The Dirty 7: Ingredients to Avoid During and After Cancer Therapy

Chemotherapy and radiation, while designed to destroy fast-growing cancer cells, also disrupt other fast-growing, healthy cells in our bodies. Dry skin, rashes, hair loss, mouth pain, and nail changes are all uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and common side effects caused by cancer treatment.

Everyday products can further irritate these side effects, including hand soaps, detergents, and even some medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, hair loss treatments, and blood thinners.

Here are some harmful ingredients to avoid during and after treatment:

Parabens and Phthalates

Many personal care products use parabens as preservatives to increase their shelf life. Parabens, however, may contribute to estrogen hormone disruption and lead to an increased risk of cancer. Typically used in hairspray and nail strengtheners, phthalates are another ingredient that may disrupt hormone levels. While the carcinogenic effects of both of these ingredients are still being studied, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends reducing their intake whenever possible.

Alcohol, Fragrances, and Detergents

Dry skin can be one of the most common and downright unbearable side effects of cancer treatment. It can lead to itching, infections, and even prevent a good night’s sleep. It’s important to avoid ingredients that make this problem worse. This includes products containing alcohol (like perfumes, cologne or aftershave), scented soaps, and fragrances that further dry out the skin.

Some Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications

Mass-produced medication, while good in some cases, isn’t ideal if you have a compromised immune system. Some common medicines, including Ibuprofen and Penicillin, can increase the likelihood of side effects like rashes and dry skin. Many popular hair growth products contain alcohol or propylene glycol, ingredients that actually dry out the scalp. Ask your oncology team before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medications.

So, what products can I safely use?

Many oncologists and oncology dermatologists recommend products that are free of fragrances, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfates, and phthalates to safely soothe the side effects of cancer therapy. While uncomfortable and disheartening, there aren’t many products created specifically to ease side effect discomfort and help you get back to everyday life.

We created Oncoderm because we saw a need for people to have access to medication that treats these side effects without complicating their treatment. By collaborating with compounding pharmacists, we formulated custom, hypoallergenic relief that’s both safe and effective for people with cancer. Unlike other sensitive skin, hair, and nail care brands, our products were created specifically with people undergoing cancer treatment, at a fraction of the cost of prescription drugs.


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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