How to save your nails during chemo

We look at what might happen to your finger and toenails when you have chemotherapy and how you can help prevent the changes

When you think about the side effects of chemotherapy, hair loss and nausea are probably what first come to mind.

But many are unaware that chemotherapy agents can also adversely affect the nails!

Nail changes during chemotherapy

So how does chemotherapy affect your nails? Nails – both on the fingers and toes – may darken, turn yellow, become brittle, and crack easily.  Beau’s lines (dark or light lines) may develop across the width of some of your nails.

How to save nails from chemo, nails holding drinks

The area around the nail bed may become dry, and your cuticles may fray. Nails may develop koilonychia (also known as spooning – when nails lose their convexity, becoming flat or even concave in shape). Infections under your nails are also possible and there are cases where your nails will fall off completely.

The nails can look bruised and can turn black, brown, green or blue in colour during chemotherapy. People who have darker complexions usually have more obvious nail colour change

Why does chemotherapy cause nail changes?

Because chemotherapy is very drying to your tissues, your nails can become brittle and yellow. Dry nails will break and crack easily. Koilonychia is caused by anaemia and low iron.

Beau’s lines occur when you have high-dose chemo and your nails temporarily stop growing.

Which chemo drugs affect the nails?

Some chemotherapy drugs that can cause fingernail disorders include:

  • Taxanes (Taxol, Taxotere, Docetaxel)
  • Doxorubicin (Adriamycin)
  • 5-fluorouracil (5Fu)
  • Bleomycin

Preventing Chemo Nails

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely avoid chemo-related nail problems. Though, some nurse may bring you a dish of ice water for your hands. Research suggests that using ice or cryotherapy, such as frozen gloves or slippers, may reduce damage to skin and nails.

How to save your nails during chemo

how to save your nails during chemotherapy - varnish for chemo nails

Live Better With tips:

  • Wear gloves while doing chores, such as washing up as exposure to water can lead to fungal infections of the nail bed.
  • Experiment with nail polishes in darker shades to cover up discolourisation
  • If you’d like to wear nail polish, consider using a water-based polish. Conventional nail polishes may contain chemicals to harden them that are considered toxic.
  • To take off polish, use a remover that doesn’t contain acetone, ethylacetate, or other harsh solvents. There are gentle removers specifically for water-based nail polish.
  • Try vitamins for hair, skin, and nails
  • Use cuticle remover cream or gels and push your nails back gently rather than cutting them.
  • Massage cuticle cream into the cuticle area daily to prevent dryness, splitting, and hangnails.
  • As Beau’s lines grow beyond the nail bed, cut them off
  • Increase iron in your diet
  • Alert your doctor to any signs of inflammation or infection
  • Evaux EvoNail Nail Repair Solution is perfect for soothing brittle or tender nails, nail ridges, split nails and yellowed or blackened nails.

  • Try to cut back on or avoid caffeine
  • Wear comfortable shoes that allow adequate room for your toes
  • Don’t use acrylics nails or other nail wraps. Fake nails can trap bacteria that may cause infection.

Shop chemo nail products to save your nails during chemo


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7 Replies to “How to save your nails during chemo”

  1. I lost my nails both toe and fingers , went a strange bluish colour.
    I had Taxitere treatment , when they reappeared they were very soft. I was told I should have had gels to protect them ,is this true ?

  2. None of these symptoms are explained to you during Chemo…..I can appreciate that the chemo staff are inundated, but surely leaflets can make one aware of the probs. Or perhaps these days of apps…etc, there could be warnings. I’m a 66 yr old cancer patient, but out there , are young 30 plus patients, whose nails and hair are important to them, please someone make an appropriate app for these youngsters.
    This time of chemo is stressful enough, without being added to, by information that’s not

    1. If they told us all of the things that not only could happen but will most likely happen, less people would drink the koolaid…

  3. My nails fell off completely last year and now they are vey sof, I keep them very short and I use a nail varnish by a company called nailberry, it let’s the nails breath through it. Very good give it a try.

  4. I am dealing with fungus between my nail and skin. None of them have fallen off yet and they are getting better. I use pure Tea Tree Oil to combat the fungus and it seems to do the trick. Most of this started towards the end of my chemo treatment and after. I ended chemo in September of 2017. My nails are getting better but my toe nails, just on the big toe is still quite brittle but hasn’t lifted anymore thank goodness!! Tea Tree Oil is great!

  5. I am using tea tree oil for a few years now. Seems to help but I have to stay on top of it. Forgot to take with me on vacation and it was a full fledged disaster at home. It is a pain and hurt and I hate it every day. Cant wear open toe shoes and adviced not to paint from Podiatrist. Right now I feed it is ingrown and swollen off to the side. I may need a dose of antibiotics this time around. Small sacrifice for keeping my life.

  6. I lost finger nails and toe nails during chemotherapy. I wasn’t fore warned by medical staff that this was probable, so was quite shocked when it started to happen. Think the worst part was when they were just hanging on before falling off and I used to catch them on clothing and bed clothes etc

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