Skin Care & Chemo

Chemo and skin care just don't mix!

Did you know that your the skin is the body's largest organ?  It's takes a beating everyday, with exposure to water, food, sunlight and temperature variations, just to name a few.  Now add on the additional stress of undergoing chemo treatment, and it's a recipe for skin disaster.  Fortunately there are a couple of things you can do to offset the changes that more than likely will happen to the appearance and feel of your skin. I'm going to cover a few of the changes my skin went thru during my 12 weeks of chemo treatment, and some of the solutions I found to offset what was happening. 

First Up:  Nail Black Out

Besides my newly acquired baldy, this for me was the tell tale sign that things were amiss.  Now, my natural nails were thin and always needed a little extra help (via the local nail salon) but once I started chemo treatment, my nail situation went south real quick. It was like trying to shake hands with someone who dipped their nail beds in cigar ash.  A greyish looking black film slowly took over my nails.  My once pretty little (well actually big, yeah - I got real big fingers) handshake was under serious duress, and the  ashen color kept it's stranglehold on my fingers until six months after cessation (ending) of the treatment!  I know, sucks right!?  When I would visit my oncologist or primary care physician, they would comment that my nails didn't look "too" bad and that the situation was temporary.  So, what did I do to offset the effects of chemo and keep my nail beds strong?

I used this combination:

1- Hospital strength plastic gloves.  That's right, the ones all the health care staff use. Get them from a nurse or your nearest pharmacy.  I used them to wash dishes and do household chores.  Undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer can wreck havoc on your nails, to the point of serious pain.  So, when my nail bed started to soften, and crack slightly, I started using the plastic gloves on a daily basis, even when bathing (which saved the day and I never lost my nails).


2 - Tree tea oil.  Natural, strong smelling, I would rub the oil into my nails a couple of times a day.  Tea tree oil kept my nails from going jet black and kept the cuticles from becoming a cracked, infected mess.  I would pick up my natural tree tea oil at TJ Maxx in their beauty section, Walmart or a local health food store. 

3 - Sally Hansen Nail Hardener and O.P.I. nail polish.  I would use Sally Hansen Nail Hardener to fight the effects of a softening nail bed.  Nothing is worse than your nails cracking and peeling down to the nail bed and having to type, pull, or having to finger something that takes fine motor skills.  Listen, it's a drag, but I reapplied the nail hardener consistently,  five days a week.  Oh, and I did mention the ashen color my natural healthy pink nail beds took? Goodness, without the help of the products, my nails would have completely disappeared.  The tips of my fingers took on appearance of someone who bit their nails down to the core!  I had to get with the program real quick and settle into "illusion" mode.  Hence the my love for O.P.I. nail polish in a variety of spring/summer colors.  Pretty hues of rich deep aqua blues, greens, yellow, pinks and a occasional confetti, turned my short scrappy, cracked nails into looking like I had everything under control with time to spare! "Illusion" baby "illusion". 

 Alright, so now let me get to one of those really big nagging situations, that can't be avoided - the overall skin care regime.  Simple skin care routines were what I gravitated to. I've always been pretty minimal when it came to my skin care, but once I started chemo, the game changed, and I decided to forgo all of the products that I had been used in the past and switch it up.   The effects of chemo on my skin happened immediately, and within hours of the first IV infusion, I could see not so subtle changes.  Swift action had to be taken.  My normal skin care routine would not cut it.  I grabbed my little sister PJ, and off we went in search of products that would  provide relief.  We combed the aisle of the local supermarket and the discount stores.  To be perfectly honest,  in the beginning of treatment, skin care was an afterthought and  really felt like trying to catch a subway train as the doors were closing.  In a later post I will cover home made skin care remedies, that can provide easy, simple and natural relief during chemo treatment.   This list just covers a few of my favorite products purchased and donated, that I use.

*sidebar* Although I appreciated the compliments regarding my skins appearance during chemo treatment, it was a huge burden, as I struggled to maintain normalcy and boost my self confidence.  I would often get comments, as weeks passed that I didn't look sick.  Of course, I had my own internal problems with that statement, but I'm going to avoid standing on a soapbox and ranting.** 

This list is just an example of what worked for me. If anyone has a few more products that seem to alleviate the hassle of skincare while going thru chemo, feel free to comment. Sharing is caring.   Without further ado:

4 - H20 - Water - Lots of it!  Did I say lots of it?  I really mean as much as your body can handle on a daily basis, especially 1 day before and 5 days after your chemo treatment.  I know it sounds like a oxymoron, because chemo is supposed to kill fast growing cells (cancer), but I did not want chemo hanging around in my body any longer than it had to!  My job during my 12 weeks of chemo was to drink as much water as possible.  I averaged 3 liter sized  bottles daily of water and sometimes more (if you can stomach a gallon a day you are a superstar).  Some people believe in alkaline water, some people prefer water with electrolytes.  I'm saying plain, clean, H20 is a must.  Stock up on it, ask family and friends buy it.   I carried my own (even though lunch, water and massages were offered at the chemo center). The benefits are worth the freuent  trips to the bathroom!

5 - Face Serum (carrot seed oil & rose hip) and Coconut and Argan oil for my body.  I could buy the items separately (which I did and still continue to do) or I could use a product that I was given at the chemo center.  It's a brand called Violets are Blue (which I believe was created by a breast cancer survivor).  Pretty good stuff, but can be pricey.   My other alternative 100% natural coconut oil (which can be found at some supermarkets, health food stores or TJ Maxx) kept my skin from suffering thru nasty rashes, and created a  healthy healing environment, for the road map of scars after four successive surgeries.  I can remember vividly after my first chemo infusion, how I had to stop wearing my gold chains around the neck due to bruising (it looked like I had been strangled).  In addition to the natural lotion, my secret weapon was coconut oil. The benefit of 100% coconut oil on my body was tremendous.  It kept me really nice and supple, with a warm crisp glow, and a minimalistic clean smell. 

Below is a shot of the 100% Coconut Oil I've been using on my skin and hair,  by Olivia Care and a lip balm I use by Burt's Bees.

Last but not least my guilty pleasure, the skin care brand by c.Booth/Freeman.  A creamy, silky lotion, which I began slathering on just as treatment was ending.  I am totally in love with the Lemon Sugar Body Lotion.  It's not too acidic and has a nice quiet smell.   An added benefit is that the Lemon Sugar Body Lotion is free of Parabens, Sulfates, Mineral Oil and Petroleum.  This stuff leaves my skin super smooth and baby soft. (Shout out to Dimps for putting me on..thanks)