting of the nail bed. If the latter occurs, nails should be kept short.

  • Most important: don't cut your cuticles. Use cuticle removers.
  • Massage cuticle cream into the cuticle area to prevent dryness, splitting, and hangnails.
  • Wear gloves while doing chores such as washing the car or the dishes. Excessive exposure to water can lead to fungal infections of the nail bed.
  • Women can wear nail polish to help keep nails strong and protected from the environment. Clear nail polish can be helpful for men.
  • Very dry nails can become weaker or more brittle during treatment. To take off polish, use an oily remover.
  • If you're undergoing chemotherapy, avoid artificial nails.
  • Alert your doctor to any signs of inflammation or infection.
  • Ask a professional manicurist for more information on daily home care to keep your nails healthy and strong.