How to Maintain Healthy Nails During Cancer Treatment

When most people begin cancer treatment, they don’t typically think about their nails. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that both chemotherapy and radiation can negatively affect the fingernails and toenails. Keeping healthy nails during cancer treatment can be a challenge for a number of reasons. Fingernails are about 15% water, so they can become dry and brittle during and after treatment. Although nail problems are not a common side effect of most cancer drugs, they can occur more often with certain types of medicines. These changes can occur in all or in just some of the nails.

Some of these side effects are simply annoying, whereas others can be more severe and require treatment.

They may involve only the nails, cuticles, or nail folds as well. Nail changes caused by cancer drugs are usually temporary and may improve even as treatment continues or after it is finished. However, because nails grow slowly, it may take months for them to return to normal. So it is ideal to prevent problems before they happen or as soon as they arise.


For Healthy Nails During Cancer Therapy:

1. Avoid frequent exposure to water and nail polish removers.

Use a moisturizer after hand washing. Keep your nails short, trim them horizontally after showering, and when filing, do it in one direction.

2. Take your vitamins and supplements.

Taking biotin and orthosilicic acid and applying nail strengtheners every day are also helpful.

3. Be careful when cutting your nails.

Trimming nails straight across helps avoid ingrown toenails. If you are experiencing nail problems, or find it difficult to cut your nails, you can always visit a podiatrist for help.

4. Dry hands and feet thoroughly.

After washing dishes, swimming, or taking a bath or shower, dry your fingers and toes well to avoid fungal infections.

5. Wear all-cotton socks and use vinyl gloves when cleaning or gardening.

Cotton socks help absorb dampness and may help avoid fungal nail infections and athlete’s foot. Vinyl gloves will protect your nails from excess water. For additional protection, buy one size larger than you need and wear white cotton gloves underneath.

6. Use a nail strengthener or hardener.

Not only does a coat of nail polish prolong the life of a manicure, but it also protects the nails and strengthens brittle nails.

7. Avoid the salon and acrylic nails.

Salons pose a risk for anyone: an infection can be picked up easily. Acrylics tend to weaken your natural nails and make them brittle.

If you do experience nail changes, it’s important to remember that they are a temporary, reversible reaction to your cancer treatment.

Generally, the nail goes back to normal. Before starting chemotherapy or radiation, be sure to ask your health care team whether nail changes are likely to occur from the medications you will receive.  Maintaining healthy nails during cancer treatment can be challenging. Following the tips above and speaking with your health care team will ensure that you can maintain the health of your nails so that they look and feel as good as possible during treatment.


Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD

If you are a person living with cancer, you may experience changes in your skin, hair, or nails. There are many effective ways to prevent and manage these side effects so they don’t disrupt your life or interfere with treatment.

Find more helpful products and tips at