Black Nail Polish Trick For Chemo Patients

Up until recently I’ve been visiting a family member in the hospital fairly regularly and one day while waiting for the elevator, I happened to notice an older woman was wearing black fingernail polish. This struck me as unusual since that’s not typically the color of choice for a woman her age.

BottleShe noticed I was checking them out (I wasn’t staring, honest!) and smiled. She told me that she wears it because it helps protect them from chemo treatments…and of course, being a Tipnut, I had to check that out ;).

Here’s what I’ve learned:

It’s well known that hair loss can happen when receiving chemotherapy, but did you know that nail damage or loss can also happen?

It’s especially common with breast cancer patients and those treated with drugs from the taxane group since one side effect of the drug can be sensitivity to sunlight (which is what could be affecting the nails).

Not only can it be painful when nail beds are bare and unprotected (from loss), infections can also happen and this can be dangerous especially when one’s immune system is low.

The theory is that by applying a coat of black (on both fingers and toes), it can help block out the light. Apply at least two coats and keep it on as long as possible. Instead of removing it when it’s damaged or chipped, just apply a fresh coat over top. The acetone in polish remover can be harsh, especially when your body is more sensitive during this time.

Why not wear acrylics? Apparently it’s not recommended to do so and medical staff will advise you to remove them before treatment (likely because they can trap and harbor bacteria), however polish seems to be just fine.

For added protection, try regularly rubbing in olive oil or tea tree oil.

Does this trick work? I really have no way of knowing for sure but because the cost and effort are minimal, I’d consider it worthwhile trying.

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What Readers Are Saying: 20 Comments
  1. Angela Holdread says:

    Gosh, I really wonder if the black fingernail polish works. I would have loved to known about this 6 years ago when I had chemo for AML and then ended up having a stemcell transplant that required very very strong chemo and I lost my finger nails two or three times and my toe nails twice. My toenails came back but they are paper thin and I have to keep them cut super short and my fingernails are far from normal and the doctor hasn’t given me any hope that my nails will ever be nice again. I’ve just never heard this before.

    • Selyna Kidd says:

      There are vitamins that will help restore your nails. Chemo depleted them & from what I just read in your post, (which is common) your body is still severely lacking them! Go to the vitimen store were they sell all the really good vitimens or a good drug store & get the vitimen. The one for nails is Bonine but if I were you, I wouldn’t stop at that one! I would get vitimen B12, it helps your body absorb vitimens & nutritions at its best! Then get you (A GOOD BRAND!!!) Of Women’s daily vitimens *chewable*. I’m not saying stay on them month after month, I’m saying that initial set (if you buy all 3 on the same day) should get your body back on track now, if you take them everyday & as recommended till they run out!

  2. melissa says:

    Tea tree oil is a wonderful natural oil but can be very harsh applied full strength. Please be sure to mix in an equal amount of carrier oil such as grapeseed or olive. I would use olive as it is also a natural anti-fungal.

    • JulieCC says:

      Agreed. It would be especially harsh on compromised skin and tissue during chemo. OUCH! I sometimes use it full strength on my psoriasis, but that is tissue where I don’t have feeling.

  3. Melissa S. says:

    I find that hard to believe. The reason that people lose hair nails and get sick on chemo is because the drugs used in chemotherapy target rapidly dividing cells. Those include hair nails and the lining of your stomach. Therefore I don’t see how black fingernail polish could be effective in preventing nail loss when light doesn’t affect the reason they’re lost in the first place.

    • JulieCC says:

      I completely agree and I’m a breast cancer survivor who had Taxotere & Cytoxan. While the “old” nails pre-chemo will be fine, there may be some trouble with any new cell growth. Nail polish is not going to help that.

      And how could light affect nails anyway since the cells are basically “dead”.

      I do agree that tea tree oil is probably effective. I’d bet Aquaphor with a bit of tea tree oil in it (to cut the smell if it’s unpleasant) would work wonders. I didn’t have any nail issues during/after chemo, but I used Aquaphor for everything!

  4. Wendy says:

    The only problem with black polish is that your O2 sats cannot be checked with it on. If this is something they will be checking (as they did with my mom when she was going through chemo) then you need to have a finger or toe that is free of nail polish so they can get an accurate reading.

  5. Terri says:

    I agree with Melissa S – I don’t think light has anything to do with it. I went through chemo with taxotere, and my nails turned dark, loosened, sometimes bled underneath, and were pretty painful. I tried the tea tree oil, but it smelled so bad I only used it a few times, so the observation that it didn’t help may not be a fair assessment. Two years after finishing chemo, my nails are just now getting back to normal. But I really have a hard time believing that black nail polish would have been helpful.

