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Chemotherapy and Your Nails: How to Care For Them

By HERWriter
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Skin, Hair & Nails related image Photo: Getty Images

We expect chemotherapy to affect one’s hair but it is easy to forget that our nails will be similarly altered. Chemotherapy works by slowing or stopping the division of cells--all growing cells, including the ones in our nails. Nails show the effects of chemotherapy by becoming dry, discolored, brittle and they can possibly fall off.

Mary Gail Mercurio M.D. told breastcancer.org that she sees a variety of changes to the nails during chemotherapy. “These include the development of a line in the nail that actually reflects the timing of the chemotherapy," she said.

"Often there will be multiple lines and indentations reflecting the different cycles of chemotherapy.”

She went on to say that these changes are temporary and will grow out as the nail begins to grow again. Additionally, because during chemotherapy the nail does not adhere as tightly to the bed below, extra care must be taken to keep the nail from being pulled off. It is very important to maintain good hygiene to prevent bacteria from getting underneath the nail and causing an infection.

How to take extra care:

1. Wear rubber gloves: During chemotherapy, the skin on our hands can become dry and easily damaged. Wearing gloves while washing dishes, using cleaning products or working in the garden will protect them from this exposure.

2. Bring you own tools if you go for a manicure: Even though salons are supposed to sterilize their instruments, it is better to be extra cautious and bring your own to avoid an infection.

3. Avoid getting nail wraps: It is not recommended that one have artificial nails placed during this time because it is easy for moisture, bacteria or a fungus to get trapped under the nail. Use clear nail polish instead for strengthening but avoid acetone based nail polish removers.

4. Keep cuticles moisturized and healthy to avoid infections: Use a quality lotion or cream to keep cuticles smooth. It is best to just push cuticles back against the nail to keep them tidy, do not trim them. If you must trim a badly torn cuticle, make sure to use a scissor cleaned first with disinfectant and wear a Band-Aid for extra protection if necessary.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.