Taking Charge: Skin Care & Cellulitis

People with lymphedema are at risk for cellulitis and other skin infections because their bodies are less able to fight infection. Bacteria can get into your body through a break in the skin, fungal infections (under nails), an existing wound or another entry point. This is why good skin care is so importcanstockphoto20314171ant.

Take care of your skin, to lower your risk of infection:

  • Use mild soap, rinse and dry your skin well
  • Use an unscented, non-allergenic moisturizer daily
  • Deal with any scratches, pinpricks, cuts, burns or splinters right away with disinfectant and antibiotic ointment, if needed
  • Wear insect repellent to avoid bites. If you get a bite, use an anti-inflammatory lotion/spray to avoid scratching it
  • Use sunscreen to protect against burning
  • Avoid cutting your cuticles and take extra care when having a manicure or pedicure to avoid cuts
  • Get treatment to clear up skin conditions like inflammations, athlete’s foot, dermatitis, fungal infections and others
  • Use an electric shaver instead of a razor if you need to shave the affected area
  • Watch for signs of infection and consult a health professional immediately if you think you may have a skin infection
  • Speak to a health professional about a prescription for antibiotics when you travel outside of Canada

How do I know if I have a skin infection (cellulitis)?

Cellulitis is a sudden, non-contagious skin infection. It is treated with antibiotics and must be treated right away as it can spread quickly. When it is severe, people may spend time in hospital to have the infection treated.

Watch out for signs of skin infection and seek medical help right away:

  • Rapid onset of skin redness, swelling or pain
  • Skin that feels hot or painful to the touch or tingling
  • Skin that is red or with a reddish rash or red streaks or swollen
  • A feeling of tiredness or heaviness
  • If cellulitis worsens, you may feel flu-like symptoms, feelings of nausea, fever or chills

Skin care tips if you have lymphedema of the arm

  • Wear protective gloves when gardening and rubber gloves for household chores
  • Wear long oven mitts when using the oven
  • If you go for a manicure, let your aesthetician know that you are at risk for infection and that the equipment must be properly sterilized
  • Some cancer treatments affect nail growth; if your nails are weak and tear easily, take special care when you cut them
  • Use high protection sunscreen and/or wear protective clothing to prevent burning
  • Where possible, try to have injections, blood tests or vaccinations in the arm that is not affected

Skin care tips if you have lymphedema of the leg

  • Avoid walking barefoot. Wear beach shoes when you walk on sand, in water (especially if the bottom is uneven or rocky), and when you’re in a public shower or change room
  • Wear closed, well-fitting footwear and comfortable hosiery or compression garments
  • If you go for a pedicure, let your aesthetician know that you are at risk for infection and that the equipment must be properly sterilized
  • Get prompt treatment for fungal infections and other foot conditions
  • See a podiatrist to have ingrown toenails and other skin conditions treated and your toe nails cut

Taking charge and managing lymphedema is all about finding balance. The goal is to keep your lymphedema swelling and symptoms stable or to reduce them. To do this well, you need to learn as much as you can about lymphedema, monitor your health, and be aware of what makes your symptoms better or worse, and try your best to manage these elements.