Protecting your skin from the sun during cancer treatment

As the summer dawns we look forward to more sunshine, more holidays and more time spent outside - all wonderful things that many of us enjoy. However, for anyone going through cancer treatment, the sunnier days also present some skincare challenges as cancer treatments can make skin more sensitive and more susceptible to burning. So, what can you do?

Why is skin more sensitive during cancer treatment

The primary periods in which skin is more sensitive is during and after chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Sensitive skin from radiotherapy

During radiotherapy, high doses of radiation are used to destroy cancer cells, but to reach them they obviously must go through the skin.

The result is some damage to healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area. How you experience those side effects depends on a number of things - the type of radiotherapy, the dose, your skin type, the area being treated and so forth. The effect can present a bit like sunburn, and when it comes to sun exposure, there are two things to keep in mind:

If you are being treated in an area of the body that’s received significant sun exposure over the years it may take longer to heal from the additional damage. The area being treated is also much more sensitive as a result, and for a time will be much more susceptible to further damage through sun exposure.


Sensitive skin from chemotherapy

Around 40%, do experience dry, sore, sensitive, angry, flaking, patchy or slightly discoloured skin as a result of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy causes the skin to be extremely sensitive, and often that sensitivity can change and increase as treatment progresses - both to products, and to the sun (otherwise known as photosensitivity). As with radiotherapy, how you experience skin sensitivity depends on lots of things - how your body reacts to chemo, the type you have, the dose and so forth.

As a result, you will most likely be given advice about sun exposure as part of your patient care although many cancer patients strive to avoid the sun during treatment.


Things you can do to look after your skin in the sun

There are two issues that arise from the sunshine when you're having cancer treatment - the heat and the sun rays. Lots of people struggle with heat, especially during chemotherapy, developing sensitivity to temperature, so when it comes to looking after your skin, it's a twofold approach - protection and comfort.

Practical tips for sunny weather

The obvious solution to avoiding sun damage is to stay in the shade. That's easier said than done, given that you might not always want to, and in addition to that you can still suffer from sunburn in the shade, and the heat can still cause skin irritation.

Practical tips include:

  • Try to wear dark, loose fitting clothing made from natural fabrics.
  • Aim for long sleeves and long trousers.
  • Try to wear a sun hat or scarf on your head when you're outside (even better if it's wide brimmed to cover your neck).
  • Stay hydrated to help with the heat
  • Eat fruit and veg with a high water content (like watermelon).
  • Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol as much as possible.
  • Invest in a fan.

Product tips for sunny weather

The catch 22 when it comes to products is that cancer treatment also leaves skin sensitive to lots and lots of product ingredients (which is why we exist - to offer a gentler alternative). Here are some suggestions for your summer skincare survival kit:

  • You should always wear a sunscreen of 30+, and make sure it is broad spectrum (filtering UVA and UVB rays). Our Altruist Invisible Sun Spray (SPF 50) has a five star UVA and UVB rating, and can be used in conjunction with the matching Altruist Face Fluid.
  • Helping to soothe the skin after a day in the sun, keeping it hydrated and nourished, opt for something gentle like our Defiant Beauty Smooth Skin Balm – a nourishing and deeply moisturising body balm, lightly fragranced with sandalwood, orange blossom and mandarin – a subtle summer scent.
  • Finally, to help stay cool, try a spritz like our Defiant Beauty Cool and Refresh Spritz. It's gently fragranced and helps to soothe hot flushes.

You can read more summer skincare advice, directly answering questions asked by the Beauty Despite Cancer community.



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