Cancer treatments may cause changes to your skin, hair and nails including thinning skin. This is common and can vary depending on the type and intensity of treatment you have. Most of the time, skin problems from chemo and radiotherapy are mild and easily treated. But if you’re receiving a stem cell transplant, immunotherapy or targeted therapy they could be more acute.
Your health care team will be able to advise you on what to expect - likewise, if you notice any skin problems or changes, tell your GP or care team so they can be treated promptly.
Skin problems can be uncomfortable and sometimes cause visible changes. After treatment, they lessen or disappear completely, but not always. Luckily there are ways to manage skin conditions during and after your treatment to help it, and you feel better.
You may also find the Live Better With Guide to Cancer and Skin Problems useful.
How does cancer treatment cause thinning skin?
Cancer treatments and cancer itself can damage the cells of the skin. This can stop them from working as normal. Cells may find it harder to regenerate, and the skin can lose its protective barrier. Skin can, therefore, feel thinner, more delicate and dry.
Radiotherapy may cause the skin on the part of your body receiving radiation to become dry, itchy and peel, sometimes turning red or darker or swollen. A little bit like if you have sunburn. If you develop painful sores that are moist or wet, ensure you inform your health care team immediately as it’s important they don’t become infected.
Some types of chemotherapy can also cause dry, itchy, peeling red patches on your skin. Skin can become more sensitive to the sun, burning easily or developing a rash. You may also notice changes to the colour or pigment of your skin.
What can be done to help?
Before, during and after your treatment it’s important to keep your skin hydrated, clean and moisturised.
Our skin is our body’s largest organ and it’s mostly made up of water. As our bodies lose large quantities of water every day, we need to replenish it. If we aren’t able to do this, our skin can visibly suffer.
Drinking fluids is beneficial for our skin for many reasons, including:
- Helping your body flush toxins from your body, helping your skin appear clearer and more even-toned.
- Water helps your skin retain moisture which increases its elasticity
- Reduce puffiness and water retention
- Drinking plenty of water can speed up your skins healing process
- Skin is less likely to crack or become itchy and tight
The usual, drinking lots of water to keep hydrated from the inside which we all know about!” - Annalondon, Live Better With Community Member
Developing a daily skincare routine can also help you take good care of your skin. If you’re not sure what to incorporate into a skincare routine, try these tips:
Skincare tips for thinning skin
- Bathe or shower in warm water. Hot water can make skin drier or irritate sensitive skin so taking the temperature down a notch can help.
- Pat your skin dry gently with a soft towel (tumble drying towels can keep them soft)
- If possible, try showering instead of bathing. Bathing can sometimes increase the risk of infection.
- Use gentle face and body cleansing products with natural ingredients that won’t strip skin of its natural oils. This Dry Skin Kit contains moisturising and healing ingredients to help protect and rejuvenate skin.
- After bathing, always moisturise your skin to prevent it from drying out. Pay extra attention to any dry flaky areas.
- Reapply moisturiser throughout the day if possible to dry areas and before you go to bed.
If you do develop more severe symptoms than dry, thinning or flaky skin, what you need to do may change on the advice of your healthcare team. Make sure you check with them before using particular products.