Are Your Skin and Nails Suffering From Cancer Treatment? 9 Tips

Take these steps to limit the damage

Are Your Skin and Nails Suffering From Cancer Treatment? 9 Tips

When you’re being treated for cancer, your skin and nails can suffer collateral damage. Certain cancer therapies can dry your skin and make your nails ridged and brittle.

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However, a few simple changes in your personal hygiene routine can limit the damage, says Michele Taylor, a licensed aesthetician in the Department of Hematology/Oncology.

We’ve asked her to share her dos and don’ts for skin and nail care during treatment for cancer.

5 tips for skin care

If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, dry skin is inevitable. And radiation therapy can often cause radiation dermatitis, which can trigger a rash, flaking and peeling skin, or blisters at the treatment site.

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Beyond their appearance, these skin changes can lead to complications. Dry skin gets itchy, and excessive scratching may create wounds that put you at risk for infection. To care for your skin during chemotherapy or radiation treatments, Ms. Taylor recommends the following:

  1. Hydrate well. Drink plenty of water (as long as you’re not on fluid restriction).
  2. Block the sun. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), especially on your hands, face and neck. Protect face, ears and neck with a wide-brimmed hat.
  3. Moisturize often: Apply moisturizer throughout the day if possible — especially after washing your hands and always right before bed. Use gentle, hydrating products without strong fragrances. For extreme dryness, try a cream or “body butter,” which are thicker, providing more of a protective barrier and better hydration.
  4. Be smart about baths. Bathe in warm — not hot — water. Apply moisturizer within three to five minutes of your bath or shower, when your skin is most absorbent.
  5. Exfoliate with care. Use a soft washcloth to gently exfoliate your skin. This helps remove dry skin from the epidermis (top skin layer) so that deeper skin layers can better absorb moisturizer. (If you’re undergoing radiation, don’t use a washcloth on the radiation site. Ask your care team for cleansing instructions.)

4 tips for nail care

Chemotherapy sometimes affects your fingernails and toenails, which can develop lines and ridges. The nail beds can turn brown or black, and nails may even fall off. To care for your nails during chemotherapy, Ms. Taylor recommends the following:

  1. Trim nails often. Cut nails short and keep them clean, using clean nail instruments. Smooth any jagged edges and remove any hangnails promptly to avoid catching a nail on something that could tear it off.
  2. Avoid salons. Don’t get professional manicures or pedicures. The risk of infection is too high. When painting your own nails, use a formaldehyde-free polish and non-acetone remover, which are gentler.
  3. Protect your hands. Wear gloves when cleaning or doing yard work, or for any task that exposes your hands to chemicals.
  4. Seek help if needed. Tell your care team if one of your nails is loose or falls off. They may want to start you on antibiotics to decrease the risk of infection.

The side effects of cancer treatment sometimes pose a challenge. Following these practical tips can lessen their impact on your skin and nails, says Ms. Taylor.

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