There’s no doubt that cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation take their toll on the body. Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it can also kill other fast-growing cells in the mouth, digestive system, immune system, and in the skin, nails, and hair.
Radiation treatments, too, can damage skin on their way to destroying a tumor, leaving burns behind. While these treatments can be life saving, they can also cause discomfort and pain in the short- and long-term. Symptoms may include mouth sores, wounds that don’t heal right, flaky dry skin, nausea, burns, and more.
To help patients better manage their treatments both while they’re ongoing and after they’re over, we have some helpful body care solutions specifically for cancer fighters and survivors. These are tips that can help you to feel more comfortable. By loving yourself and your body, you can help yourself to heal faster and more efficiently.
5 Body Care Solutions for Cancer Treatment Side Effects
When you’re going through cancer treatments and even after they’re over, even simple things like taking a shower, shaving, or getting ready to go to town can be difficult and uncomfortable. Try these tips to make the chores of daily living a little more pleasant.
1. Shower gently.
Cancer and cancer treatments change the way your skin behaves. It becomes dry, fragile, irritated, and delicate. There are a few things you can do to make showering and bathing more comfortable. First, avoid very hot water, as it will rob your skin of the moisture it does have, making dryness and flaking worse.
Turn down the temperature to lukewarm and add about a cup of ground oatmeal to the bath water to help soothe skin and relieve itching. Dead sea salt and natural bath teas also help moisturize and calm irritation. Other good hydrating options include almond and jojoba oils, pure honey, and evaporated milk.
If you’re suffering from muscle or joint aches, Epsom salts will help relieve those and will also soothe and soften skin. Finally, be sure to use a very soft towel afterwards and pat rather than rub dry. Leave your skin a little damp and immediately apply a rich moisturizer. We suggest our CV Skinlabs Body Repair Lotion, which is specifically made for medically treated skin, and helps to provide lasting moisture while encouraging skin to heal.
2. Shave carefully.
Cancer fighters are naturally at a higher risk for infections. Their immune systems are overtaxed and less able to fight off bacteria and viruses. That means you need to be extra careful when shaving.
Razors are notorious for causing nicks and cuts, so it’s preferable to use an electric shaver whenever possible until you’re fully recovered. If you don’t have one, make sure you’re properly sanitizing your razors. One-use options are best. Then look for chemical-free shaving creams and gels with ingredients like aloe vera and green tea.
When you’re finished, try our Rescue + Relief Spray to soothe just-shaved skin. It provides a cooling effect and reduces any inflammation so skin feels more comfortable.
Digital-media company Refinery 29 stated: “When your skin is red or rashy…CV Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray …can be used all over the body to take the sting out of almost any irritation, literally and figuratively.”
3. Ease nausea.
This is perhaps the most common side effect of cancer treatments. It not only makes life unpleasant, but it can interfere with proper nutrition and rob you of energy. To combat this side effect, there are a number of things you can try.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to help calm your stomach, but there are non-medical approaches that may work as well. Ginger tea has proven to be very effective, and you can drink it whenever you notice the symptom coming up. One study reported that ginger significantly reduced nausea when taken before chemotherapy treatments. Researchers recommended 500-1,000 mg a day in a supplement.
Other potential solutions include homemade teas such as hot water with cinnamon and honey or cumin seeds and ground nutmeg (drain before drinking). Some survivors have found that two pinches of cardamom and one-half teaspoon honey in one-half cup of plain yogurt helped. Others report that a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cardamom in a half cup of warm milk does the trick.
4. Soothe dry, itchy skin.
Cancer fighters often describe their skin as feeling like “snake skin” or “sunburned skin.” It’s fragile, dry, sensitive, red, and just plain irritating and uncomfortable.
The skin really takes a beating through cancer treatments, and needs careful, constant care. To boost hydration and soothe irritation, try these tips:
- Drink more water.
- Consume water-rich foods, including melons, grapes, citrus fruits, celery, cucumbers, and tomatoes.
- Look for foods high in nutrients and antioxidants to aid in skin repair. Good options include melons, sweet peppers, green peas, fish, fruit, broccoli, almonds and other nuts, berries, spinach, beans.
- Bathe gently and don’t rub too hard!
- Use a rich moisturizer to hydrate and enrich the skin. Our Body Repair Lotion for the body works great, as does our Calming Moisture for Face.
“I have several patients who swear by the Calming Moisture for chemotherapy and radiation induced skin irritation,” says oncology nurse Christine Lilienfeld.
“I love your products,” said Ingrid, a CV Skinlabs customer living with cancer. “They helped me get through radiation treatments for breast cancer. I recommend them highly. I even used the Rescue + Relief Spray on my irritated scalp after losing my hair from chemotherapy. I will continue to use your products even now that I am finished with treatment.”
“I gave the Rescue + Relief Spray to my client’s daughter who was going through chemotherapy,” says celebrity makeup artist Beverly Fink. “She used this on her scalp and it brought immediate soothing relief to her tender scalp while calming her irritated skin.”
5. Ease irritation on radiated skin.
Radiation treatments can leave the skin red, irritated, and burned around the treatment site, much like a sunburn, but varying in severity. Possible skin conditions include erythema, a skin reddening; dry desquamation, or dry flaky skin; moist desquamation, or painful, weeping skin; and radiation dermatitis, or inflammation in the skin.
To help soothe these conditions, trying the following tips:
- Use cool compresses on the affected area for short periods of time.
- Try pure aloe gel that’s been cooled in the refrigerator. Our Rescue + Relief Spray can also be kept in the refrigerator and regularly sprayed onto the burned areas for cooling relief.
- Some survivors use emu oil or tamanu oil to soothe and moisturize.
- Soothing hydrogel sheets and packs are available from medical and home health suppliers to help calm and cool inflamed skin.
- Anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce skin damage. Choose curcumin, whole grains, colorful produce, and organic fish.
- Restorative Skin Balm—it contains calendula, which was found in some studies to help reduce radiation-induced skin irritation. It also contains sea buckthorn oil and arnica to help heal.
“CV Skinlabs Restorative Skin Balm has become a great go-to product for almost any acute skin condition,” said Joanna Vargas, aesthetician and facialist. “I gave it to people suffering from eczema this past winter, to people suffering from extreme dryness, to my clients with auto-immune issues…I would highly recommend the Restorative Skin Balm to anyone with delicate or dry skin.”
“When prescription ointments failed to help a child I knew who was undergoing chemotherapy after surgery,” said Dr. Carolyn Ray, M.D., Medical Oncologist, “I used the Restorative Skin Balm on her incision because her skin was extremely sensitive and fragile. Given that she was still in treatment, she absolutely could not afford any delays or complications related to healing her wound. The Restorative Balm worked beautifully—it was effective and gentle and she was able to tolerate it when everything else hurt or burned. Now, I recommend this line of products to everyone.”
Have you tried some of these solutions to help ease the side effects of cancer treatments?
Julie L. Ryan, et al., “Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: A URCC CCOP study of 576 patients,” Support Care Cancer, July 2012; 20(7):1479-1489, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3361530/.