Skin Care during Chemotherapy
Written by e3 guest blogger: Joni Keim, Author & Educator
Joni has worked in the alternative health and wellness field for over thirty years as an author, practitioner, and educator. She is a licensed aesthetician and has certificates in aromatherapy, wholistic health sciences, and nutrition. Joni researches and writes for e3, provides technical direction for skin care, and assists in product development. Today’s she sharing how to use essential oils for skin care during chemotherapy.
In the thirty years that I have been a professional aesthetician, I have worked with many individuals going through chemotherapy. Unfortunately, chemotherapy wreaks havoc with skin—making it dry, sensitive, and fragile, which, of course, makes it appear older than it is. But there are things that can be done to minimize chemo’s drying effects and can help keep skin soft and supple during such a challenging time.
Here’s the bottom line for the best skin care during chemotherapy: Treat your skin as you would a baby’s skin. Use products that are for dry, sensitive skin and are free of synthetic fragrances and colors. Be mindful, be gentle, and do everything you can to 1) hydrate, 2) protect, and 3) nurture.
Your current skin care program will likely need to change during chemotherapy, and it may take a week or two before you notice a difference, but you will. Results vary from person to person, but regardless, if you follow these guidelines, know that you are doing the very best you can for your skin during your chemotherapy treatments.
Hydrate your skin during chemotherapy
Keeping your skin well hydrated helps prevent the dryness that makes your skin appear older. Your skin is only truly hydrated by WATER and can be achieved with face/body mists, compresses, baths, and moisturizers. In addition, be sure you drink plenty of water and avoid large amounts of diuretic foods such as coffee, black tea, cranberries, tomatoes, carrots, celery, parsley, and sodas. If you are in dry air environments, it is especially important to hydrate.
Face and body mists are as refreshing as they are hydrating and are pleasant to use. Be sure the misting bottle you have produces a fine mist. The mist should land and sit on your skin like dew. If it is too heavy, it runs off. Fill the bottle with spring water (non-chlorinated) and mist your skin lightly—face, neck, and upper chest. Misting is usually used during the day to re-hydrate your skin. You can mist as often as you like. It is important that you mist your skin ONLY if you have a moisturizer on. Moisturizers contain a humectant that holds moisture next to the skin. When you mist your skin with a moisturizer on, you add more water and the humectant holds it next to your skin to keep it hydrated, even after the mist has evaporated. If you mist without a moisturizer on, it can actually make your skin feel drier.
Essential oils can be added to your mist, contributing both skin care and psychological benefits.
Mix 1-4 drops of an essential oil to every 4 ounces of water in the misting bottle. If your skin is sensitive, use fewer drops. Choose an essential oil that is gentle and nurtures your skin such as Lavender Lavandula angustifolia, Rose Rosa damascena, Roman Chamomile Anthemis nobilis, or Neroli Citrus aurantium.
E3 makes a synergy, Skin Care Blend, which is ideal for this. All of these essential oils mentioned have an emotionally calming effect. Be sure to choose an aroma that agrees with you at the time. Shake well before each use and avoid getting the mist in your eyes.
E3 has cobalt blue misting bottles in 1 and 4 ounce sizes, so you can make your own mister, using plain spring water or water with essential oils added.
Evian makes a plain mineral water facial mist in a spray can that is available at many drug stores.
Face and body compresses are comforting as well as hydrating, and like misting, can be a pleasant experience. Fill a basin with warm water. (Do not use hot water. It can be irritating and drying to your skin.) Lay in a washcloth, wring, and apply to your skin wherever it feels dry such as your face, upper chest, knees or elbows. Dip, wring, and apply 3 more times. Leave the last compress in place for about 3 minutes and let your skin quench its thirst.
Essential oils can be added to the compress, contributing both skin care and psychological benefits.
Mix 1-2 drops of a gentle, skin-nurturing essential oil such as Lavender Lavandula angustifolia, Rose Rosa damascena, Roman Chamomile Anthemis nobilis, or Neroli Citrus aurantium in the basin of water. Stir well. E3’s synergy, Skin Care Blend, is good for this. All of these essential oils mentioned have an emotionally calming effect. Be sure to choose an aroma that agrees with you at the time. Keep your eyes closed when applying the cloth to your face.
When you are finished with the compresses, gently pat dry and apply your moisturizer or lotion. Because your skin has been hydrated by the compress, you do not need to mist at this time, but you can if you like.
