Nails are a window into your physical health, revealing nutritional deficiencies, stress levels and certain illnesses. Therefore, people fighting cancer will have special concerns when it comes to caring for and maintaining their nails.
Here are some of the questions you may have, along with answers culled from beauty and nail care experts:
Q: Is there anything in particular I should look out for when it comes to my nails?
A: Yes. Sometimes cancer can cause either "clubbing" or "Terry's nails." Clubbing is when fingertips widen and become round due to a lack of oxygen in the blood and the expanding of connective tissue as a result. Terry's nails are characterized by dark pink or brown bands around the nail tips. Check with your doctor if you notice signs of either.
Q: Do I need a special moisturizer for my hands?
A: Yes. Your nails absorb water a hundred times faster than your skin, and they lose moisture just as readily. Due to chemotherapy or radiation treatments, the skin on your hands and around your nails is apt to be extra dry. A rich, concentrated moisturizer is best and should be rubbed into your cuticles and all around your nails. Kiehl's Deluxe Hand and Body Lotion is a good choice.
Q: Should I be worried if ridges appear in my nails?
A: No. Ridged nails are usually hereditary and are not a cause for concern, even during illness. They can appear due to stress. If the ridges bother you, apply a coat of ridge-filler (such as Sally Hansen's version) before your regular polish or by itself.
Q: What does it mean if my nails are splitting off at the tops?
A: Most likely, your nails are very brittle and dry due to your treatment, and you are probably filing too frequently or too vigilantly. Let your nails grow and lightly file them with an emery board no more than once a week. Use rubber gloves when washing dishes and cleaning, and keep your hands away from harsh or drying chemicals such as bleach.
Q: Can I wear artificial nails?
A: It's not a great idea. If your nails are thin or discolored due to your treatment, it's tempting to want to use press-on or other artificial nails, but try to resist. The glue used to apply artificial nails and the materials required to remove them are very drying and can damage your already fragile nails.
Q: Can I wear nail polish?
A: Yes. In fact, if the appearance of your nails bothers you, polish can give you a real lift. But polish will also dry your nails, so wear it for only a few days at a time and then remove it and let your nails recover for a few more days before reapplying. Be diligent about moisturizing them, and they should be fine.
Q: What about removing my nail polish?
A: Use only an acetone-free nail polish remover, available at any drugstore. After removing polish, apply oil or rich moisturizer to your nails and cuticles. You can do this before going to bed. Put gloves or a pair of socks over your hands to soften them further overnight.
Q: Can I get manicures?
A: Yes, but be very careful where you get them. Your immune system is weakened, and nail salons can be harbors of bacteria. Your cuticles protect your nails from infection, so do not allow them to be cut during this time. Steer clear of callous-shavers (used for pedicures), and watch your manicurist and the equipment like a hawk to make sure everything that touches your skin is sterilized and clean.
Q: Is there anything special I can do to pamper my nails?
A: Most beauty salons and day spas offer paraffin treatments — which increase moisture levels — for hands and feet. After a paraffin treatment, your hands and feet will feel soft and smooth, and your nails will look glowing and healthy.