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Skin and Nail Problems With Chemotherapy

Dealing With Chemotherapy Skin and Nail Problems

Below are some suggestions for dealing with common skin and nail problems seen with chemotherapy.


  • Try to keep your face clean and dry
  • Ask your healthcare provider or nurse if you can use over-the-counter medicated creams or soaps.
Itching and Dryness


  • Apply cornstarch as you would a dusting powder.
  • To help avoid dryness, take quick showers or sponge baths. Do not take long, hot baths. Use a moisturizing soap.
  • Apply cream and lotion while your skin is still moist.
  • Avoid perfume, cologne, or aftershave lotion that contains alcohol.
  • Use a colloid oatmeal bath or diphenhydramine for generalized pruritis.
Nail Problems


  • You can buy nail-strengthening products in a drug store. Be aware that these products may bother your skin and nails.
  • Protect your nails by wearing gloves when washing dishes, gardening, or doing other work around the house.
  • Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you have redness, pain, or changes around the cuticles.
Sunlight Sensitivity
  • Avoid direct sunlight as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Use a sunscreen lotion with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher to protect against sun damage. A product such as zinc oxide, sold over the counter, can block the sun's rays completely.
  • Use a lip balm with a sun protection factor.
  • Wear long-sleeve cotton shirts, pants, and hats with a wide brim (particularly if you are having hair loss), to block the sun.
  • Even people with dark skin need to protect themselves from the sun during chemotherapy.
Radiation Recall
Some people who have had radiation therapy develop "radiation recall" during their chemotherapy. During or shortly after certain chemotherapy drugs are administered, the skin over an area that had received the radiation turns red -- a shade anywhere from light to very bright. The skin may blister and peel. This reaction may last hours or even days. Report radiation recall to your healthcare provider or nurse. You can soothe the itching and burning by:
  • Placing a cool, wet compress over the affected area.
  • Wearing soft, non-irritating fabrics. Women who have radiation for breast cancer following lumpectomy often find cotton bras to be the most comfortable.
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