Nail Care During Chemotherapy

Nail Care During Chemotherapy | The Silver Pen

Nail Care During Chemotherapy

One of the things that I really wish that I had been prepared for during chemo treatment was the havoc that it was going to bring to my fingernails. Now, I’ve never been a slave to my nails, but they are something that I look at every single day and I do like a good manicure every once in a while. Just sayin’…

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and burst your naïveté bubble – again. Your nails may look a little (ok, A LOT) different.  You see, just as chemotherapy affects your hair because of the rapidly dividing hair follicle cells, it also affects your nails.

I saw multiple red lines & indentations (very common) in my nails related to the cycle of my chemotherapy. The Silver Lining is that the line is not permanent and grows out with the nail, usually in about six months. My nails also became discolored and brittle, which resulted in them breaking incredibly easily.

My cuticles were also incredibly dry and I got hangnails at the drop of a hat. A helpful bit of advice is NOT to peel these hangnails (as I did once) but rather use cuticle remover cream or gels and push them back gently.

I did a few manicures during treatment, but always brought my own instruments, regardless of how the salon says they cleans theirs.

My best friend’s nails were even more fragile than mine and she found the nails lifting off of the nail bed. Ewwwww, I know.  She had to be extra careful about infection because bacteria can easily enter, unfortunately. Pay super close attention when this happens because the last thing that you want to do is add insult to injury!!

According to, Nail care is first-line prevention for lymphedema, a condition that develops when lymph fluid accumulates in the soft tissues of the arm, causing it to swell. If you’ve had an underarm lymph node dissection (with mastectomy or lumpectomy), you should be particularly careful of damage to the nail, such as hangnails or cuts or burns on the hands or fingers, which could lead to infection. Read more about other ways to avoid lymphedema.

The Silver Lining to dealing with nails during chemo is that there are many ways to help prevent/relieve damage to nails caused by chemotherapy.

  • Wear rubber gloves when doing household chores such as washing dishes or using cleaning products to protect your hands. Also, wear gloves while doing any outside chores such as gardening. Excessive exposure to water can lead to fungal infections of the nail bed.
  • Be careful when getting a manicure or other cosmetic nail treatments. If you do get a manicure, bring your own nail care implements. Stay away from acrylic nails or wraps applied because bacteria can grow behind the synthetic nail or wrap and possibly cause an infection.
  • Though the consensus is that nail polish is safe to wear, I am not a big fan because of all of the chemicals. I tend to just do a buff. If you do use polish, be sure to use a nonacetone remover to take off nail polish.
  • Keep an eye on your cuticles. Hang nails may develop. Use cuticle cream to keep them moisturized. Do not cut, pull, or tear away dry cuticles or hang nails. Massage cuticle cream into the cuticle area daily to prevent dryness, splitting, and hangnails.
  • Always, always always alert your doctor to any signs of inflammation or infection.

Am I missing anything?  What helped you?

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  1. Lisa says

    I had the same experience as Carole – couldn't cut my nails fast enough and on same drugs too! Very interesting how everyone reacts differently. Tea tree oil really helped with any kind of nicks or cuts I did get – it will heal stuff overnight!

    • silverpen says

      It is interesting indeed, Lisa. Thanks for sharing! So glad to hear that tea tree oil helped you as well!

  2. Carole says

    Oddly enough, my nails were the best they have ever been during chemo. They grew long and strong and quickly. A few weeks after chemo ended, they turned into corn-flake like brittle nails and are still like that 8 months after the last chemo treatment. I was on Adriomycin, cytoxin and taxol.

  3. says

    I had problems with my nails, too. According to my oncologist both my fingernails and my toenails were the worst he'd ever seen. My toenails in particular would just come up and off the bed of my toes. Luckily my chemo was during the summer so I could wear sandals. I don't think I could have gotten a shoe on my foot, with all the problems I had with my nails. A tip that the nurses told me was to use tea tree oil on them, and it really did help a bit, and kept them from getting infected.