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Hyperpigmentation: A Key Side Effect of Chemotherapy

By: Jennifer Linder, MD
Posted: May 28, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Chemotherapy treatment

The patient's skin looks visibly healthier in regular light after two months of a chemotherapy and radiation therapy support treatment. There is also a substantial lightening of underlying hyperpigmentation seen in the UV photography.

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Many of these side effects can be kept at bay with proper daily care and professional treatments. Controlling inflammation and dehydration are important for clients undergoing cancer treatment. With proper care, hyperpigmentation can also be kept under control.

Why hyperpigmentation?

After battling cancer and its effects on a person’s body and sense of self, having a skin care professional as a partner in the journey back to skin health—and to feeling beautiful—is important. Although there are many more dramatic and serious physiological side effects of chemotherapy than hyperpigmentation, helping your clients once again feel positive about their appearance is a gift. Hyperpigmentation is not a condition that is dangerous and much of the chemotherapy-induced discoloration may even fade on its own over time; however, it can be cleared much more quickly with professional treatment.

It is not entirely clear why chemotherapy causes hyperpigmentation and there seems to be a variable incidence based on the types of drugs being administered. What is known is that inflammation is a key driver in the stimulation of melanogenesis; therefore, the inflammation that commonly presents with chemotherapy likely plays a role. In general, hyperpigmentation is the deposition of melanin due to the stimulation of melanogenesis—the process by which pigment is produced and duplicated in the skin.

Prevention during the course of treatment

Extreme skin dryness, irritation and allergic reactions are all common during chemotherapy, and any of these conditions can instigate or worsen hyperpigmentation due to an increase in inflammation. Keeping the skin hydrated and calm are key steps in preventing additional hyperpigmentation.

Maintaining well-hydrated skin prior to starting a series of chemotherapy treatments is enormously important. Safe and gentle ingredients, such as urea, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium pyroglutamic acid (PCA) and other humectants should be a part of these clients’ daily regimens. These types of ingredients draw moisture from the dermis up into the epidermis, plumping and hydrating the skin while improving overall skin function. It is equally important to use light occlusive agents, such as squalane, niacinamide, dimethicone and cyclomethicone, to bind and retain this increased moisture within the skin. Well-hydrated skin will be poised to handle chemotherapy with fewer complications.

Heartfelt Stories and Easy-to-Understand Science to Elevate Your Spa Services for Your Clients with Cancer

Oncology Esthetics: A Practitioner's Guide by Morag Currin is a sensitively written book guiding you through the different types of cancers, cancer therapies, common ingredients and how it affects the skin, oncology drugs used in treatment, and side effects. Currin's book discusses different spa services and how they can be modified to suit your clients'needs.

See the Reviews! Alluredbooks-Oncology Esthetics