Lymphedema: Healthy Skin

Maintaining healthy skin is essential for those with lymphedema because intact skin, with no scrapes or cuts, prevents bacteria from entering and causing infection.


The swelling of lymphedema stretches the skin and disrupts the skin’s basic protective mechanisms. Also, as lymphedema increases in severity the skin loses its elasticity, becomes thicker and scaly, and is increasingly at risk.


Protective Structures of the Skin
The secretions from oil and sweat glands in the skin flow through the pores and onto the surface of the skin to form a thin protective layer known as the acid mantle. The acid mantle is normally mildly acidic with a pH that ranges from about 4 to 5.5. (A pH of 7 is neutral. A pH higher than 7 is described as being alkaline. A pH lower than 7 is described as being acidic.)  The acid mantle inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria and fungi on the skin. With the loss of this protection, and the increasing fragility of the skin, those with lymphedema are at increased risk of infection due to bacteria invading through the skin.


Skin Care Steps

Examine the affected skin thoroughly each day. Look for changes in the tissues, any possible cracks, or signs of a developing infection.

Use only mild soap.

Wash gently, and thoroughly, with warm (not hot) water.

Dry gently by patting and taking 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. 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. I like Eucerin or Cetaphil, but there are many good products out there.

Protect against sunburn. Lymphedema affected skin is particularly sensitive to the sun and a compression garment does not protect it from the UV rays.

Do not perform exfoliation. It can damage lymphedema affected skin.


Sonja M. Maul PT, CLT-LANA

National Board Certified Lymphedema Therapist