Annually, nearly 40,000 people in the United States alone receive radiation therapy for cancer treatment. This number is also estimated to increase each year by 20-30%. Radiation therapy side effects are many- the treatment impacts all major organs including the skin which is the largest organ of the body. In this article, we will discuss some of the best radiotherapy and post radiotherapy skin care remedies that can help minimize irritation and aid in faster recovery of damaged skin. Here are some of the top home remedies for post radiotherapy skin care.
1. Find out how radiation therapy can impact your skin
The skin absorbs the energy from the ionizing radiation received during the treatment and even healthy tissue in the treatment area is negatively impacted by it. The healthy skin tries to increase mitotic activity to heal the damaged skin. The new cells that are produced in the process are highly susceptible to wear and tear. The irradiated skin can also change permanently-there may be loss of pigmentation, indentation and formation of spidery red lines. The area is also permanently prone to poor healing. In the early stages of irradiation, the skin might take on darker appearance. Knowing what to expect can help you discuss these changes with your radiotherapist or oncologist who can then take precautions to minimize impact to healthy skin.
2. Be gentle with your skin
This post radiation skin care remedy is very important to ensure faster healing. Try and avoid use of any harsh products-especially cleansers and soaps. Protect your skin from all sources of damage such as the sun rays, as well as extreme hot or cold temperature changes. Avoid too hot or too cold water when bathing.
3. Keep the skin moisturized
Wash the skin with mild unscented soaps like Dove, Aveeno, Neutrogena or baby soaps. You can also use products that your doctor has prescribed. You can apply Aquaphor® healing cream immediately after radiation therapy as part of the skin care regime. Repeat application at bedtime. On the days you do not have treatment, apply the prescribed lotion or cream three times a day. Use baby shampoo for washing your hair.
4. Avoid cosmetics
It is best not to use any makeup, after-shave or cologne especially in the treated areas. Speak to your healthcare provider about products that you may and may not use.
5. Use sunscreen
Always use sunscreen with SPF 45 or above when exposed to the sun for more than 10 minutes. Also cover your face and head with a wide brimmed hat. Avoid sunscreen during radiation therapy.
6. Use post radiation dry skin remedies
Reduce the use of soap and increase frequency of moisturizer application. You can also use topical 0.5% or 1% Hydrocortisone cream in case your skin is very dry, itchy and flaky. Allow the skin to peel and fall off by itself. Do not peel your skin.
7. Apply cornstarch
You can use cornstarch powder or baby powder on the torso and upper body/shoulders as part of the post radiotherapy skin care. You can also use some home remedies like baking soda, salt and Epsom salts in hot water to soak in.
8. Take Benadryl
You can take up to 25mg of Benadryl at bedtime to counter dryness and itchy skin. Note that this can increase oral dryness.
9. For moist blistered skin
Sometimes, radiotherapy can lead to formation of blisters or cause broken and oozing skin. The goal of your post radiotherapy skin care should be to avoid infections. So try to keep the skin clean and dry and avoid use of soap. You can do a Sitz bath or a saline bath if approved by your doctor. Do not cover the skin up or use harsh abrasive towels to dry the skin. It is best to let your skin air dry. If you can tolerate a mild fan, use it to cool the skin. Stop use of moisturizers on blistered skin.
10. Use Aloe Vera gel for dry irritated skin
You can extract Aloe Vera gel from a plant and keep it refrigerated for use following radiotherapy. You could even buy a good quality Aloe gel or lotion but make sure they do not contain alcohol. Use the refrigerated gel/cream/lotion to apply on the dry skin. Avoid use of Aloe Vera gel on broken skin.
11. Use silver sulfadiazine ointment
Ointments containing silver sulfadiazine can also be used as part of the post radiotherapy skin care treatment in case of blistered skin as these help prevent infections. Use sterilized gloves before applying it to the open wound. Repeat as many times as directed by your nurse/doctor.
12. Avoid shaving
Avoid shaving if the skin is irritated. Try shaving less often and preferably go for an electric razor. Avoid shaving creams and after shave lotions. This is one of the important post radiotherapy skin care for men.
13. Wear soft loose clothes
Avoid tight fitting clothes and go for soft loose cotton clothes instead. If needed, ask your doctor to use nonstick dressings to cover treated areas. This will prevent your clothing from sticking to the skin.
14. Use Saline soak or Sitz bath
Avoid swimming immediately after radiation therapy as it can irritate the skin especially if the pool contains chlorine. You may use a Saline soak to soothe irritated skin. Saline soaks and Sitz baths (for pelvic and groin area) can also help alleviate swelling and pain. You can buy 0.9% saline solution at drugstores to make your saline bath at home. Sitz baths made of plastic are also available in drugstores.
Remember: a skin reaction is one of the most common radiotherapy side effects and it will take 2-3 weeks for your skin to get back to normal. If you have fever, or your skin is oozing foul discharge, or you have major discomfort, talk to your doctor immediately. We hope these 14 radiotherapy skin care remedies help you.