Nine Tips for Preventing Dry Skin and Hair During Cancer Treatment

Dry skin is one of the most important and unexpected side effects of cancer treatment. It can feel scaly, tight, itchy, and painful. It may even become red and swollen. But dry skin is not just one more annoying cosmetic problem.

Left untreated, dry skin can lead to itching and a loss of fluid in the body, as the skin loses its ability to retain water.

Serious skin dryness may lead to infection. To protect your skin from drying out and infection, there are a number of things you can control in your environment, such as keeping the air in your home moist by lowering the heat or using a warm-mist humidifier.

Here are 9 additional tips for preventing dry skin and hair during and after cancer treatment:

  1. Keep baths or showers short.
    If you prefer bathing, take an oatmeal bath or add bath oils (Note: be careful when using bath oils, since they will make your tub very slippery).
  2. When bathing or washing hands, use cool or lukewarm water rather than hot.
  3. Avoid using loofahs or sponges.
    Scrubbing skin with loofahs or sponges can irritate the skin. They’re also loaded with germs.
  4. After showering or bathing, apply a fragrance-free hypoallergenic body moisturizer while your skin is still damp (usually within 15 minutes). Be sure to apply the moisturizer all over at least twice a day, but especially after baths or showers.
  5. Avoid colognes, gels, aftershaves, and after-bath splashes that contain alcohol.
  6. Use fragrance-free detergents for laundry.
  7. Drink plenty of liquids each day.
  8. Protect your skin from cold, wind, and sun.
    Try to avoid heat, especially dry heat. Add humidifiers to your living space and wear sunscreen of at least 15 SPF when going outside.
  9. Wear soft fabrics, such as cotton, and avoid tight clothes or underwear. Women can wear camisoles (instead of bras) and boy shorts (instead of underwear) to minimize irritation in dry areas under and on the sides of the chest and in the groin. Men can substitute briefs with looser-fitting boxers.

Dry skin and hair can be irritating both physically and emotionally, but there are many ways to keep moisture in while reducing the risk of infection. If you are experiencing symptoms of dry skin or hair, ask your doctor about how you can safely rehydrate and soothe your body.


Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD

If you are a person living with cancer, you may experience changes in your skin, hair, or nails. There are many effective ways to prevent and manage these side effects so they don’t disrupt your life or interfere with treatment.

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