Navigating Nail Changes During Chemotherapy: A Guide to Prevention and Care

Why Do Nails Change? | Can Chemo Cause Nail Loss? | Symptoms | Permanent Changes | Nail Care

    Chemotherapy is a powerful treatment used to treat cancer. However, it often comes with a range of side effects, including changes to nail health, often referred to as "chemo nails." This guide aims to shed light on why these changes occur, what to look out for, and how to care for your nails during this challenging time.

    Why Do Nails Change?

    Chemotherapy targets rapidly dividing cells, like cancer cells. Unfortunately, it also affects other rapidly dividing cells, such as those in the nail bed. This disruption can lead to various nail changes, including brittleness, discolouration, and other alterations to nail health.

    Can Chemo Cause Nail Loss?

    It's possible to lose your nails as a side effect of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy interferes with nail development, resulting in weakening and potential loss of nails. Some people may experience nail bed inflammation, resulting in loose and falling nails.


    Chemo nails can present several signs:

    1. Fissures: Small cracks or tears in the fingertips, nail plate, or bed.

    2. Hemorrhage: Tiny red lines indicating bleeding under the nail plate.

    3. Hyperpigmentation: Darkening of the skin or nails, potentially permanent.

    4. Paronychia: Inflammation and redness of the nail bed, signaling possible infection.

    5. Onycholysis: Lifting of the nail plate, often temporary but requiring careful attention.

    6. Nail Loss: Complete loss of the nail plate, increasing infection risk.

    7. Nail Plate Ridges or Lines: Changes in nail texture, typically growing out over time.

    8. Koilonychia: Nails become flat or concave, often due to anaemia. 

    9. Beau's Line: Temporary cessation of nail growth due to high chemotherapy doses.

    10. Subungual Lesions: Dark areas near the cuticle may resemble bruising.

    Permanent Changes

    The good news is that most nail changes resulting from chemotherapy are not permanent. After completing treatment, nail health typically improves, with many individuals experiencing a full recovery from their nail condition.

    Nail Care

    Preventing nail damage during chemo involves adopting several nail care practices to support nail health:

    • Regular moisturising : Keeping the nails and cuticles moisturised can maintain nail strength.

    • Protective Measures: Using gloves during potentially damaging activities can protect nails from harm and infection.

    • Short Nails: Keeping your nails short can reduce breakage and damage risk.

    • Gentle Nail Products: Choosing nail care products without harsh chemicals can preserve nail health.

    • Dark Nail Polishes: Dark nail polishes may conceal discolouration (chemo nail discolouration), though it's important to select less toxic options.

    • Nail Strengthening Post-Chemotherapy: Implementing nail strengthening practices after chemotherapy can aid in nail health recovery.

    Incorporating these chemo nail care tips into your routine can play a crucial role in preventing nail damage during chemo and supporting the recovery of nail health post-treatment. By understanding the potential side effects of chemotherapy on nails and taking proactive steps to care for them, individuals undergoing treatment can maintain better nail health and overall well-being.

    For more tips on managing skin problems during cancer treatment, explore our guides on skincare tips. 

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