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How to Prevent and Manage Dry Skin During Chemotherapy


Updated June 16, 2014

Dry skin is often a side effect of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs like 5-FU can cause the skin to become dry, cracked and peeling. Dry skin can also occur as a result of dehydration, weather conditions, and other medications.

Dry skin occurs when the layers of the skin lose essential oils and moisture.

How to Manage Dry Skin During Chemotherapy

There are several things a patient and caregiver can do to help prevent and manage dry skin at home:

  • Recognize when skin is dry. Dry skin appears rough and flaky. It may also become cracked and peeled. Skin may feel tight and become itchy.

  • Keep hydrated Drink plenty if of fluids to keep body well hydrated. Dehydration is a common cause of skin dryness.

  • Avoid extreme weather conditions. Try to stay out of extreme weather, like severe cold and hot weather. Dry and windy conditions can aggravate dry skin.

  • Avoid personal products containing perfumes and scents. The chemicals in perfumed products like soaps, cosmetics, moisturizers, lotions, and body sprays can irritate skin, causing it to become dry. They also can worsen already dry skin.

    Use products labeled perfume-free, allergen-free, or "for sensitive skin." Your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter product like Cetaphil to cleanse skin.

  • Take care in drying yourself after bathing. Instead of rubbing yourself with a towel, allow body to dry naturally or pat dry carefully. The friction of rubbing a towel over wet skin can cause and irritate dry skin. Do not use a blow dryer to dry yourself. This can add to dryness.

    Baby oil can also be applied to wet skin before drying skin. Baby oil is a excellent skin moisturizer. It also can be very slippery, so be careful when stepping out of the tub or shower.

  • Wash clothes in a mild detergent. Some detergents contain perfumes which can irritate skin. Choose laundry detergents that are free of perfumes, scents and allergens. They may be labeled as "allergen free," "unscented" or as as a "clear" liquid. Detergents that are marketed for babies also may be mild enough for dry skin, but are often more expensive.

  • Protect hands when doing household/outdoor chores.When doing chores like cleaning, washing dishes, or gardening, protect hands by wearing rubber gloves. The gloves will protect hands from chemicals in household cleansers and outdoor lawn/gardening products.

When Skin Becomes Extremely Dry and Painful

If skin becomes extremely dry and painful, talk to your doctor. Signs of extreme dryness includes painful, cracked skin that may or may not bleed, intense itching, redness and inflammation. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a topical cream or lotion. He or she may also refer you to a dermatologist to aid with care of the skin.


"Dry Skin." 04 Jan 2007. American Cancer Society . Accessed 1 Apr 2007.

"Chemotherapy and You: A Guide to Self-Help During Cancer Treatment." 01 June 1999. National Cancer Institute. Accessed 1 Apr 2007.

"Solving Problems Related to the Use of Cosmetics and Skin Care Products." 2004. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 1 Apr 2007.

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