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Cancer treatments and skin and nail changes: best skin care products for chemo patients

Some cancer treatments will change your skin and hair. Depending on the drug(s) you are taking, you might experience sore, dry, red skin and your hair might thin out, change in texture or fall out. Your skin and haircare routine may change when you are undergoing treatment and you might need to change the products you are using – some of your favourite products may no longer be suitable. Read on to learn more about the best skin care products for chemo patients and people.

Disclaimer: we aren’t medical professionals here at Arcade Skincare, we are scientists who are passionate about skincare. Always discuss your skin and haircare with your healthcare provider and if you are going to try new products, check with your healthcare provider to ensure that it is safe for you to do so.

Macmillian Cancer Support offer the following advice on the change you may experience when undergoing cancer treatment:

best skin care products for chemo patients


During treatment the skin will invariably change. It may become sore, inflamed and irritated. A side effect of radiotherapy is a “sunburn-like” irritation of the skin making it red, sore and often itchy. Some common skincare ingredients can make this irritation worse, and you may become more sensitive to certain ingredients that were well tolerated before.

The top ingredients to avoid (as they are some of the most common sensitisers) include:

  • Sulphates. Use only sulphate-free products. Do not use Aqueous creams on your skin as they contain SLS and can be irritating.

  • Parabens, Formaldehydes and chemical preservatives. These are very common causes of sensitivity and irritation. These are often found in water-containing products like cleansers, lotions, creams, balms, shampoos, toners and conditioners.

  • Alcohol. This will exacerbate the dryness of the skin and can cause it to become more irritated, itchy and sore. Facial toners are often formulated with alcohol. Avoid toners as they might be too astringent for sensitive skin.

  • Perfume and fragrance. Very common sensitisers, even when you have tolerated these well before, you may have become sensitive. They can cause severe irritation and sensitivity. Look out for “Parfum”, “Aroma” and essential oils in the ingredients lists.

  • Paraffin, Mineral Oils and Petrolatum. A huge number of skin creams, lotions and balms contain one or more of these. They form an occlusive layer on the skin which can trap in heat. Your skin will be hot after radiotherapy, slathering on a cream or lotion with contains paraffin, mineral oil or petrolatum (Vaseline) will trap the heat in your skin making the redness, itching and soreness much worse.

  • Dye & colour. These are often synthetic and can cause irritation. Do not use any products that have been enhanced with dyes, pigments or colourants.

  • Harsh chemical & physical exfoliants. Avoid salicylic acid, benzyl peroxide (anti-acne products), harsh scrubs (with salt, pumice, walnut shell). These will increase irritation and make the damage sensitive skin.

It is always important to check the ingredients list on skincare products. If undergoing medical treatment it becomes much more crucial. Always check your labels and if there is an unfamiliar ingredient listed, pop it in Google and check it out before you try or buy.


For Dry Skin: A gentle, preservative & fragrance-free emollient is perfect. Choose one that does not contain any of the “no-go” ingredients, and always, always use fragrance-free products. Look out for gentle, soothing butters like cocoa or shea butter; these will form a gentle, breathable, protective barrier on the skin that locks in moisture but allows the skin to breathe (and heat to escape!).

best skin care products for chemo patients

Arcade Skincare’s Hydrate & Repair Balm is formulated for the most sensitive skin. It contains Cocoa & Shea butter rich in soothing, anti-inflammatory fatty acids. There is pumpkin seed oil rich in Omega Fatty Acids, Vitamins A & C and is intensely moisturising. Babassu oil is a gentle, non-irritating oil rich in polyphenols, natural anti-histamines and soothing fatty acids.

best skin care products for chemo patients

It can help reduce itching, soreness and inflammation. You can safely use this balm top-to-toe, it is hypo-allergenic, free from all the “no-no” ingredients and there are no known contraindications with any of the ingredients in this balm. Slather this over dry, irritated and sore areas to help moisturise and soothe the skin.

Use a gentle exfoliator on patches of skin that are extra dry. Arcade Skincare’s Turmeric Body Polish uses fine granulated sugar for “scrubbiness” and isn’t harsh enough to damage the skin. It contains shea butter and coconut oil to hydrate the skin as it exfoliates and pure turmeric and turmeric oil to soothe irritation and inflammation.

best skin care products for chemo patients

Cleansing & Makeup removal: Twice daily cleansing is crucial to keep your skin clean, clear and free from build up of product, grime and pollution. Always cleanse with lukewarm water and never use facecloths. Always gently pat dry.

You can still wear makeup whilst undergoing treatment. Makeup formulated for sensitive skin of course! Do not use harsh, astringent cleansers to remove your makeup; this will irritate your already sensitive skin. Avoid soap (the pH is way too high; it will upset the acid mantle that protects our skin), foaming cleansers and any cleanser that contains sulphates, fragrance and colour. A gentle, pH balanced, soap-free, fragrance-free cleanser should be used; apply and work into the skin with your fingers in gentle circular motions and gently rinse with lukewarm water. Pat dry gently with a soft towel.

best skin care products for chemo patients

Arcade Skincare’s Gel to Milk Cleansing Balm is a 2-in-1 product. It removes makeup effortlessly (even waterproof mascara) and cleanses and hydrates the skin simultaneously. This product contains only plant-based oils and an extract from the sugar beet root. Nothing else (no sulphates, no surfactants, no fragrance, no colour, no preservatives). It is a super-clean, super-simple formulation that has been designed to turn into a light, milky cleansing lotion when mixed with water. It will not irritate your skin; it will not cause sensitivity and it is the perfect cleanser to use on sensitive skin.

Facial skincare: Using a gentle, hypoallergenic cream or lotion is crucial to keep your skin soft, supple and hydrated.

best skin care products for chemo patients
best skin care products for chemo patients

Use lotions and creams that do not contain paraffin or mineral oil and never use fragranced products. Arcade Skincare’s Intense Hydration Cream is a blend of babassu oil, oat oil, pumpkin seed oil, hyaluronic acid and Vitamins A, B & C. It will soothe, nourish and moisturise your skin, locking in moisture. Rich in natural antioxidants, the cream can help minimise the harmful effects of the sun, pollution, and harsh weather. Apply after cleansing when the skin is still damp as this enhances the action of the ingredients in the cream.

Shampoo & Conditioner: Most shampoo will contain some form of sulphate. These can be drying on the scalp and cause irritation.

Use a gentle, fragrance-free, sulphate-free shampoo to cleanse your hair and scalp. Arcade Skincare’s shampoo and conditioner bars have been formulated to be gentle and kind to the hair.

best skin care products for chemo patients

They remove build up without stripping vital oils, they help soften the hair and enhance flexibility and strength. All our shampoo and conditioner bars are enriched with Amla oil.

best skin care products for chemo patients

A natural, plant-based oil that has been shown in clinical trials to stimulate the follicle, encouraging growth and minimising hair loss. Amla oil will increase the flexibility and softness of the hair, minimising breakage and keeps the hair shiny and free from frizz and fly away. The blend of Amla & neem oils work on the scalp to keep it hydrated, minimise irritation and are a potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.

We have a range of natural, hypo-allergenic, sensitive, vegan products and we probably have something that can help you feel better during your treatment. If you are unsure about any of our products, please do drop us a line, and if you want to know more about the products or if something is suitable for you, get in touch. If you are unsure about what to use, or if a product is safe to use, check with the medical professional responsible for your care.

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