Skin changes and infections are common complications with lymphedema. Therefore, skin care is one element of complete decongestive therapy (CDT) and is part of both the decongestion phase (Phase I) and the maintenance phase (Phase II).
The daily wearing of compression bandages or garments can stress your skin: it might get dry and prone to small skin injuries, such as scratches. This, in turn, increases the risk for bacteria to enter your skin that can cause infections. Deep skin folds that may develop because of swelling also increase the risk for infections.
Any infection like a bacterial cellulitis can further harm your lymphatic system and worsen your symptoms. The aim of skin care for lymphedema is to keep your skin intact and reduce the risk for infections as much as possible.
Good skin care with lymphedema includes:
- Wash your skin daily with mild soaps or skin cleansers that are moisturizing, hypo-allergenic, and have a neutral to slightly acid pH balance (around pH 5).
- Dry your skin carefully, especially any skin folds.
- Apply emollients: they coat your skin with an oily layer that protects against water loss.
- Avoid scented products that often irritate the skin.
- Immediately disinfect and treat any cuts, scratches, or insect bites.
- Avoid unnecessary injuries to your affected limb, such as taking blood samples or injections.
- Pay attention to your nail care to prevent ingrown nails or dry skin around the nail bed.
- The affected skin is particularly sensitive to sun. If necessary, apply sun cream or cover up with clothes.
Keep in mind that it depends on your individual skin condition which skin care routine and product is best for you.