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cancer and nailsCancer of any kind is hard on the body.  It compromises the immune system and has traumatic effects on the skin.  Even for those who are spared having to undergo chemo and/or radiation, the skin takes a beating.  The skin is the largest organ of the body and it protects us from bacteria and germs from getting into the body, but during cancer treatments, the skin is compromised from the inside.

Cancer treatments can leave the skin in a very fragile state.  Cancer patients may experience an acne-like rash that can appear on the face, scalp, chest, back or ears.  The rash is similar to acne but it is not like regular acne because there is no glandular secretion, and the skin will also become dehydrated and thin.  Some physicians may opt to treat patients with antibiotics and steroids, but these approaches may put more strain on the body.  Most rashes will gradually disappear when treatment ends but the skin may not fully recover.

Other changes in the skin during cancer treatment

  • Cracking and peeling of the skin around the nail bed, ingrown nails and dark lines through the nails
  • Ingrown hair follicles
  • Excessive dry skin with itchiness and irritation
  • Thinning and loss of hair as well as a change in texture of the hair
  • Increased growth of eyelashes and eyebrows
  • Hyperpigmentation may generalized, on the nail beds, mouth, tongue, palms, soles and along veins
  • Broken capillaries or eruption of tiny veins just below the skin

Skin care options

  • Hydration is key in replenishing the skin’s health.
  • Chemical peels and microdermabrasion are contraindicatory and should be avoided because they are too harsh on the skin.
  • Ultrasound is an excellent option to microdermabrasion because it can gently exfoliate the skin, stimulate circulation and promote good product penetration.
  • In the place of chemical peels, choose a good enzymatic masque (preferably fruit base).  It will gently remove dead surface cells and promote hydration without disturbing the skin’s natural pH.
  • A good SPF should be used during the day and an extra emollient moisturizer for evening.
  • Cleansers should be gentle (no glycolic or salicylic acid).


Beach, P. and Morgan-Lousky, K. (June 2014). Skin, Inc., “Cancer and skin changes: Acne-like rash”, pp. 76-80.