Why is skin care important?

It is important to look after and protect your skin to avoid injury or infection. If you have lymphoedema or are at risk of it, you are also at risk of a skin infection called cellulitis. It is important to know the signs of an infection. Good skin care can help reduce the risk of cellulitis.

Keeping your skin in good condition

Lymphoedema can make your skin dry and itchy. This makes cracks and breaks in the skin more likely and increases your risk of infection. You can help keep your skin in good condition by doing the following:

  • Moisturising every day

    If your skin is in good condition, you can use any moisturiser. If you have dry skin or other skin problems, your lymphoedema specialist can suggest the best creams for you. You can buy moisturising creams from your local chemist. You can also get some on prescription from your doctor. 

    When you put on moisturiser, make sure the last stroke is downwards (in the direction of hair growth). This stops the moisturiser blocking hair follicles (folliculitis).

  • Keeping your skin clean

    Wash with warm water every day. If you have dry skin, use soap-free cleansers.

  • Carefully drying the area after washing

    If the lymphoedema is in a limb, make sure you dry in between fingers or toes of the affected limb. 

  • Keeping your feet dry

    If lymphoedema affects your feet, make sure you dry between your toes to help prevent Athlete’s foot (a fungal infection). You can use anti-fungal powder to treat the symptoms of Athlete’s foot – such as peeling or itchy skin.

Avoiding cuts and grazes

You are more likely to get an infection if your skin is broken. It is impossible to avoid all skin injuries. But there are things you can do to reduce the risk:

  • Protect your skin

    Wear long sleeves, gloves or long trousers when doing tasks that may increase the risk of cuts and scratches. For example, household cleaning, DIY, gardening or cooking.

  • Take care around pets that might scratch

    Try to keep them away from the affected area. Or think about clothing or blankets that could protect you.

  • Be careful removing unwanted hair that is in, or near, the affected area

    An electric shaver is the safest way to remove hair. Razor blades, waxing and sugaring can all damage the skin. Some people use hair removal creams, but these can be harsh on the skin. If you use these, always test a small area first.

  • Use nail clippers instead of scissors to cut your nails

    You are less likely to cut the skin using these. It is also best not to push back or cut your cuticles. 

    Tell your doctor or lymphoedema specialist if you need extra help with your toenails. They can refer you to a foot specialist (chiropodist). Tell the chiropodist that you have lymphoedema, or that you are at risk of it.

  • Wear shoes that fit well, protect your feet and do not rub

    If you have lymphoedema in the leg, it is safest not to walk around barefoot. This is in case you step on something or stub your toe.

  • Do regular exercise

    Exercise can help improve the symptoms of lymphoedema. But some sports can increase your risk of damaging the skin. Your specialist can talk to you about any care you should take for a specific sport.

Avoiding bites and burns

Insect bites

Using a good insect repellent can help to prevent insect bites. Your pharmacist can give you advice about the best one to get. Look for a repellent with at least 50% DEET. DEET is the active ingredient in insect repellent.


Sunburn can cause dryness and blistering. Try to wear clothes that cover you in the sun. Make sure you use a suncream with sun protection factor (SPF) 50. 

Sunbeds or sun lamps are not recommended because of the risk of skin cancer.

If you get a cut, graze, burn or bite

If you do get a cut, graze or burn, treat it as soon as you can, even if it is only small:

  • wash and dry the area thoroughly
  • put antiseptic cream on it
  • cover if necessary.

If you get an insect bite or sting that is on or near the affected area, try not to scratch it. Scratching may cause more damage to the skin. Using antihistamine cream may help reduce itching. 

Speak to your GP for advice if the broken skin does not heal or shows any sign of infection.

Avoiding skin damage

Injections and vaccinations

When seeing any healthcare professional, always tell them about your lymphoedema. This is so they can try to avoid putting any needles into the affected area. This could be for injections, vaccinations or a drip (infusion). This is a precaution to reduce the risk of infection. However, they may need to do this if it is a medical emergency.

Lymphoedema alert bracelet

It may be helpful to wear a lymphoedema alert bracelet. This will remind healthcare professionals that they should not use the affected arm for needles. These are available from the Lymphoedema Support Network (LSN).


If you have lymphoedema, it is best to avoid tattoos or acupuncture on the affected area. Talk to your doctor or nurse before having either of these on other areas of your body.

Avoiding temperature extremes

Extreme temperatures, like being too hot or too cold, can sometimes make swelling worse. Here are some tips for avoiding this:

  • Be careful using saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms. Only spend short amounts of time in them until you can be sure that swelling does not get worse.
  • Try not to sit too close to a fire or other heat source.
  • Always test the temperature of the water before you have a bath or shower, to avoid scalding yourself.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our lymphoedema information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at  cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Skin care for people with lymphoedema. British Lymphology Society 2022.

    O’Donnell TF et al. Systematic review of guidelines for lymphedema and the need for contemporary intersocietal guidelines for the management of lymphedema. Journal of Vascular Surgery: Venous and Lymphatic Disorders 2020.

    The Lymphoedema Support Network

    The British Lymphology Society

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 March 2023
Next review: 01 March 2026
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.