Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy can trigger changes in the skin, known as cutaneous or skin side effects. These changes are common: 2/3 of cancer patients on treatment develop skin side effects*.
The specific changes experienced depend on the exact treatment and the patient’s unique response to it. In response to cancer therapies, skin can become dry, red and rough. Other common side effects include hyperpigmentation (when skin develops patchy brown discoloration. Most cutaneous side effects are reversible once treatment has stopped.
It is essential to use gentle dermocosmetic care products to look after your fragile skin during this crucial time. One of the most important aspects of that care is sun protection.
Cancer treatments and the sun: Friends or Enemies?
Intuitively, you might think that a day out in the sun would be an ideal way to relax and take some much-deserved “time out” to boost your emotional wellbeing. But keep in mind that many cancer treatments can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This is called photosensitivity.
Even at low levels, UV exposure risks sunburn or a worsening of your cutaneous side effects. Sunlight isn’t off limits, but you need to be aware of the dangers and protect your skin accordingly.
Tips on sun protection for patients under cancer treatement
From the beginning of your treatment to a year after it ends, you should use broad spectrum balanced UVA-UVB protection on your skin. You should be aiming for sun protection of at least SPF 50+, Lotion Comfort SPF 50+.
If you have had radiotherapy, make sure you know where you were exposed as that whole area will be highly vulnerable to sunburn, especially during the first year after treatment. Similarly, surgical scars are especially sensitive to the sun and are at risk of becoming hyperpigmented (dark-colored). Be sure you keep them covered up or thoroughly protected. Also remember that UVAs are not blocked by glass or clouds, so daily protection is needed even if you are by a window or the sun isn’t out.
If you are heading out:
- Think skin-friendly: Favor hypoallergenic sun protection products, tested and formulated for people with the most fragile skin. Find a texture that feels nourishing to apply as you will need to use these products every day. (Link to Anthelios KA )
- Lather up generously: Apply sun protection after your moisturizer to all exposed areas including your ears, front and back of your neck, palms of your hands and your feet. Re-apply every 2 hours.
- Shade is your friend: If you are invited to an outdoor event, check ahead that shade will be available, or don’t be afraid to bring your own (an umbrella is pretty portable!).
- Keep an eye on the clock: Avoid being out between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its strongest.
- Cover up to keep cool: Wear protective clothing made of cotton or natural fibers (long-sleeved t-shirt and trousers etc.) and a wide brimmed hat.
We suggest these “3 often forgotten areas” appear in a side text box
3 “often forgotten” areas:
Eyes: Who doesn’t look good in stylish UVA-UVB protection sunglasses! Plus, the eye contour is one of the commonest areas of skin to develop skin cancer, so protect it with a high-tolerance non-stinging product that won’t migrate into the eye.
Lips: Use a lipbalm with SPF or a specific lip protection product
Head: Many cancer treatments go hand in hand with hairloss. Don’t learn how painful a sunburnt scalp can be! A wig may be hot in the sun, but a cotton scarf can be a very colorful protection ally and a wide-brimmed hat will ensure some shade.
If your bare scalp is exposed to the sun, reach for very high UVA-UVB protection. An invisible mist is a pleasant texture for this vulnerable area of skin.
*INCA annual report 2015