Fill your tub with warm water. (Avoid hot water. It can be irritating and drying to your skin. Also, do not add bath salts or bubble bath.) Immerse yourself and add 1 teaspoon of fractionated coconut oil and stir the water. Remain in the tub for about 10 minutes. Soaking in the tub does a wonderful job of hydrating your skin. Gently massage your skin while immersed.
Essential oils can be added to your bath. Mix 4 drops of a gentle, skin-nurturing essential oil such as Lavender Lavandula angustifolia, Rose Rosa damascena, Roman Chamomile Anthemis nobilis, Neroli Citrus aurantium or Frankincense Boswellia frereana to the fractionated coconut oil. Skin Care Blend, an e3 synergy is perfect in a bath. All of these essential oils mentioned have an emotionally calming effect. Be sure to choose an aroma that agrees with you at the time, and be sure you add the mixture AFTER you have immersed yourself.
When you are finished in the tub, gently pat dry and moisturize all of your skin with your moisturizer.
Moisturize your skin during chemotherapy
A moisturizer is designed to hydrate your skin with 1) water that is in the product, 2) humectants—ingredients that hold water on the skin and 3) oils—ingredients that prevent moisture loss/evaporation by forming a barrier on the skin). This combination of ingredients forms an emulsion in the production of the moisturizer and becomes an emollient to hydrate, protect, soothe, and soften your skin. Be sure your moisturizer is designed for dry, sensitive skin. There are several different humectants used in moisturizers such as glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid, and there are several different oils used such as lanolin, olive oil, shea butter, avocado oil, and jojoba. Moisturizer ingredients can be simple or complex. When skin is sensitive and delicate, simple can be better.
ALWAYS use a moisturizer on your skin after taking a bath or shower or washing your hands. This is the best time to moisturize because your skin has been hydrated and the moisturizer helps to lock the moisture in as well as add moisture. In addition, when you wash, much of your natural skin oils are removed. The moisturizer helps to put back a protective layer (oil) on your skin.
There are excellent moisturizers available from a variety of companies—too many for me to give you a comprehensive list here. I suggest you visit the E3 website and read about the lovely lotions, moisturizers, and creams that are available there. Two of my favorites are Honey Almond Cream and e3 All Natural Lotion. Both of these are rich emollients and fragrance-free, making them ideal for dry, sensitive skin. The only sure way to know if a moisturizer works for you is to try it.
If you need a more highly protective treatment, salves are a good choice. They are more occlusive (protective against moisture loss) than regular moisturizers. They often contain a petroleum product called petrolatum, which some people prefer to avoid. However, in this situation, it may be just what you need. Two products that contain petrolatum are Aquaphor (available in most drugstores) and my favorite salve-type product called Epi-Shield, available on line (www.lauricidin.com/epi-shield).
If you choose to avoid petroleum-based products, Alba Botanica makes Un-Petroleum Jelly and Wild Carrot Herbals makes a baby product (Goo Goo Baby Bum Balm—yes, you can use it on your face) that is protective and soothing.
Because salves do not contain water, it is very important that you hydrate your skin first, apply your regular moisturizer, and then apply the salve. This works great for cold weather protection and also when your skin is especially dry, cracked, or irritated.
Protect your skin during chemotherapy
Protect your skin from drying out, from moisture loss, from irritation, and from the environment (sun, wind, smog, cold) with moisturizers, salves, lip balms, protective clothing, and sunscreens, as needed. Remember, treat your skin as you would a baby’s skin.
You can protect your skin from the sun by avoiding direct sunlight, wearing protective clothing, and/or using a sunscreen. When you need a sunscreen, avoid those that are made with chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone. There is some research that suggests it can disrupt hormones. Chemical sunscreens also break down after a couple of hours and need to be reapplied. Your best choices are sunblocks made with zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is a mineral and can be drying to the skin, so the product must be well formulated to counteract this. One of my favorites is from DeVita Natural Skin Care called Solar Protective Moisturizer 30+. Sometimes even the best sunscreen will irritate dry, sensitive skin. So wear a sunscreen only when you need it.
It is often overlooked that your skin needs protection when you shampoo. Shampoo suds are drying to skin, especially delicate skin. Before you get into the shower, put a small amount of olive oil, jojoba oil, fractionated coconut oil, or tamanu on your face, shoulders, and upper chest to protect them. Shampoo and rinse your hair with your head back, so suds do not run down your face or body. After your hair is thoroughly rinsed, rinse all of your skin well to be sure all the shampoo suds are removed. The oil that you have applied to your skin before shampooing, after rinsing well, will leave your skin feeling smooth and soft. It will not feel oily. Remember to apply your moisturizer after every shower.
