Moisturizers recommended by patients undergoing chemo and radiation

Published: 21 May 2019

Chemotherapy can be extremely hard on your body and skin. Many patients undergoing radiation and chemo treatment report having extremely dry, cracked, itchy or sore skin.  A recent study published by the San Gallicano Dermatological Institute and the ASL Roma in Rome evaluated the side-effects of chemotherapy on the skin and found that after chemotherapy, the skin will become drier, dehydrated and more delicate.

So, how do you keep your skin healthy when undergoing treatment?  

The first piece of advice is to speak with your doctor or care team. They will be able to advise and, in some cases, prescribe a medication to help.

You can also help your skin from within by staying hydrated.  Oncologists advise people undergoing chemo or radiation therapy to drink water regularly before, during and after treatment to help flush the toxins from your body - so make sure you keep topped up at all times.   

Keeping your skin moisturized and hydrated from the outside is also important – many people undergoing treatment apply a moisturizer several times a day to keep their skin as healthy as possible.  

Choosing the right moisturizer

Whether you’re moisturizing your face, hands or body, it's important to choose the right one.  What worked for you before might not be right for you now.  Prior to chemo, you may have had a favorite moisturizer that’s perfect for your oily skin, but if the treatment has left your skin dry and itchy, you’ll need something different. 

Choosing a moisturizer has to be an individual choice.  Even when your skin isn’t under stress from medical treatments, everyone’s skin reacts differently. What works wonders for one person will have the opposite effect on another, therefore we recommend you:  

The hidden nasties

Unfortunately, there are a few ingredients contained within many commercial body moisturizers you should watch out for as they have a bad rep but are difficult to avoid completely. If your skin is particularly sensitive, you may want to look for lotions that are free of these nasties and stick to something natural – or even make your own.

Here are just a few potential ingredients to try and avoid: 

Patient recommendations

Here are a few moisturizers that have been recommended by members of the Chemotherapy Support Group. We haven’t tried them ourselves and some do contain ingredients on the nasty list, but we've included them because people in the group have said they are working for them.

Recovery Skin Relief Cream -
Breast cancer patient, Marjorie suffered from intense sensitivity, burns and general discomfort from her radiation treatment. Luckily for her, her husband was a formulating chemist and developed a product that relieved her symptoms. RECOVERY Skin Relief is a non-greasy, penetrating emulsion, that infuses rich moisturizers deep into the skin along with ingredients that soothe itchy, swollen and painful areas.  It does contain Mineral Oil – so patch test first.

Big Balm Hand and Body
Big Balm has been literally greasing peoples’ palms for over 100 years!  Slightly thicker than Vaseline it’s not one you’d want to apply liberally all over the body but it’s great at healing dry cuticles, callouses, chafed skin, cracked skin, and split heals. Ingredients include Petrolatum, Lanolin, 8-Hydroxy Quinoline Sulfate 0.3%, Paraffin Wax – some are on the nasty list so please patch test first.

Aquaphor Healing Ointment –
Aquaphor Healing Ointment is one that has been recommended by Chemotherapy Group Members.  It’s different from a lotion or cream, this ointment protects and soothes extremely dry skin, chapped lips, cracked hands and feet, and many other skin irritations. The active ingredient is Petrolatum, which allows oxygen to flow and help heal the skin. But as with Big Balm, the lotion is similar to Vaseline, so not an all over body cream.

Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream
We are including this cream on the list because it has been recommended in the group as a life saver.   One member said: "I had the strongest radiation for 6 weeks and after each treatment, I used Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream, it’s creamy and thick, goes on easy, and I just got a little pink.” The manufacturer states that it has been clinically proven to provide immediate, long-lasting hydration that soothes dry, sensitive skin. It’s a quick absorbing, rich, non-greasy cream.  If you’re looking for something lighter you can try Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion.

CeraVe -
CeraVe is another moisturizing brand that's been recommended by many group members. It does contain Parabens, which are on our list of nasties, so it’s up to you whether you want to give it a try. There are quite a few body lotions to choose from including one for itchy skin, another for rough & bumpy skin, a healing ointment or the standard lotion or barrier cream.  

Udderly Smooth Body Cream -
Another group recommendation – again, not paraben free but is regularly recommended to patients by their oncologists.  Originally established by Bill Kennedy a pharmacist in Salem, Ohio in the 1970s, he developed a cream to soothe the udders of dairy cows! Farmers soon started to notice that the same cream softened and soothed their ranch-roughed hands – and the company was born!  If that hasn’t managed to put you off, ask your oncology team if they have any samples before you buy. Oncology practitioners can request patient samples via the company website.

These are just some of the lotions and creams recommended for and by patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, but there are many others out there.  If you have any particular recommendations please share them with the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group.

Penguin Cold Cap Therapy

Penguin Cold Caps are the original inventors of modern cold cap therapy; the drug-free, non-invasive and most successful method for reducing chemotherapy induced hair loss. 

To find out more visit