When  Winter, chemo and hormone therapy play havoc with skin

Free White and Black Plaid Textile Stock PhotoIs this you in winter?  Hiding spots and rough patches? 

With Straw hair that flies all over the place?

And Itchy skin you want to hide behind a blanket?

AT LAST, oncologists admit cancer drugs can have an effect on our skin.  About time too, as I remember with horror the arrogant Consultant who told me bloody blisters all over my body that had appeared three days after starting Tamoxifen were “due to your age”.

Chemo targets fast-growing cells, so while it’s busy trying to do its work zapping cancer cells, there are other fast-developing cells that get caught up in the process – including those that relate to skin health, hair growth and nails.

Hormne therapies, such as Tamoxifen, can do the same;  so does stress, and of course icy-cold winter winds are certainly not good for our skin.

So all in all, the coming Winter is not good news for anyone wanting a dewy complexion!

Many cancer patients going through hormone and chemotherapy experience skin side effects including very dry, sensitive skin, increasing prevalence towards skin reactions, and allergies, Skin can feel hot, nails become split, brittle and weak, etc. .

So what can you do about this?

Ask your Nurse (if you have one)’; what they have discovered can help.  Failing that. ask around other patients, and see if your local support centre can supply advice.  Officially you should ask a Dermatologist, but as I found out, some are not very sympathetic.  Also, we have fewer dermatologists per head than most European countries – about half per head of those in countries such as France.

So – as can happen – it will be up to you to find out what to do about rough skin patches, split nails, straw hair etc.  If it is helpful, this is what I found out for myself to treat these ‘nasties’.  Incidentally, in other countries cancer hospitals, clinics and charities have come together to develop special skincare, that effectively targets these ills – in the UK everyone seems scared of NICE – or something.

Before you buy a new product, try a patch test

If possible, ask a sales assistant if you can try a blob of the product on a square inch of your skin – inside the wrist is a good spot.  Wait 24 hours and if it hasn’t reacted, then it should be OK for you to use on your face or body.  Any sales girl worth her salt is going to understand what you are doing, and generally I find them very helpful.

I had the classic  ‘English rose white complexion’, that was fairly dry.  But during treatment found I had constant skin problems. By trial and error, I discovered these products listed below worked for me, so perhaps they can help you?  Incidentally, on my way I discovered it didn’t matter what colour our skin – we ALL have these problems.

I  looked at product ingredients carefully, with a semi-professional eye.  As a journalist, one of my contracts was Beauty Editor for an American trade magazine that went to wholesale suppliers selling to an international audience. I learned a lot about skincare, and what worked for different types of skin.

One thing I did learn is that not all chemicals are bad.  There are some good ones out there, so don’t dismiss a product just because it has chemicals in the formula.    

Treatment means your skin will dry out

Several major US cancer hospitals post on their websites that long-term side effects from the drugs used to treat us can last for years, and even suddenly appear years after treatment is over.

  1. Drugsl dry out the oiliest skin – and winter winds don’t help.
  2. Side effects on the skin can last for years
  3. Best thing for your skin is moisturise, moisturise and moisturise.
  4. Drink two or three extra glasses of water a day, and whatever moisturiser you use, on your face or body, re-apply two or three times a day.

Products that helped me

Other countries’ health services, cancer support  centres, etc., help us by working together to develop clinically-trialed skincare, specifically tailored to our needs – so why don’t the NHS and major cancer charities here cooperate to do the same?.

Here, Jennifer Young, with Beauty Beyond Cancer, has done a wonderful job developing skincare for us.  But it doesn’t seem she has received the support that she would have received in other countries, where there has often been official co-operation to a much greater extent;  But go on her website to find helpful advice, and an understanding of our needs.

I have tried out the following product ranges, which are now available in Britain. Find these online, but top outlets such John, Bell and Croyden and Harrods carry some ranges;  Boots and Lloyds erc. carry the less expensive products.

I have listed the countries where cancer hospitals, centres etc., have joined up with clinical trials to develop special skin care.  Note the UK is NOT listed – shaming!  And I have given a possible rating from £ (inexpensive) to £££££ (very expensive)

  • Australia = Flexitol £  Good news is NICE have actually approved one of their products!  Their Foot Balm is brilliant, especially if you develop cracked, bleeding foot sores.  And you can get it free on Prescription. Your GP will find it listed in their official guide – but you may have to insist they look it up!
  • France  = La Roche Posay  ££ (now part of the L’Oreal group, who are not very user-friendly)  I went over to France to get my skin sorted out when it erupted as a side effect of Tamoxifen.  The Centre of La Roche Posay has been going for a long time, (Napoleon sent his sick troops there), and recently it has developed clinically-trialed skincare for its many cancer patients.  Unfortunately, this is so successful (recommended by Dermatologists all over the world) that they couldn’t keep up with production, and joined up with the giant cosmetics company, L’Oreal.  L’Oreal are more interested in making money, and I don’t find them as helpful as before – be warned.
  • New Zealand = Living Nature  ££  This is an inexpensive range, aimed at younger clients
  • Iceland = Dr. Bragi £££  Small company, but starting to expand.
  • USA + iS Clinical  ££££  Developed at Washington Cancer Center – found here in Harley Street, as apparently it is brilliant for post-facelift treatment!!!
  • Japan = Sensai £££££  This is a brilliant brand, and I save up to buy its less-expensive range.  If your face is really bad, I was given a jar of their La Creme (£600) and it saved my skin.  Brilliant.  So far only available in Harrods and major Duty Free outlets here, or online.


Perfumes and fragrances in skincare products can cause skin reactions, especially when they’re synthetic.  However, I have found that I can tolerate rose and lavender.  Then I find that during World War I these were used as antiseptics.  So go carefully, especially if something is highly scented, and try and aim for flower scents if you crave the luxury of smelling nice!.

If you have a sympathetic pharmacist, they may be able to help you source special skincare.  Mine was chatting one day and asked “have you come across Flexitol?  You will be able to get it free on prescription”.  I had been leaving bloody footprints behind because my feet were suffering from side effects – cracked skin etc.  Flexitol was brilliant, and cured the problem.

So Gopd Luck!Watercolor floral composition. Clipping path included. Fast isolation. Hi-res file. Hand painted. Raster illustration.