Skin Reactions to Chemotherapy

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • When you hear the word chemotherapy, you might think about the commonly known side effects, such as loss of hair or nausea. But chemotherapy can cause skin reactions as well. These range from mild to extremely painful.

    What to Expect

    Skin reactions usually become noticeable within 2 to 3 weeks of beginning chemotherapy and will resolve themselves about 10 weeks after chemotherapy has ended. The most common complaint is dryness, itching or a rash. Your skin may also feel hypersensitive, causing discomfort or pain when your skin is touched

    Hyperpigmentation is a darkening of the skin. Some chemotherapy treatments cause this to happen. You may also notice darkening of your tongue, gums and finger joints. This usually disappears within 10 to 12 weeks after the chemotherapy. Rarely, these skin reactions are permanent.

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    Before Chemotherapy

    You can prepare your skin by taking steps in the days or weeks leading up to the start of chemotherapy:

    • Clean out your makeup. Your skin may be hypersensitive for a time after your chemotherapy. To help avoid infections and irritation, go through your makeup and throw out any old makeup, brushes, sponges or other skin care products that are past their shelf life. You want to make sure that anything you use on your skin after the chemotherapy is clean, gentle and free of perfumes and other allergens.
    • Buy cotton to soothe your body. Make sure you have some soft, fluffy cotton towels and washcloths. Find soft cotton clothing, underwear, pajamas, sweat pants, socks. Make sure your clothes are loose fitting. Have plenty of clothes that won’t cause further irritation on hand.
    • Use soaps free of perfumes and additives that can irritate skin. Replace soaps, shower gels, shampoos, laundry soaps with hypoallergenic or sensitive skin products to reduce the chances of irritation. Make sure they are fragrance free.
    • If you don’t have a humidifier, consider purchasing one. One of the possible side effects of chemotherapy is dry, flaky skin. A humidifier adds moisture to the air and therefore keeps your skin hydrated.
    • Use plenty of moisturizer. Use creams and ointments rather than lotions. Adding extra moisturizer in the days before your chemotherapy begins helps to protect the skin from overdrying. Continue using deep moisturizing creams after your chemotherapy.

    After Chemotherapy

    • Protect your skin from the sun. While it is important for everyone to use sunscreen and take other steps to protect their skin from UV rays, it is particularly important for those undergoing chemotherapy as this might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.
    • Take short, lukewarm showers or baths. Hot water dries out your skin and if it is already dry from the chemotherapy, hot showers might make it dry, flaky and uncomfortable.
    • Wear gloves. When doing household chores or cleaning, wear gloves to protect your hands from drying out and becoming cracked.
    • If your skin is itchy, try over the counter creams. If this doesn’t work, talk to your doctor about prescription strength steroid creams to help soothe the itch.
    • Avoid shaving or waxing your skin until your skin has healed.
    • Drink plenty of water to help hydrate your skin.
    • If you develop a rash (some chemotherapy treatments may cause an acne-like rash on your face, scalp or chest), talk to your doctor about prescribing a cream to apply to your skin.

  • References:

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    “Caring for Your Skin During Cancer Treatment,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer,

    “Skin Reactions,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer,

Published On: January 08, 2014