skin and nail care after chemotherapy
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Skin and Nail Care After Chemotherapy: How to Recover

Chemo Can Take a Toll on Skin and Nails

Chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer takes a toll on your hair, nails, and skin. Now that treatment is behind you, it’s time to focus on recovering from its effects. Try these tips for skin, hair, and nail care after chemotherapy and radiation.

Tending Your Skin After Chemo

Chemotherapy and radiation can dry out your skin, leaving it cracked and red. Continue the moisturizing regimen you started during treatment; if you didn’t have one, now is a good time to start. For extremely dry skin, opt for a cream or body butter instead of a lotion. Creams tend to be oil-based and deeply moisturizing, providing a protective barrier for your skin. Hydrate your lips with a natural lip balm like beeswax.

Bathe in warm, not scalding, water until your skin has regained some of its moisture. Hot water will only make dryness worse. Harsh scrubbing aggravates dryness; just wash your skin gently and pat dry after bathing.

Your skin may be sensitive for a while after treatment, so look for cleansers and cosmetics without strong fragrances or chemicals. Choose products formulated for sensitive skin and avoid ones that contain alcohol, which can further dry your skin. Remember to apply sunscreen before going outside.

Cancer treatment also can cause your skin tone to change and possibly become uneven. If you have difficulty finding the right products to treat these changes, consider making an appointment with a dermatologist, who can offer suggestions for treatments and products that can help to heal your skin.

Caring for Your Hair During Chemotherapy

If you had hair loss from cancer treatment, your hair may now be growing back — but it might have a different texture or be slightly different in color. As your hair grows out, you’ll experience awkward lengths that can be tricky to style. Just be patient and work with a good stylist. As your hair grows, you may be more comfortable wearing the headscarves or wigs you wore during treatment.

Although it may seem counterintuitive to cut your hair when you desperately want it to grow longer, you may need to trim it periodically. A stylist who has experience working with people who have had hair loss from cancer may give you new ideas for styling your hair as it regrows.

Your hair will likely grow back naturally in its own time. Talk to a doctor before you pursue hair growth treatments. In most cases, they aren’t necessary.

Nail Care After Chemotherapy

Weak, brittle nails and ragged cuticles are common during treatment. As your nails grow stronger, don’t rush to the nail salon for a manicure, which could increase the risk of infection.

Continue moisturizing your hands, and wear rubber gloves when cleaning or washing dishes to prevent bacteria from entering through cracks in the nails. Once your nails and cuticles look healthy, you can beautify them with polish or a manicure. For a little color in the meantime, try a water-based nail polish. These are gentler than traditional nail polishes and come off without using harsh polish removers.

Finding just the right products and the right regimen can be a challenge. If your skin isn’t healing, make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist, who can recommend the right products or procedures. Many dermatologists have experience working with people who have had cancer.

To learn more or to make an appointment with a dermatologist, call the UPMC Department of Dermatology at 412-647-4200.