Dry Skin

Overview

Dry skin is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause dry skin. Management of dry skin includes using moisturizer, avoiding things that make the symptoms worse, and protecting your skin until it returns to normal.

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a lack or shortage of moisture in the skin, causing it to appear rough and scaly. It may feel tight and possibly itchy.

What causes dry skin?

There are many causes of dry skin, but for cancer patients, treatment is often a cause. Your skin cells are constantly renewing themselves by dividing rapidly in the deep layers and sloughing off the old cells at the surface. Both chemotherapy and radiation can disrupt this process, resulting in dry skin and other skin reactions.

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by destroying cells that grow rapidly, a characteristic of cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy also affects normal cells that grow rapidly, such as skin cells.

Radiation may also cause your skin to be dry and flaky. Skin reactions that are caused by radiation usually occur 2 to 3 weeks after radiation therapy begins and can take 4 to 6 weeks to heal.

Other factors that contribute to dry skin include:

  • Dehydration
  • Extreme weather conditions
  • Perfumed products
  • Allergies

How can dry skin be managed?

Try the following tips for managing dry skin:

Hydration:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body well hydrated. Becoming dehydrated will cause your skin to dry out.

Moisturizers:

  • Use lotions, creams or oils frequently. These products prevent water loss by placing an oily substance over the skin to keep water in or by attracting water to the outer skin layer from the inner skin layer.
  • Use products that are mild and do not have perfume. The chemicals that are responsible for fragrances may further irritate your skin.

Things to avoid:

  • Any allergen; skin reactions are very common when you are exposed to something you are allergic to
  • Perfumed skin products; perfumes can be allergens and the chemicals may further irritate your skin
  • Friction or rubbing on your skin; dry yourself after bathing by patting instead of rubbing with a rough towel
  • Long hot baths with bubble bath; try a cool bath and apply bath oil when you are finished
  • Shaving
  • Extreme weather such as hot/dry or cold/windy; these will make your dry skin worse

Clothes:

  • Wear soft, non-binding clothes.
  • Wash clothes in mild detergent.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands.
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