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Skin Care during Radiation Treatment

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.


Skin reactions

may happen during radiation therapy. Your skin may look red, irritated, swollen, dry, or blistered in the treatment area. Your skin may also itch in the treatment area. Skin reactions may be worst 7–10 days after treatment. They usually go away after treatment ends. It is important to care for skin as directed to prevent infection or permanent skin damage.

Risk factors for a skin reaction during radiation:

All patients that receive radiation are at risk for skin reactions. The following may increase your risk for a skin reaction:

  • A high dose or long duration of radiation therapy
  • Radiation to large areas of skin or areas with skin folds
  • A history of radiation therapy
  • Smoking, poor nutrition, or a current infection
  • Being overweight or very old
  • Getting chemotherapy at the same time as radiation
  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes

Treatment for skin reactions:

You may need any of the following:

  • Medicine may be given to decrease swelling or pain. Medicine may also be given to prevent or treat an infection. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Creams or lotions may be given to decrease pain and help skin heal. It may also be given to prevent skin reactions. Ask your healthcare provider how to apply lotions or creams.
  • Bandages may be applied to protect and heal skin. Ask your healthcare provider how to change your bandage.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your skin becomes very dry, flaky, itchy, or peels.
  • Your skin stays wet or you have open sores.
  • You see pus or blood coming out of your skin.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have pain that does not get better after you take your medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Ask your healthcare provider before you put anything on your skin:

Make a list of everything you normally use on your skin. Show the list to your healthcare provider before you start treatment. Ask your healthcare provider what products are okay to use on your skin during radiation treatment. This includes deodorants, powders, lotions or creams, sunscreen, ointments, body oils, and hair-removal products. Also ask about laundry detergents. Some skin care products can cause skin irritation or prevent radiation from working.

Wear loose fitting clothing over the area being treated. Wear cotton or soft clothing to decrease rubbing on your skin. If you receive radiation therapy to the breast, do not wear bras with wires. Wear a sports bra or other soft bras to prevent rubbing against your skin.


  • Do not rub off the markings made by your healthcare provider. They show your healthcare provider where to place the radiation.
  • Use a mild soap and warm water to bathe. Ask your healthcare provider what soaps are okay to use.
  • Do not use very hot or very cold water on the areas of your skin that are being treated.
  • Let the soap and water gently run over the treatment area. Do not rub the treatment area.
  • Do not shower more than one time each day. Limit baths to 2 times each week for 30 minutes or less.
  • Gently pat your skin dry after you bathe.


Ask your healthcare provider if it is okay to shave the area being treated. Ask your healthcare provider what shaving creams or shaving lotions are okay to use during treatment. Only use an electric razor to shave. Do not put aftershave on your skin.

Protect your skin from the sun:

If your healthcare provider says it is okay, wear sunscreen when you are in the sun. Use sunscreen that is at least SPF 30. Make sure the entire area of skin being treated is covered when you are outside. Wear dark clothing or UV-protected clothing. Do not use tanning beds or sun lamps. Your treated skin will continue to be at risk for skin cancer after treatment ends.


Do not go swimming in pools. The chemicals may irritate and damage your skin during treatment. Ask your healthcare provider how long you should wait to swim after treatment ends.

Do not smoke or drink alcohol:

Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Smoking can also increase your risk for skin reactions. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products. Do not drink alcohol unless your healthcare provider says it is okay. Alcohol may dehydrate your body and increase your risk for skin reactions.


Drink liquids as directed to prevent dry skin. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Eat a variety of healthy foods to keep your skin healthy. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.

Perianal skin reactions:

Perianal is the area of skin that surrounds your anus. Use baby wipes or a spray bottle and soft cloth to wipe after a bowel movement. Keep this area clean to prevent infection. Ask your healthcare provider if you should use a sitz bath (a shallow, warm bath) to clean the area after a bowel movement.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.