Skin Care for Radiation Exposure - Heart and Vascular Laboratory
When you have studies that use radiation, the x-rays pass through the skin causing a reaction that looks like a suntan or sunburn. Skin reactions can be pink, red, or tan. It can be dry and itchy or tender. Sometimes, small blisters appear or areas become open and weepy. Changes to the skin begin before you can see or feel them. When skin receives radiation the oil-producing glands in skin shut down. The oil is no longer there to hold the moisture in. How severe the reaction is depends on the total dose of radiation used and your own skin's sensitivity to it.
What You Can Do to Help Your Skin
- Do not use any product that contains talc, zinc, aluminum, camphor, menthol, or alcohol. This includes deodorants, antiperspirants, perfumes, colognes, and aftershaves. These can increase the irritation to the treated skin.
- Avoid friction. Do not scratch or scrub the skin. Wear soft clothing made of cotton or other natural fibers. Synthetic fibers can be too rough on the skin. Do not shave the treated area with a blade razor. Instead, use an electric razor.
- Do not use extreme hot or cold on the treated skin. This includes heating pads hot water bottles, ice packs, hot bath water, etc.
- Do not use tape since the fragile skin will pull off with the tape.
- Keep the treated skin away from the sun or sunlamps. If clothing does not cover the area, use sunscreen with SPF 20 or higher when outdoors. Do this for at least 1 year after your treatment is over.
- Avoid chlorinated pools and hot tubs during and after your treatments until the skin has healed.
How to Care for Your Skin
There are many thoughts about what is the best product to use on the skin after radiation exposure. There are many good products to choose from. The list below includes the most common ones used. If you have a skin care product you use now, check with your nurse before using it on your treated area. You may use skin care products twice a day.
No matter which product you choose: clean the skin gently, rinse it well, pat or air dry, and moisturize.
|Value Rite® skin cleanser|
|Facial moisturizers||Calendula Cream|
|Eucerin®||Udder Balm||Bag Balm®|
|Oils||Baby Oil||Vitamin E oil||Emu oil|
|Oil of Primrose|
Skin reactions begin to appear after the second week of exposure and may slowly get worse. Sometimes reactions may appear up to several months later. As it progresses, we may have you use different products. Hydrocortisone cream may be used for itching. Sometimes, an antibiotic ointment may be prescribed. There are special dressings to use if your skin becomes open and weepy.
Skin Folds If there are skin folds in the area that was exposed to radiation, the friction of skin rubbing on skin may make the reaction worse. Plain cornstarch or cornstarch-based baby powder can help to reduce the friction. Do not use talc powders!
Pain Sometimes, skin reactions can be painful enough to require medicines. Tylenol® or ibuprofen is most often strong enough to ease the pain. If you have pain or other concerns, discuss them with your doctor or nurse.
Please call the Heart and Vascular Lab for any questions or concerns at 608-265-7094.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 03/23/2011
Copyright © 03/23/2011 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7168
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