How to nurture your skin during chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has a lot of side effects, not least on the skin, which tends to be something we don't think about until we're actually going through it.

Chemo is a very clever, but aggressive and not especially discerning treatment for the most part. It targets fast growing cells, so while it's busy trying to do its job destroying cancer cells, there are other fast developing cells that get caught in the crossfire - including those that relate to skin health, hair growth and our nails.

As a result, lots of cancer patients going through chemotherapy experience skin side effects including very dry, sensitive skin, increasing prevalence towards skin reactions and allergies, skin can feel hot, nails can become very brittle and weak.

So, what can you do to nurture your skin during chemotherapy?

Here are five simple things that can help soothe and rejuvenate skin while you're undergoing treatment:

Be gentle with your skincare routine

It can be incredibly tempting when skin is doing something we don't want it to do, to be quite aggressive with it. If you have very dry skin you might be tempted to exfoliate for example, or if you develop acne from chemo you might be tempted to use astringent cleansing products. The key to looking after your skin during active cancer treatment is to be gentle in what you do, the products you use and that internal monologue you have going with yourself - be kind to yourself and your skin.

For example:

  • Use gentle skincare products rather than heavy or abrasive ones
  • Wash with lukewarm water
  • Use soap-free cleansers
  • Avoid products containing alcohol (they dry out the skin)
  • Try to avoid products containing sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS)
  • Use a clean, gentle cloth to remove cleansers
  • Avoid anti-acne products
  • Use sunscreens with an SPF of 30+ and a five star UVA and UVB rating
Our soap-free cleanser
Defiant Beauty Cleanse & Moisturise

Keep skin moisturised during cancer treatment

Dry skin is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. In fact, around 40% experience dry, sore, sensitive, angry, flaking and patchy skin during treatment. While treatment is ongoing, it's hard to stop dry and sensitive skin occurring entirely, but giving skin back a little of what it's missing goes a long way to making it more comfortable and helping it to recover.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Apply your moisturiser multiple times a day to help ease itchiness and dryness.
  • We recommend using balms over lotions as they tend to contain fewer 'filler' ingredients and preservatives.
  • Use a moisturising lip balm regularly - it's best to avoid ones containing petroleum jelly and gravitate towards natural ingredients like shea butter.
  • You might opt for a richer moisturiser than usual.
  • Keep a hydrating and cooling spritz on hand.
  • You could also try an oatmeal bath to soothe and moisturise skin (tie a muslin bag filled with oatmeal over your bath tap and let the water run through).

Our hydrating spritz
Defiant Beauty Cool and Refresh

Keep skincare simple

While it's good to apply products regularly to support your skin while going through chemotherapy, you don't want to overload it with lots of different chemical ingredients. By keeping skincare simple - both in terms of the product composition and the number of steps in your regular routine, you can help to limit the chances of a reaction to an ingredient, decipher which ingredient is causing an issue if you do have one and also you're more likely to maintain a regular skincare routine even when you don't really feel like it.

Our suggestions include:

Choose skincare products with a minimum number of ingredients.
Look for labels where you can understand the list of ingredients - ingredients are usually in Latin but when there are natural ingredients brands (like us) will usually provide the common name in brackets as well, to help you understand what you're putting on your skin. For example, the label on our Defiant Beauty Smooth Skin Balm reads:

  • Butyrospermum parkii (Shea Butter)
  • Prunus amygdalus dulcis (Sweet Almond Oil)
  • Calendula officianalis (Calendula Oil)
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
  • Santalum album (Sandalwood Essential Oil)
  • Citrus auranium amara (Neroli Essential Oil)
  • Citrus nobilis (Mandarin Essential Oil)

We suggest keeping skincare products natural - all of the products in the Beauty Despite Cancer collection are 100% natural and chosen for their gentle, nourishing properties.

Our nourishing moisturiser
Defiant Beauty Smooth Skin Balm

Use fragrance free skincare products

Perfumes and fragrances are lovely in skincare products but they can cause skin reactions, especially when they're synthetic and particularly with skin being extra sensitive during chemotherapy. As they don't tend to offer a therapeutic benefit to the skin, it's best to avoid them during active treatment. We don't even include essential oils in our Defiant Beauty collection which is designed for while treatment is ongoing.

We suggest:

  • Using un-perfumed bath and shower products
  • Try to avoid products containing synthetic colouring

Take pleasure in feel-good skincare rituals

Skincare works on multiple levels - on a primary level it works to nourish and support skin health. For us, that's the primary purpose of our skincare collection.

However, it also offers support for emotional and mental wellbeing, and this is derived through the meditative nature of a skincare ritual. It helps through the feeling of doing something nice for yourself, particularly when there are lots of less nice things happening, through the sense that skin is being nourished, and through the feeling that you're doing something positive for your wellbeing.

With that in mind, try to think about your daily skincare as a moment of mindfulness that's just for you each day. It might be a small thing in the scheme of things, but it can be really meaningful.

Ways you can enhance your skincare routine for mental wellbeing include:

  • Take time to gentle massage products into your skin throughout your routine.
  • Focus on the feeling of applying the products rather than everything else that's going on for a moment of mindfulness.
  • Create small rituals around your morning and evening skincare routine to support how you want to feel - you might light an aromatherapy candle for example, or have a warm bath beforehand.
  • Make your skincare routine a moment of calm that you can look forward to at the start and end of each day to prepare yourself for rest or the day ahead.

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