Nurture your skin during chemotherapy
Nurture your skin by using quality skin care products designed for dry, sensitive skin. Look for products that are gentle, free of synthetic fragrances and colors, and hypoallergenic. Thankfully, well-made products are readily available now. Excellent lines are in natural food stores and on-line. Use your good sense when choosing—ask staffers, read the labels, and test, if possible.
Over the years, I discovered that many of my clients that had sensitive, dry skin benefited from using products that were created for babies or children. These lines are designed to be very gentle. They have lotions, creams, balms, and cleansers. Nature’s Baby Organics, Weleda, and Earth Mama Angel Baby are reputable brands and have nice products.
During this time of taking special care of your skin, you will need, primarily, a cleanser, a moisturizer, a sunblock, and a lip balm. These are the basics. There are other types of products available, such a serums, masks, toners, etc. but I suggest you start with the basics to keep it simple.
Cleansers to use in your skin care during chemotherapy
For your face: If you wear make-up, you need to use some type of cleanser to remove it. I recommend cleansing milks. They are creamy, gentle, and rinse well. (However, they do not remove waterproof mascara well. You may need a special product designed for that.) I have used and liked BWC Extra Gentle Cleansing Milk, available online. I also like e3’s All Natural Lotion, as a creamy cleanser, and though it is not designed for this purpose, it works well. You can also use a small amount olive oil of fractionated coconut oil as cleansers. Use your cleanser by applying a small amount and gently massaging your skin. Do not over cleanse. After cleansing, rinse well with warm water. Cleansers left on the skin can be irritating, though cleansing milks rarely will. After rinsing, pat dry, and apply your moisturizer. You can mist if you like.
Cleanse your face only one time a day, at night. In the morning, simply rinse with warm water, pat dry, and apply your moisturizer.
If you do not wear make-up, you have the option of not using a cleanser at all. Instead, just rinse your face with warm water or use a facial compress, as described above in the “Hydrate” section. Then pat dry and apply your moisturizer.
Whether you wear make-up or not, do not use a cleanser that suds and avoid bar soaps. They are too strong and will remove your natural skin oils—something you need to avoid to keep your skin moist and soft.
For your body: The skin on your body may experience dryness, just like your face, so care must be taken when cleansing. I recommend using a body wash that is made for children, such as Nature Baby Organics’ Shampoo and Body Wash (with lavender and chamomile). Use it on the areas that need washing, such as under your arms, your feet, and your bottom. Whatever areas you do wash, do not overdo and rinse well. Avoid washing your entire body, especially your shins which have few oil glands and can be very dry. Just rinsing or gently wiping with a wet washcloth is good enough to cleanse these areas.
For your hands: The skin on the back of your hands is fragile and almost always exposed to the environment, so they can be dry and sensitive. Use a gentle cleanser such as a baby body wash (see recommendation above) to wash your hands and use it on the palms only. The backs of your hands rarely need it. Rinse well, pat dry, and apply a rich hand cream or lotion—every time you wash. Avoid anti-bacterial hand cleansers, as they can be irritating and their effectiveness has not been proven.
Moisturizers to use in your skin care during chemotherapy
Read about moisturizers in the “Hydrate” section above.
Sunblocks to use in your skin care during chemotherapy
Read about sunblocks in the “Protect” section above.
Lip balms to use in your skin care during chemotherapy
The skin on the lips is thin, without oil glands, and often fragile. During this time, your lips may become dry and chapped. Avoid licking them, and protect them with a good lip balm, applying as often as needed.
There are many good lip balms available. Look for ones that contain beeswax and shea butter—both excellent skin protectants. My personal favorites are from Wild Carrot Herbals . They come in a variety of flavors. I especially like Grapefruit Rose.
Suggested daily skin care routine during chemotherapy
To help you get started, I have included this suggested routine. Feel free to adjust it to fit you and your lifestyle, while practicing the important guidelines.
Morning routine: Rinse your face with warm water several times, pat dry, and apply your moisturizer. If needed, apply a thin layer of your salve. Apply your sunblock and lip balm.
During the day, as needed: If your skin (on your face or body) feels dry, reapply your moisturizer. You should always be able to feel your moisturizer slightly. If you can’t feel it, then you need more. Mist, if desired, as often as you like. Use your lip balm as often as needed. Apply hand cream every time you wash your hands.
Evening routine: Sometime before going to bed, cleanse your face. Rinse well, pat dry, and apply your moisturizer. If needed, apply a thin layer of your salve. Apply your lip balm.