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Maintaining Healthy Skin


An essential part of the daily self-care routine to be performed by the patient or caregiver at home is the proper care of the skin, nails, and feet. This routines are simple AND very important!


  • Healthy and intact skin, that is free of any breaks, is the body’s primary line of defense against invading bacteria that cause infections.
  • The health of the skin is protected by the acid mantle which is created by oil from the sebaceous (oil) glands and water from sweat glands. The purpose of the acid mantle is to slow the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi on the skin.
  • The acid mantle is easily disrupted by the swelling of lymphedema as it stretches the skin.
  • Washing with harsh soaps, exposure to the sun, wind, cold, and harsh weather are also destructive of the acid mantle.

Untreated lymphedema hardens and
forms deep folds.
Lymph Notes


Lymphedema swelling can stretch the pores of skin and allow bacteria to enter. It may also allow lymph to leak out. 

  • Any scrape, cut, or break in the skin allows bacteria to entering the tissues and quickly cause an infection.
  • Once in the tissues, these bacteria thrive on the stagnant protein-rich lymph that causes the swelling of lymphedema. These bacteria can thrive and may cause an infection that can spread quickly.
  • In Stages 2 and Stage 3 lmphedemaThe skin becomes thicker, scaly, and forms folds that increases the risk of infection. As these folds become deeper, they form warm, dark, damp areas that are ideal breeding grounds for fungal infections which are very destructive to the skin.


  • Examine the affected skin thoroughly each day looking for changes such as cracks, rash, or other signs of a developing infection.
  • Use only a mild emollient soap. (Emollients are substances that soften and soothe the skin. They are also used to correct dryness and scaling of the skin.) Using a soap containing an emollient, such as lanolin or aloe, helps to restore natural oils by creating a barrier on the skin's surface.
  • An older patient, or a diabetic with particularly fragile skin, should use only soaps and lotions that are designed specifically for this purpose.
  • Wash the tissues gently, and thoroughly, with warm (not hot) water.
  • To minimize the danger of spreading infection, never share a washcloth or towel with someone else. Also use a clean washcloth each time you bathe.
  • Remove all soap by thoroughly and gently rinsing the tissues. This prevents soap, which if left behind, will cause the skin to dry
  • To dry the skin, gently pat it and take particular care to dry within the skin folds. A hair dryer on a very low setting can
    be used to dry awkward areas or between folds.
    IMPORTANT, never use the hair dryer on high heat!
  • Moisturize the skin thoroughly using a low pH moisturizing lotion. This helps to restore some of the normal protective acid mantel. Moisturizing also helps the skin retain the elasticity that helps to avoid cracks/breaks.
  • Protect against sunburn. Lymphedema affected skin is particularly sensitive to the sun and a compression garment does not protect it from the UV rays.


© LymphNotes 2014. This information does not replace the advice of a qualified health care professional.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Self-Care for Lymphedema' forum.
Category: Self-Care for Lymphedema Updated: 2014-10-24


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