Chemotherapy/Radiation & Dry, Itchy Skin

Cancer therapy – how it affects the skin

Presently, there are numerous treatments used to fight cancer. Of those, chemotherapy and radiation are known to produce the most unpleasant side effects on the skin. However, keeping the skin properly hydrated prior to, during and succeeding treatment can greatly reduce these side effects.

Chemotherapy affects the entire body by attacking cancer cells and temporarily destroying healthy cells in the process. Chemotherapy drugs affect the skin by interfering with the normal function of the oil and sweat glands, which commonly produces:

  • Dry, sensitive skin
  • Rashes that form as an allergic reaction to therapy drugs
  • Photosensitivity (sensitivity to light)
  • Hyper-pigmentation (darkening of the skin; often referred to as 'chemo tan')
  • Hand-Foot Syndrome (burning, redness, flaking, or swelling on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet)

Radiation Therapy side effects are usually restricted to the area that is receiving treatment, and usually resolve once the treatment has concluded. Beams of radiation must penetrate healthy tissue in order to reach the cancer, which can produce:

  • Dry, itchy skin in the area being treated
  • Radiodermatitis (redness at the spot where the radiation beam was focused)
  • Rashes that form as an allergic reaction to the therapy
  • Peeling of the outer layers of skin
  • Puffiness or swelling of the skin

Of those who undergo radiation or chemotherapy, some experience many of the side effects and others may not encounter any at all. Therefore, the severity of side effects will differ from patient to patient based on the number of treatments, skin type, total dose of radiation, drug combination and other factors.

Importance of moisture during therapy

The skin is the largest organ of the human body and performs several important functions, such as protecting the body from external toxins and facilitating waste elimination. When a person’s immune system is compromised by an illness such as cancer, the skin is unable to undergo its natural reparative process - the visible result being dry, rough skin. Radiation and chemotherapy further dry out the skin, and without sufficient water the skin is unable to regenerate itself properly. The result is chronically dry, unhealthy skin that is vulnerable to further damage.

A slight tear in the skin can lead to infection in a patient whose immune system is currently suppressed - a potentially dangerous combination. Therefore, skin needs to be kept as moist as possible during treatment. The prevalence of moisture is essential for healing, which can also relieve dry itchy skin and prevent peeling and flaking. Being comfortable in one’s own skin means more time and energy can be focused on what’s most important – a full recovery.

How to care for the skin

Dry skin can easily be repaired with deep, long lasting moisture. Linacare's Moisture Delivery System allows Linacare creams to penetrate the skin’s deepest layers and keep moisture there longer than most products. This long lasting moisture enables the skin to repair itself naturally. Linacare creams are non-greasy, lightweight, and immediately absorb into the skin to comfort burning and dryness without sticking to clothing.

It is best to start preparing the skin with moisture a few weeks prior to treatment, as this can help minimize the severity of side effects. Please consult with your oncologist or nurse prior to using any products, especially during radiation treatment.

Suggested Products

Linacare Rehydrating Body Cream – Intensive (Unscented)
Linacare Rehydrating Body Cream should be applied morning and night to the body and feet, especially after bathing, for long lasting moisture.

Linacare Transforming Face Cream (Unscented)
Apply to the face, neck and eye area, morning and night to help keep the skin supple and prevent dryness.

Linacare Intensive Hand Therapy Cream (Unscented)
Apply to dry hands, cuticles, elbows or anywhere the skin needs extra care, as often as needed.

Hear what cancer survivors are saying about Linacare…

Survivors have had tremendous results with the cream, and their brave stories are better told in their own words. The following are testimonials, written by customers who were happy to share their successful results with others.

"Shortly after being diagnosed and treated for cancer 1998, I developed a persistent itching which could not be controlled. Numerous prescriptions and over-the-counter products were unsuccessful, in conflict with current drugs or simply ineffective. As the itching persisted, returning each time to different parts of my body, my irritation both physically and mentally, grew. It was at the constant urging of a close friend I began trying "another" product, LINACARE, after two days of usage, I had totally unexpected positive results with all my skin problems disappearing!

I have continued to use LINACARE, with the near-absence of any itching or skin irritation. It certainly is a product-of-tomorrow that can be more than effectively used today"

Clarke Jackson
Vancouver, BC

"I have never found a moisturizing product so absorbent and so tender. The face cream sinks into my skin leaving it supple and very soft. During chemotherapy the rehydrating body cream provided relief for dry itchy skin with the minimum of effort and no greasy after effect. It absorbed almost on contact and the benefits were long lasting. It’s perfume free, making it ideal for the use of chemotherapy. In dealing with the after effects of radiation treatment, once again Linacare is proving to be the best lotion I can find. And you don’t have to have a medical condition to benefit from Linacare! I recommend these moisturizers to everyone who wants soft, supple skin from simple, pure products"

Jane Wells
Bowen Island, BC

Helpful tips

Because treatments can occupy a large portion of time and energy, a quick and effective skin care plan will help bring a little simplicity back into your life. Here are some helpful tips to keep the skin clean, comfortable, and healthy during the course of treatment.

Tip 1 - Cleanse gently. Soaps are perceived as drying and irritating, when some are really quite gentle. It really depends on the individuals skin. If soap is found to be drying, then try a shower gel. In other words, stick with whatever works for you. The purpose is to gently cleanse the skin without stripping the natural oils. Just make sure to look for a cleanser free from fragrances, dyes, and medicinal ingredients as they can further irritate the skin.

Tip 2 - Take lukewarm baths and showers – moisturize immediately after! Water with a very high temperature can rob the skin of its natural oils, ultimately drying out the skin. Applying a moisturizer as soon as you have finished bathing will help seal in the added moisture.

Tip 3 - Cover up. It sounds so simple, but covering up your skin immediately after moisturizing will help seal in any moisture that may evaporate otherwise. If your hands and feet are extremely dry, try covering them up when you sleep.

Tip 4 - Do not share skincare products with anyone else. This is extremely important, as sharing products can transfer bacteria that could potentially lead to skin infection. Also, it is best to use a disposable wooden stir stick to scoop out cream from jars and then dispose the stick afterward. This will avoid bacteria getting into the cream.

Tip 5 – Protect the skin from sun exposure. Avoid exposing the radiated area to the sun during treatment. Wear protective clothing (such as a hat with a broad brim and a shirt with long sleeves) and use a sunscreen. Ask your doctor or nurse before hand to recommend a suitable SPF or sunblock.


The following are useful and credible sources of information for people living with cancer.

The Canadian Cancer Society -
The Canadian Breast Cancer
The Look Good Feel Better
The BC Cancer Agency -
The American Cancer Society -
Cancer Nutrition Info -
Lymphoma Foundation Canada -