Skin Care and Makeup During Radiation Therapy

Tips to keep skin happier during radiation therapy

Credits: Wei K et al, Medicine (Baltimore). 2015
Edited By:
Dermveda Content Team ,

Quick Summary:

  • Radiation therapy from cancer treatments lead to skin inflammation
  • Approaches to skin care for radiation related inflammation include sunscreen use, gentle cleansing, moisturizer use, and make-up

Skin changes during radiation therapy are a common problem that cancer patients face. Each person’s skin response to radiation therapy is unique and depends on radiation dose, the area receiving radiation, and if there is concurrent chemotherapy treatment. Expected skin changes after a few weeks include skin redness or darkening, severe dryness and flakiness, and people may even experience blisters and rashes.[1] Here are some skin care and make-up suggestions to help provide comfort and relief during radiation therapy for cancer:


Skin Cleansing

Skin cleansing removes make-up and dirt, but it also removes the oils which are naturally present on your skin. This can worsen dryness of damaged skin.[2] 

  • Choose mild, unscented face and body cleansers that are “soap-free.”
  • Avoid hot water when showering and bathing.
  • Refrain from using a loofa or scrubber when cleansing your skin, since radiation therapy can make skin more fragile and sensitive. Be sure to rinse off all the cleanser and gently pat your skin.
  • Do not use alcohol or alcohol-containing products on the skin area that is receiving radiation therapy.[1]


Keep the Skin Hydrated

Cancer treatment can impair the skin barrier function, resulting in very dry skin.[3] Moisturizers improve hydration. It's important to begin using a moisturizer when the treatment begins, even if you do not yet see any skin changes occurring with radiation.

  • Most moisturizers can be purchased over the counter. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, there is no evidence that one moisturizer is better than another for improving signs of dryness during radiation therapy.[1]
  • A natural alternative for skin hydration is skin creams formulated with the flower Calendula, which has been shown to soothe skin after radiation treatment.[4]
  • Apply moisturizer to the area receiving radiation at least twice per day.


Use Sunscreen

It is very important to prevent sun exposure to areas being treated with radiation. Sun exposure can worsen the side effects of cancer therapy.[5,6] Apply a generous amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to your skin every day.[7]



There has been controversy about whether women receiving breast cancer treatment should wear aluminum-containing deodorants due to concerns about skin toxicity.[8] However, two studies have evaluated this risk and both found that aluminum-containing deodorants did not increase radiation associated skin toxicity.[9,10] 



Cancer treatment may make your skin more sensitive to makeup, due to disrupted functional of the skin barrier.[11] 

  • It is generally recommended that patients do not apply makeup to areas of skin being treated with radiation therapy.[1]
  • If you are using makeup, it is important to discontinue use if a rash develops.

If skin changes induced by radiation therapy are unmanageable, it is recommended that patients be referred for a consultation with a dermatologist.[12]


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1.   Skin Care Guidelines for Patients Receiving Radiation Therapy. Accessed September 10, 2017.

2.    Thune P. The effects of detergents on hydration and skin surface lipids. Clin Dermatol.1996;14(1):29-33; PMID: 8901396. Link to Research

3.    Lacouture ME. Mechanisms of cutaneous toxicities to EGFR inhibitors. Nat Rev Cancer.2006;6(10):803-812; PMID: 16990857. Link to Research

4.    Pommier P, Gomez F, Sunyach MP, et al. Phase III randomized trial of Calendula officinalis compared with trolamine for the prevention of acute dermatitis during irradiation for breast cancer. J Clin Oncol.2004;22(8):1447-1453; PMID: 15084618. Link to Research