Side Effects

Photosensitivity: How Can We Protect Ourselves During Chemotherapy?

+ CV Skinlabs Team

Nothing can help brighten your mood like a warm, sunny day. However, if you’re going through treatment for cancer, be careful. Most likely, you’ll be at a higher risk for sunburn-which means you’ll need to protect your skin!

Without extra caution, exposed areas may suffer redness, exaggerated sunburn that lasts for days to weeks, even itchy rashes. CancerConsultants.com reports that sometimes, treatment can “cause a sunburn that you got up to a week before chemotherapy to reappear, or, rarely, a sunburn may even spread to skin that was not exposed to the sun.”

Fortunately, this is one of those side effects that’s easily managed-if you take a little time to address it. We’ve all heard about the basic steps: Avoid direct sunlight, especially during the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. When you do go out, wear a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves, long pants, and during treatment, even light gloves. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated (your skin needs it, too), and of course, use a powerful sunblock.

Not just any sunblock, however. You want to be extra careful to avoid synthetic chemicals that can further damage your skin and weaken your defense systems. Unfortunately, standard sunblock contains some of those chemicals-including 4-Methyl-Benzylidencamphor (4-MBC), Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-3, and Octyl-methoyl-cinnamates (OMC). They may also contain synthetic preservatives like parabens and synthetic fragrance. (Click here for a list of ingredients to avoid when shopping for your sunblock.)

Instead, look for more natural formulas with titles that include words like “organic,”  “chemical-free” and “sensitive.” Ideally, select products that use “physical” or “mineral-based” sun block that contains zinc or titanium oxide. (The Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences recommends an SPF of 30 or more.) Another trick is to look for baby products, which are typically formulated with fewer chemicals for sensitive skin.

A couple of products to try: Soleo Organics Sunscreen SPF 30, and California Baby No Fragrance SPF 30-we love the ingredient lists on both of these!

Want to know if the treatments you’re taking cause photosensitivity? First, ask your doctor. BlueCross BlueShield also has a great list of chemotherapy drugs and their side effects. Those guilty of causing photosensitivity include 5 Fluorouracil (5FU), Capecitabine (Xeloda®), Dacarbazine (DTIC), Flutamide Interferon, Methotrexate (Mexate®), Tretinotin (Vesanoid®), and Vinblastine.

No matter what treatment you’re taking, err on the side of caution and take care of your skin with a chemical-free sun block every day. Don’t forget places like your ears, back of the neck, and hands.

Have you become photosensitive? How has your skin changed due to chemotherapy drugs? Please share your top picks for chemical-free sun blocks or moisturizers.

Photo courtesy of Flicker

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