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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Visible Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatments

Skin and Nail Changes

You might notice these after chemotherapy, radiation, or endocrine treatment.

What to expect with skin changes:

You may have:

  • Redness
  • Rash
  • Dryness
  • Inflammation
  • Darkening of veins

Redness from radiation and certain types of chemo may get worse if you expose your skin to the sun.

Though rare, skin damage can happen if chemo drugs given through a vein (IV) leak onto the skin.

Let your doctor know about any breaks or cuts in your skin, which can become infected.


  • Check first with your medical team before you use any skin products. This includes lotions, powders, perfumes, creams, deodorants, body oils, or home remedies. Additives in some products can worsen skin reactions.
  • Avoid detergents with dyes and perfumes.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry. Use a mild soap, and pat your skin dry after bathing.
  • Use a rich moisturizer as recommended by your doctor several times a day to help with dry skin.
  • Use sunscreen when in the sun.
  • Wear loose-fitting, natural fabrics like cotton and silk.

What to expect with nail changes:

Nail beds may become darkened or discolored. Your nails may crack, split, or become rigid. Sometimes they may even lift off the nail bed. Tell your doctor if this happens. It increases the risk of infection.


  • Cut them short to minimize splitting.
  • Avoid artificial nails, which may increase the risk of an infection. It's OK to use nail polish, but remove it with a non-acetone-based remover, which is less drying.
  • Use a cuticle remover cream or gel, massaging it into your nails.
  • Don't bite or tear at your nails or cuticles.
  • Wear gloves when you garden or do housework.
  • Avoid professional manicures, or bring your own sanitized instruments.
  • Limit the time you have your hands in water to lower the risk of fungal infections.

Skin and nail changes usually go away when your treatment ends.

The 'Look Good Feel Better' Program

The American Cancer Society has teamed up with the Personal Care Products Council and the National Cosmetology Association to create "Look Good Feel Better." This program teaches beauty techniques that can boost your appearance and how you feel about yourself after your cancer treatment.

For more information, call 1-800-395-LOOK, or click here.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 05, 2015
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