  6. donna says:

    if it works use it you never know til you try it. all things are possible.

  7. Kathryn says:

    Am about to start chemo for breast cancer and the Oncologist suggested this – he said any dark colour will do – easier than keeping the nails chilled during administration of the chemo medication. Think I will go for a deep purple or red.

  8. meanjeang1 says:

    I’ve also read where chilling the scalp during chemo can help prevent hair loss. Possibly the reduction in circulation inhibits the chemo drugs circulating through the scalp. Any good nail tech will tell you that you should occasionally take a break from nail polish to let the nails “breathe”. If the polish inhibits circulation, then it would inhibit the chemo drugs from circulating in the nail bed, just like chilling would accomplish.

    • JulieCC says:

      I am a breast cancer survivor. Chilling the scalp will NOT help! The chemo will get to your hair cells periods. Slowing down circulation will not help at all!

  9. Ann Isaac says:

    God bless all those who have had to go through this terrible disease. My heart bleeds for you and I pray you will come out ahead. Sorry you have to read or hear from those who are negative about whatever one had to do or try while going through this sad time.

  10. A Nail Tech says:

    I want to say first to all those who are going thru any form of chemo God Bless you. Chemo is so harsh on the body and mind overall but I’d like to break a few myths here. First the best reason to wear dark polish after having chemo is to hide the discoloration that can happen. You’er nails may become dry weak and brittle to help stop any peeling a polish over your nails will help. As for letting your nails “breathe” that is a myth you nails like hair are made of keratin a protein they don’t require oxygen and do not need to “breathe” the way your skin does.

  11. Purple says:

    Just a (naive) question: Would a base coat of black, covered with a couple coats of the color(s) of your choice work? That way, you’d get the coverage, and a prettier color as well. Maybe a light top color would not work well, but who knows what the end result would be? Anyone?

  12. Red says:

    I am currently under going treatment for BC and my chemo nurse was demanding that I not only paint my nails black but also keep them short……

    Having felt that I had already lost control over so many other things in my life I painted my with nail strengthner then black and then painted a coat of white followed by an array of colours and designs, much to the disgust of the nurse.

    Can I just say that I have never had such long or hard nails in my life. I only ” do them” once every three weeks just before treatment so they annoy the nurse so far five rounds.

    This week ready for Christmas cheer they are red and silver glitter. Slight warning though glitter nail vanishes are hard to remove 🙂

    • kim says:

      God bless you. I can see your point! So little things feel in your control when going through that. What next…what outfit to wear to chemo!

  13. SueSue says:

    I just found out I have Lymphoma. I have worn nail polish since high school. I now wear shellac, which have really helped with my nail strength. I also use oil on my nails to help with the cuticles. I do plan to continue with the shellac. I use nourishing nail polish remover. They look different after removing the shellac versus only acetone.

    I will post after my first two rounds of chemo. My concern is to find out about saving my hair, since the two components are the same…..I already use Biotin 20 mg (not mcg) a day….I most likely will up the dosage, and see how it works.

  14. JulieCC says:

    This is a JOKE! I had Taxotere & Cytoxan. Firstly, there was no problem with my nails and I have psoriasis which affects them. The chemo attacks at the CELLULAR level. Just keeping light/sun/whatever off of them will not help.

    Also, you cannot wear nail polish during chemo infusions. You have to have your oxygen saturation levels checked (like most times in the hospital). You cannot have that done with ANY nail polish on – acrylic or otherwise. The light has to see though your skin to measure your sats.

    I would think there would be a much higher incidence of infection with applying so many layers of polish on. Better to just use some Aquaphor (it was used on my 1 pound daughter in the NICU and awesome during my treatment!) on your nails and nail beds.

    Plus, if you’re going to be sensitive to the sun, just don’t be out in it. Going through chemo you don’t feel like it anyway!!!!

  15. Linda says:

    I am going through chemo (Taxol) now. Initially I had 4 rounds of AC then after 2 Taxol I developed spooning of the thumbs and 4 of the nails are lifting from the nail bed. I use ice on hands and toes during chemo; no neuropathy and have all my toenails so is it the ice, the dark polish, the Acupunture, or the vitamins I am taking to coat the nerves? Who knows, but I can say everyone is different so maybe the polish will work for some of you. I am throwing everything I have at this beast so I gave the polish a try. Best of luck everyone and remember, who cares about a few missing nails just beat the cancer.

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