Skincare during cancer treatment

You may experience different skin texture, tone, or sensitivity during cancer treatment. Understanding what may happen to your skin can help you reduce the risk of infections and prepare yourself for any side effect. Start by speaking to your doctor to see what side effects your treatment may cause.

Consider preparing your visit with these questions below.

  • What skin related side effects are common for the type of treatment I’m receiving?
  • Are there steps I can take to prevent any of these problems?
  • What problems should I call you about? Are there any problems that need urgent medical care?
  • When might these problems start? How long might they last?
  • What brands of soap and lotion would you advise me to use on my skin? 
  • Are there skin products I should avoid?

Skin Rash 

Furthermore, it's important to know that a skin rash is an expected and common side effect of treatment and not considered an allergy or allergic reaction. Just like any medicine, people can have allergies to treatment drugs.

If a rash develops suddenly while you are receiving a drug used to treat cancer, could be a sign that you are allergic to that drug. Always tell your doctor if you have any signs of a rash, even if you can't see it. 

According to most people receiving cancer treatment, skin rashes usually show up on the scalp, face, neck, chest and upper back. However, a skin rash commonly develops within a few weeks of receiving the treatment, but a skin rash can develop at any time during your cancer treatment and appear on any part of the body.

Each Treatment Can Cause Different Side Effects 


Your skin may become dry, rough, itchy, and red. It’s also possible you might experience peeling, cracks, sores, or rashes.

Chemo may make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, increasing the risk of sunburn. Intense sun exposure can also weaken the immune system even more than treatment has already.


During treatment your skin may become red, sore and itchy, which is similar to sunburn. The skin can also become darker than normal. This tends to start 1 to 2 weeks after treatment begins. Later on you may experience broken veins. 

The person giving you your radiotherapy will tell you how to care for your skin during and after your treatment. It is important to follow their advice. 

Stem Cell Transplant
This may cause graft versus host disease,  which can cause skin problems such as a rash, blisters, or thickening of the skin.
Immunotherapy can cause a severe and sometimes extensive rash, which can become dry or blister.
Targeted Therapy 
You may notice redness or a warm sensation like a sunburn before the rash begins. After several days, pimples and pus bumps may appear, and the surrounding skin can feel slightly tender. Rashes are usually mild to moderate. This can happen within the first few weeks. 
May lead to spots and redness of the skin.


Treatment for these side effects can differ based on the type and severity of the reaction. For mild to moderate skin rashes, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream along with an oral antibiotic or antibiotic cream. If the rash is more severe, you may receive oral corticosteroids, and your treatment regimen may be adjusted. 

Why you should learn the symptoms 

However, knowing the symptoms can help you notice when a side effect is developing, so you can change your routine and stop the problem and reduce infections. For example, if you develop open sores on your skin, carefully clean them with mild soap and water and cover them with a clean bandage. Then check them regularly for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, drainage, or pus.

Symptoms to watch out for:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain or Tenderness
  • Blisters or Wet Sores
  • Peeling skin
  • Acne
  • Bed sores 
  • Burning 
  • Dry skin
  • Darker areas of skin, tongue, and joints
  • Patches of skin that are lighter
  • Itchy skin 
  • Dome-shaped skin growth
  • Photosensitivity - Sunburn
  • Rash

Additionally, you should notify your care team if:

  • Your rash worsens after prescribed creams or ointments.
  • You have itching that lasts more than 48 hours.
  • Your rash develops into blisters, becomes bright red, develops pus or crusts over.
  • Your rash is painful.

Follow these tips to help with all skin related side effects: 

Skin Care Products 

  • Use un-perfumed bath, shower and skincare products and soap-free cleansers.
  • Try using a moisturising cream that contains oatmeal, menthol or 10% urea. This will reduce itchiness.
  • Do not use products containing sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), especially if you have eczema. 
  • For dry or sore lips, use a lip balm containing moisturising ingredients such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline®), shea butter or glycerine.
  • Avoid petroleum jelly if you are having radiotherapy to the head or neck, or if you are using oxygen.
  • To keep extra safe you should buy new makeup to use during and after treatment and replace regularly to reduce the risk of infections. 
  • If you are having a targeted therapy drug, avoid any products containing colouring.

Looking after your skin 

  • Pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it.
  • Always use a clean, soft towel to do this.
  • Moisturise your skin regularly, to stop dryness and itching. Especially after washing. 
  • Avoid long, hot showers or baths. 


Learn how to cope with nail changes with our blog - Coping with Nails Changes During Cancer Treatment