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Caring for Your Skin, Hair, and Nails During Chemotherapy

Hair Care During Chemotherapy continued...

With chemotherapy, hair loss is almost always temporary. But when it grows back, it may be a different color or texture. In older adults who still had hair color before chemotherapy, the new growth may be completely gray, Ades says. Often, new hair is very fine and soft.

Some patients also feel upset about losing eyebrows and eyelashes. The American Cancer Society offers a program called “Look Good, Feel Better,” which teaches women makeup techniques to improve their appearance during cancer treatment, including tips for eyebrows and eyelashes.

Can drugs such as minoxidil help with hair loss? The research is lacking, and some medical experts are skeptical. But for patients who are very distressed by hair loss and are motivated to try everything at their disposal, Lacouture has recommended minoxidil, a baldness drug, for the scalp and eyebrows to try to maintain or stimulate hair growth.

Nail Care During Chemotherapy

During chemotherapy, nails become brittle and dry and may develop lines and ridges. Nails can also darken with certain chemo drugs, Ades says. The effects are temporary, but can last for months.

Certain chemo drugs called taxanes, which are frequently used to treat breast, prostate, and lung cancer, are commonly associated with nail problems. The nail can actually separate from its bed, Lacouture says. To minimize the effect of taxanes on their nails and the flow of blood to their hands and feet, some patients cool their hands and feet with special cooling gloves during the infusion of the drugs. 

Any nail inflammation -- or for that matter, any skin rash -- that becomes open or produces discharge should be a warning sign. It could be infected and should be seen by your doctor so that it can be treated, if necessary, with the appropriate antibiotics, says Lacouture.

For home care, patients with signs of infection in separated nails can soak their fingers or toes in a solution of white vinegar and water for 15 minutes every night. It kills the bacteria and dries the areas out.

Reviewed on June 01, 2010

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