Skin and nail changes
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause your skin to peel, darken or become dry and itchy. During treatment and for several months afterwards, your skin is likely to be more sensitive to the sun.
You may find your nails also change and become darker than usual or develop ridges or white lines across them. Your nails may also become brittle and dry or lift off the nail bed. These changes usually grow out. It is recommended that you avoid having your nails done at a nail salon, as this can increase the risk of infection during chemotherapy.
Taking care of your skin
- Use a soap-free wash when showering. Gently pat your skin dry with a towel rather than rubbing it.
- Use a good quality moisturising lotion or a cream containing the ingredient urea to help with the dryness.
- Wear loose, non-restricting clothing. Choose clothes made from soft cotton fabric instead of rough wool or synthetic fibres.
- Use mild detergent to wash your clothing if you have sensitive skin.
- Don’t shave or wax until your skin is healed.
- Protect your skin from the sun when UV levels are 3 or above. Wear high-protection sunscreen (SPF 50+), a broad-brimmed hat, protective clothing and sunglasses, and try to stay in the shade. This advice applies to everyone, but is especially important for people having chemotherapy.
- Avoid chlorinated swimming pools as the water can make skin changes worse.
- If your skin becomes red or sore in the area where the intravenous device went in, let your doctor or nurse know immediately.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment