Nails can reflect the state of your physical health, revealing nutritional deficiencies, stress levels and certain illnesses. As a result, people diagnosed with cancer often 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 subsequent expanding of connective tissue. 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 does, and they lose moisture just as readily. Chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments are likely to make the skin on your hands and around your nails extra dry. A rich, concentrated moisturizer is best and should be rubbed into your cuticles and all around your nails.
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 before your regular polish or by itself.
Q: What does it mean if my nails are splitting off at the tops?
A: If your nails are splitting, it’s likely because treatment has made them brittle and dry and you are probably filing them too frequently or too aggressively. Let your nails grow, and file them lightly 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: If your nails are thin or discolored due to cancer 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 them (and 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. A reminder to be diligent about moisturizing them.
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 about where you go to get them. Cancer treatment weakens your immune system, and nail salons can be harbors of bacteria. Cuticles protect your nails from infection, so don’t allow the manicurist to cut your cuticles. Steer clear of callus-shavers (used for pedicures), and make sure that 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.