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Skin care during radiotherapy

You may develop a skin reaction during your radiotherapy treatment. This leaflet will tell you how to look after your skin during your treatment. 

Skin reactions usually develop about two weeks in to treatment. The first signs of a skin reaction that you may notice are mild redness and your skin may feel warm in the area you are having treated. Everyone’s skin is different so each person will react differently to the treatment. Some people will have very little skin reaction, depending on which part of the body is being treated 

You will be given advice specific to you on the first day of treatment.

It is usually better for you to continue with your usual soaps and shower gels during treatment. You should avoid using anything that irritates your skin. Your radiographers will advise you if your usual skin care products are suitable.

When possible we prefer you to continue using your usual skin care products. 

General advice

Please follow this advice to keep your skin in good condition. This skin care advice only applies to the area of your skin being treated. 

  • Wash or shower the area being treated with warm water.
  • Gently pat dry the area being treated. Do not rub.
  • You may use a moisturiser if you wish. Apply a thin layer of cream once or twice a day. Your radiographers will tell you which creams are suitable to use.
  • Avoid extremes of temperature on the treated area. Do not use hot water bottles or cold packs.
  • You may find it more comfortable to wear loose clothing if your skin is sore.
  • Do not expose the treated area to strong sunlight.
  • You are able to go swimming if your skin is not sore or broken. Please check with your radiographers, they will be able to give you individual advice. 

Please tell your treatment radiographers if your skin reaction becomes sore or blisters. They will advise you and refer you to our review radiographers if necessary. We can recommend creams and dressings to soothe your skin and help it heal.

If you suffer from eczema or psoriasis you should continue to use your usual creams.

Skin care for face, head and neck radiotherapy

  • Please follow the general advice on page 2.
  • We advise you to use Epaderm (or an alternative) cream from the start of your treatment. Apply a thin layer of cream twice a day. You may need to apply the cream more often as the skin reaction develops.
  • You can shave the treated area but we advise you to use an electric or battery shaver. Please do not use any aftershave or lotions in the treated area.
  • It is best to avoid using make-up on the area we are treating.Avoid any clothes that may rub the treated area such as collars, ties or tight clothing.
  • Continue to wash your hair as usual. Hair treatments such as perms or hair dye should be avoided during treatment. We advise to wait until your skin has completely healed after treatment.
  • Please do not use hair dryers and other heated styling aids if you are having your head treated. You may use them if treatment is to your face or neck.
  • You will usually be advised not to swim if you are having radiotherapy to the head and neck area.
  • If your skin reaction gets very sore it can cause pain or discomfort. Your doctor or review radiographers can prescribe painkillers to ease this.
  • If your skin starts to blister or peel, please tell your treatment or review radiographers as soon as possible. They will be able to advise you on which creams to use.

Skin care for breast radiotherapy

  • Please follow the general advice on page 2.
  • You may use deodorant during your treatment. 
  • Using Epaderm (or an alternative) cream on your breast will help to moisturise the skin. You don’t have to start to use the cream until you develop a skin reaction. However, if you wish to start using the cream from the beginning of treatment, twice a day is best. 
  • You should continue to wear a comfortable bra during your treatment. A sport or crop type style bra can be more comfortable.
  • Heavier breasted ladies should continue to wear a bra during treatment as this helps to prevent soreness underneath the breast.
  • Wear loose comfortable top clothes to avoid rubbing.
  • You may use an electric or battery shaver to shave under your arm. However, take extra care if you have had surgery to your breast and underarm as this can cause numbness under the arm.
  • You may continue to use perfume

Skin care for anal, rectum or vulval radiotherapy

  • Please follow the general advice on page 2.
  • Please use Epaderm (or an alternative) cream twice a day on this area from the start of your treatment to help keep your skin moisturised.
  • As your skin becomes sore, other creams may be more helpful. Please ask your review radiographers to advise you which creams to use or arrange a prescription for you.
  • You may find it more comfortable to wear loose underwear and loose clothing if your skin is sore.
  • You may need painkillers if your skin reaction is causing you pain or discomfort. Your doctor or your review radiographers will advise you about this and prescribe them for you.
  • Please ask to see the review radiographers if the cream you are using stops being effective. We have many creams and dressings that may be beneficial to you.
  • You will be advised against swimming if you are having radiotherapy to this area of the body, as we expect your skin to become sore during treatment.


Your skin reaction can get worse for up to two weeks after your treatment finishes. Your review or treatment radiographers will tell you if this is likely to affect you. Carry on using cream until your skin reaction settles down. If you have changed your skin care routine you may return to using your usual skin care products once any reaction has settled. How long this takes will depend on the area that has been treated.

If you need any advice on skin care after you have finished treatment, please phone your review clinic radiographers on 029 2061 5888 ext 6421 and speak to any of the team.

They are available Monday - Friday 8.30am - 5pm. An answer phone is available. They will either arrange for you to come to review clinic or advise you to seek treatment nearer to home if that is easier for you.

Sun exposure

Skin treated with radiotherapy will always be more sensitive to sunburn. Skin outside the treatment area is not affected. Sun bathing and using sun beds on your treated area is not advised in the first year after treatment. After this time, you should take extra care and always use at least SPF 30 sun cream.

This information is evidence based and reviewed annually

F.PI 4                    Issue 18            January 2016