- Your skin
The confidence of healthy skin
When the skin is sensitised by oncological treatments, when it becomes more reactive, what’s the best way of taking care of it every day? How can I look after it? What is the right skincare routine to adopt? Dry skin, skin irritation or damage to the skin: how do you reduce and relieve the side effects of cancer treatments on the skin?
Advice from Dr Ariadna Ortiz-Brugués, dermatologist and Medical Director of the Eau Thermale Avène brand and from Joëlle Nonni, head of the skin health education workshops at the Avène Hydrotherapy Center.
The treatment sensitises the skin. It often causes simple skin dryness: the skin becomes rough to the touch, with skin flakes that fall off like dandruff. When this “ xerosis ” is more pronounced, the skin on the legs takes on a crackled appearance and fingers and heels become cracked or chapped. These symptoms may also be accompanied by discomfort, itching and tightness.
Opt for products for dry skin that are able to restore the skin's barrier function. Ideally, an emollient should be applied at least once or twice a day to the face and body. On the face, spread the treatment with your fingertips, smoothing from the centre of the face towards the edges of the face. Apply to the body with a light massage using the entire surface of your hand. An emollient works best applied in a thin layer to slightly damp skin. Apply it when you get out of the shower or bath, for example.
Opt for soap-free dermatological bars or adapted cleansing oils or gels that nourish the skin and respect its pH. Do not use flannels, sponges or shower puffs, which can irritate sensitive skin. To dry yourself, avoid rubbing, it is better to dab gently.
Water that is too hot increases skin dryness and reactivates skin irritation. Instead, take a 5-minute shower every day at a temperature between 32 and 34°C.
This includes symptoms ranging from simple redness to severe burns with ulcerations, which can occur on irradiated skin. Indeed, radiotherapy combined with certain chemotherapies makes the skin very fragile and sensitive to trauma, even several months and years after the end of the treatment. Irradiated skin therefore requires continuous monitoring.
Do not apply any fatty substances in the four hours before the session. However, a study has shown that twice-daily application of an emollient to the area concerned would allow the side effects of this treatment to be better-tolerated*. So moisturise your skin carefully after radiation and every other day.
Hand-foot syndrome is manifested by the appearance of sometimes intense redness, thickening, cracks, fissures and pain on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It is therefore important to moisturise the soles of the feet and the palms of the hands at the beginning of the treatment, as these extremities are very sensitive. Avoid long walks and wear cotton socks. Put on cotton gloves for everyday activities, and suitable gloves for housework, gardening and DIY. It is best to keep your nails short, but not too short, and not to have a manicure or wear false nails. Consult a chiropodist if necessary.
Some therapies may cause spots and redness, especially in the first few weeks of treatment. These lesions are usually located on the face, scalp, mid-back and chest. They may be itchy, accompanied by painful burning sensations or become infected. To avoid the risk of scarring, avoid scrubbing or messing with the lesions in any other way. As soon as the first spots and signs of redness appear, you should limit the risk of bacterial proliferation by using a copper-zinc based drying cream or lotion.
Medical makeup can give the skin a " healthy glow ” and radiance. It can also be used to hide redness, scars, dark circles or to redraw eyebrows. The Avène Hydrotherapy Center also organises makeup workshops that provide lots of advice. Associations such as Tout le Monde Contre le Cancer, also offer treatments as part of their Échappée Rose initiative.
Daily protection, regardless of the planned activity, is essential. Avoid exposing your skin as much as possible, even to moderate sunlight, as some treatments increase the skin's photosensitivity. This increases the risk of sunburn or even burns and even short exposure can create lasting dark spots. Always carry protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Use a cream with a high UV SPF (50+), formulated to minimise the risk of allergic reactions, without fragrance, resistant to water and perspiration, and reapply every 2 hours.