More Skin Care Tips for Cancer Patients

Look Good…Feel Better® (LGFB) is a free, nationwide cancer support program created in 1989 from the concept that if a woman with cancer can be helped to look good, her improved self-esteem will help her approach her disease and treatment with greater confidence. Look Good…Feel Better teams volunteer beauty professionals with female cancer patients in active treatment, to provide practical tips on the use of cosmetics, wigs, and head coverings to camouflage the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. The program is conducted as a two-hour workshop offered in many hospitals and cancer-care facilities across the country.

In this article Marlene Nucifora, a licensed cosmetology volunteer and LGFB national trainer, answers some common questions frequently posed during LGFB sessions.

Q:I am undergoing chemotherapy treatment, and my skin is starting to feel flaky and tight. How can I protect my skin from becoming too dry?

A: Regardless of your skin type, you will probably develop dry and/or sensitive skin during treatment. Some women experience very dry skin during chemotherapy. If your skin is affected in this way, there are several things you can do:

  • Use mild cleansing lotions/creams or mild soaps with lukewarm (not hot) water.
  • Moisturize the skin—more than once per day. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp, and take special care of the sensitive areas around the eyes and the lips.
  • Some creams and lotions can interfere with your treatment. Avoid all types of hormone creams, such as products containing hydrocortisone.
  • Use only those products that are gentle and intended for sensitive skin.

Q: How important is sun protection during treatment?

A: Radiation therapy and chemotherapy agents can increase your susceptibility to sunburn and skin damage. Take the following precautions when possible:

  • Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, especially during the middle of the day when ultraviolet (UV) rays are most intense (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and in warmer climates.
  • Protect your skin with clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt and a hat with a broad brim.
  • Wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher that is active against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply to all exposed areas, including your lips, ears, scalp, and the back of your neck (unless otherwise advised by your doctor). Apply sunscreen as directed. Many people do not use enough—a palm full of sunscreen is best. Apply 20 to 30 minutes before you go outside so your skin can absorb it.
  • Choose sunglasses with at least 99 percent UVA/UVB protection.
  • As a general rule when receiving radiation treatment, exposing the treatment site to the sun is not a good idea. Also avoid other sources of UV light, such as tanning beds and sun lamps.

Always check with your radiation oncologist. Your doctor may advise against using sunscreen or any other cream while you are receiving radiation treatments and possibly for several weeks afterward. Check with your doctor before using sunscreens, cosmetics, perfumes, or deodorants on radiation-treated areas. Inform your doctor of any signs of irritation or infection.

Q: What skin care basics should I be practicing every day?

A: Always start by cleansing your skin to remove makeup, impurities, and dry flakes as well as to stimulate circulation. Start by removing eye makeup and lip color, using a cotton pad moistened with non-oily eye makeup remover. Hold the pad to your eyelid for a few seconds to dissolve the makeup. Without irritating or stretching the delicate skin around the eyes, gently wipe downward, sweeping inward toward the nose, wiping up across the brow to the outer corner of the eye. Repeat until all traces of eye makeup have been removed. Remove lip color in a similar manner: hold the moistened pad to the lips for a few seconds before gently wiping in a circular motion until all lip color is removed.

Cleanse your face and throat with a lotion, cream cleanser, or mild soap. Apply dots of cleanser to your forehead, nose, chin, cheeks, and throat. Gently massage with clean fingers in small inward circles. Rinse or tissue off as directed. Follow with a mild, non-alcohol toner to freshen skin and remove any cleanser residue, then moisturize with a moisturizer formulated for your skin type. Apply dots of moisturizer to your forehead, nose, chin, cheeks, and throat, avoiding the eye area. Gently smooth over your face, using upward motions.

Q: Is there a special technique recommended for moisturizing the eye area?

A: Choose a cream that is specifically formulated for the eye area. Because you should always be extragentle with the delicate skin around the eyes, use your ring finger to apply eye cream; it is your weakest finger and therefore has the lightest touch. Gently dot the cream along the outer orbital bone of the eye. Avoid rubbing or stretching the skin.

Marlene Nucifora has been a Look Good…Feel Better volunteer for more than 14 years. She is a member of the National Cosmetology Association, the world’s largest association of salon professionals. Marlene is the director of the Artistic Academy in Morris County, New Jersey.

Look Good…Feel Better is a collaboration of the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association Foundation, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the National Cosmetology Association. Women undergoing treatment interested in attending an LGFB workshop can find a local session by visiting,, calling (800) 395-LOOK [5665], or contacting the local office of the American Cancer Society.