Lovely hands and feet

Chemotherapy can retard nail growth, cause thin and brittle nails and cuticles, create horizontal grooves in the nails and cause the nails of both hands and feet to darken.


  • Keep nails trimmed and short as this will minimize breakage and brittleness (also caused by radiation treatments).
  • To prevent nails from drying out use only non-acetone-based nail polish remover. 
  • A light-coloured nail polish will camouflage nail imperfections and discolourations. 
  • Applying a top coat over the initial coat will help the colour to last longer and may prevent breakage. Avoid nail polishes that contain formaldehyde as these chemicals are harsh. Give your hands a little extra attention by keeping the nail beds moisturized and avoid hands creams containing alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids.
  • Acrylic and other false nails and extensions can trap bacteria and cause infection. 


  • Applying cuticle cream, or olive oil, to cuticles and nails prevents the skin from drying out and cracking.
  • Cuticles should softened in warm water and then gently pushed back, rather than cut, to minimize the chances of infection. 
  • Supply your own implements if you go for a manicure, to guard against infection. 


  • It is of the utmost importance to moisturise daily to prevent dehydration of the skin. Failure to moisturise may increase your risk of infection, as it allows for cracking and chapping of the skin, nails and lips, leading to infection as the immune system is suppressed.
  • Keep the skin as moist as possible during treatment to keep it looking young and healthy. 
  • Over-zealous scrubbing or exfoliating will remove natural oils and dry out the skin. 
  • Moisturise daily with products containing a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, as chemo makes the skin more sensitive to harmful ultraviolet rays. 

Written by Dr Carina vd Linden

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