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Ask the Expert: Safe Fun in the Sun for Cancer Patients and Survivors

skin care

Tracy Lacina, Licensed Esthetician – Oncology Trained at the Nassif Community Cancer Center, gives her skin care advice for cancer patients looking to have a little fun in the sun.

How does cancer treatment affect the skin?

The skin is the largest organ in the body and is incredibly sophisticated. The skin helps with absorption and excretion and has a huge role is making our bodies comfortable. Cancer treatment can interfere with the normal function of the skin.

Chemotherapy treatments have a big impact on all fast-growing cells (hair, skin, nails). Some side effects may include dehydration, irritation, rashes, sensitivity.

Radiation therapy is more localized to a specific treatment area therefore the side effects are very localized to the area. Side effects may include dehydrations, radiation dermatitis, and sensitivity.

Does this mean special precautions should be taken when enjoying time in the sun?

Absolutely! Cancer patients are at increased risk and should avoid the sun as much as possible. Some cancer treatments require you to avoid sun exposure altogether. Ask your doctor if your treatment requires you to avoid the sun. Regardless of the cancer therapy, your skin is going through a lot at this time and sun exposure can really intensify unwanted side effects. If your doctor says you can be out in the sun, be sure to take these precautions: Seek out shade whenever possible, wear protective clothing, reapply your sunblock as needed.

Does the sun affect certain groups of people more than others?

Damaging sun rays are always risky for those who are fair complected, have blue eyes and red hair For this group of individuals, this risk is going to increase with cancer therapies.

There are so many products out there. How can patients and survivors know which ones offer the best protection and which to stay away from?

First, know the difference between sun block and sunscreen. The main difference lies in the way they protect the skin from UV rays. Sunblock literally BLOCKS the UV rays by forming a physical shield. Sunscreen is just that a “screen” it contains chemicals that absorb UV rays before your skin does. ALWAYS read the labels. If your sunscreen contains ingredients that are going to increase “absorption”, do you really want a sunscreen?

Second, know your ingredients. Everyone should familiarize themselves with the dirty dozen: Fragrances, Phthalates, Triclosan, Formaldehyde, DEA & TEA, Coal Tar Derivatives, Parabens (if you have an estrogen driven cancer) Propylene Glycol, Hydroquinone, Octoxynols, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Ethel Acetate, Aluminum, Mineral Oil/Petrochemicals, Oxybensone. These ingredients can be harmful. Be a savvy consumer and read labels.

Do you recommend daily use of any other skin care products that may help protect the skin?

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I strongly encourage patients to use Calendula Oil. It is wonderfully hydrating, can be used on the entire body and has many benefits to cancer patients during any type of treatment. For facial products, Hale and Hush (formerly known as tecNiche) is formulated for sensitive skin and is budget friendly. I also use Neogenesis, this is my go-to line if someone presents with a more serious skin reaction. It’s ability to repair skin is amazing. Price point can be an issue. However, Neogenesis has helped many of my clients with their incredible generosity.

What are some other non-product ways to improve skin health after treatment?

Avoid excess hot water (hot tubs for example). Hot water depletes the skin of its natural hydration. Post radiation many physical therapists can help with scar tissue repair and flexibility issues. Drink plenty of water daily.

Upcoming Oncology Skin Care Class

Tracy’s Oncology Skin Care Class is returning to the Community Cancer Center. If you’re interested in signing up for this or any of our other in-person wellness classes, visit the Classes and Events page.

Tracy Lacina
Oncology Trained Esthetician

Tracy is an Oncology-Trained Licensed Esthetician at the Community Cancer Center. She is also the owner of Skin Deep Salon & Spa in Coralville. Skin Deep offers specialized hair and skin services for cancer patients.


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