It’s common for people undergoing chemotherapy to develop a rash during or after treatment. Although chemo rashes can be painful and distressing, they shouldn’t be taken as a bad sign; in fact, it seems that rashes means the medication is working effectively!
There are actually a few different kinds of chemo-related skin rash. Here are some of the most common:
- Some chemo drugs, particularly EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) inhibitors, can cause rashes on the skin. These rashes are generally pustular, burning and itching, sensitive and stinging. They look a bit like acne, and tend to affect the face, neck, back, chest and scalp.
- Another skin rash related to chemotherapy is ‘radiation recall’, which can resemble sunburn. It happens if a patient has already had radiotherapy and is then treated with chemotherapy. The skin appears hot and inflamed, and can feel very sore or stinging.
- Photosensitivity can also be a problem during and after chemo. It might mean you burn much more easily, or come up in blisters. Make sure you are properly protected from the sun!
- Chemo can also make skin more dehydrated and more sensitive; if you’re already prone to eczema or psoriasis, you might find that your skin is more easily flared, or more sensitive than usual.
- Allergic reactions to chemotherapy drugs can also result in rashes: some people react with hives or urticaria (raised bumps or welts across the skin: as pictured above) during or after treatment. The hives should subside within 36 hrs but do talk to your doctors or nurses if you’re worried.
Be aware that white skin is more likely to show up with obvious red or pink rashes, and rashes on skin of colour might appear differently, or be less immediately noticeable. If your skin feels hot, swollen, sore, itchy or sensitive, even if it’s not red, please get it checked out, as rashes can go under-acknowledged in skin of colour.
Check out our article How To Look After Your Skin Before, During & After Radio- and Chemotherapy for some other things you can do to keep your skin as healthy as possible.
We want to make sure that anyone going through chemotherapy can look after their skin and mitigate some of the more challenging effects of chemo on the skin, so we’ve come up with some suggestions for products that can help keep sensitive skin in good condition during treatment.
Recommended products for those undergoing chemotherapy:
Skin Salvation with hemp and beeswax is a great moisturiser for sensitive skin; it is rich, nourishing, and free from synthetics. It’s a perfect emollient for skin that has been affected by chemo burns, and, because it’s oil- not water-based, is less likely to sting sensitive skin on application. (From £7.99 for 30ml)
Balmonds Cooling Cream with menthol, aloe and lavender works as a light, nourishing hand & body lotion, and to soothe any itchy areas. (£19 for 100ml)
Balmonds Bath & Body Oil with hemp, lavender and chamomile is great to add to a relaxing bath or to use as a lavender-scented massage oil. (£12.99 for 200ml)
Balmonds Rosehip Scar Oil with rosehip, chamomile and palmarosa is suitable for use on the face, nails, or any areas of ‘radiation burn’ or scarring. (£22 for 30ml)
We also offer a fantastic All-Natural Starter Kit which would make a perfect skincare essentials bundle for anyone undergoing chemo or radiotherapy.
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.