Sun, skin and cancer treatment - Maggie's Centres

Sun, skin and cancer treatment


If you’re having, or have had cancer treatment, you may be advised to avoid direct sunlight on skin. 

In some cases people can develop photosensitivity, which is when your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It can be brought on by certain medications and medical conditions. 

Find out more from Maggie’s about the cancer treatments which can cause sun sensitivity. We’ll provide tips to manage being in the sun whilst protecting your skin.

Sunshine and cancer treatment

If you’re having, or have had cancer treatment, you may be advised to avoid direct sunlight on skin. This can feel disappointing, when sunshine for many of us gives a lift in mood, and helps the body make vitamin D. 

However, In some cases people can develop photosensitivity, which is when your skin becomes more sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It can be brought on by certain medications and medical conditions. 

Particular treatments that cause photosensitivity are chemotherapy, radiotherapy, certain antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and some anti-sickness medications. Everyone’s response to sunlight after treatment is different, but even if you normally tolerate sunlight well, you may be at risk now.

Your healthcare team should advise you which of your treatments may cause UV sensitivity, and how to take care of your skin. 

Chemotherapy

The effects of the chemotherapy can make you sensitive to sunlight during your treatment and for a couple of months after your treatment has finished. 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy causes your skin to be sensitive too, so protect any radiated areas in particular. Sunshine seems to stimulate a 'recall' of the original radiotherapy skin side effects, even when the acute skin effects have healed, and this may be the case for the first few years post radiotherapy treatment.  The sensitivity may be permanent.  It's advisable to cover the area with loose clothing, or wear a high factor sunscreen.

Lymphoedema

Anyone who has developed lymphoedema following cancer treatment will have been advised by their clinical team to avoid getting sunburnt or insect bites on the affected limb. It can cause inflammation (swelling) , infection and cause cellulitis, which can need high dose antibiotics. Find out more  in our  lymphoedema section

Tips for going out in the sun

Whilst you have to be more careful in sunshine with cancer treatments, it doesn't mean you have to avoid it altogether. Simple precautions can help you enjoy sunny days whilst protecting your skin: 

  • The sun is at its hottest and fiercest between about 10am and 3pm -  It is best to avoid being out in the sun between these times.  Early morning, late afternoon and evening are gentler on the skin. Ultraviolet light can also be present on cloudy days, so additional care may be needed.
  • Be aware of the contents of some sunscreens -  It should be at least SPF 30. Some sunscreens work better than others, and the chemicals in some sunscreens may be irritating to your already sensitive skin. Dispose of last year’s bottle or tube of sunscreen, as older sunscreen loses its beneficial effects.
  • You can’t rely on sunscreen alone - Wearing a wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved, loose-fitting clothing helps, so the sensitive areas of your body are covered. This is particularly important if you’re by the sea, and beach. If you’ve experienced hair loss, a scarf under your hat can help protect your sensitive scalp.
  • There are sunblocks available -  these can be effective. Check with your oncologist or specialist nurse which products they have found to be safest to wear when on chemo. Also protect your lips - there are sunscreens specially for them.
  • Find a place in the shade under a tree or sit under an umbrella. 
  • The sun can be a strain on your eyes - if you can, wear sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Drink plenty of fluids - this can help keep you hydrated and cool.
  • Swimming pools with chlorine can cause sensitivity - if you do have a swim, have a shower afterwards. Some people having cancer treatment may be advised not to swim during treatment, so check with your healthcare team.
  • Avoid perfume and chemical products - these can make your skin more sensitive

If you wouldlike more help, support and information about the treatments which may cause photosensitivity, you can drop into your local Maggie’s at any time, or read up information here in our blogs and useful links.

When to seek further help

If you get sunburnt, or develop blisters or a rash from the sun, get in touch with your GP and cancer care team. You may need antibiotics to protect you from developing an infection.


Find a centre

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Get in touch

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.
Sign up