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 who was sporting black fingernail polish. This struck me as unusual since it’s not typically the color of choice for a woman her age.

She noticed I was checking them out (I wasn’t staring, honest!) and smiled. She proceeded to share why she wears such a dark color: It’s a method of protecting her nails from chemo treatments…and of course, being a tip nut, I was quite intrigued.

Curious, but not wanting to pester her with questions, I decided to do a bit of research on my own and check things out for myself once I got home. Here’s what I’ve learned:

It’s well known hair loss may happen while receiving chemotherapy, but did you realize that nail damage can also occur? They’ll tend to become brittle, discolored, break or peel easily and even total loss.

It’s particularly 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).

Once the beds are bare and unprotected, painful infections are prone to flare up–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 effectively blocks out the light. Brush on at least two coats and keep it on as long as possible. Instead of removing it as it’s damaged or chipped, just apply a fresh layer over top. The acetone in the remover is harsh, especially during this time when the body is more sensitive.

If the shade is too stark (and depressing) for personal tastes, maybe try a base in black then deep purples, reds or blues on top. The darker the tint, the better.

How about wearing acrylics? Apparently they’re not recommended and medical staff will strictly advise to remove them before treatment (likely because they easily trap and harbor bacteria which can be dangerous for someone who has to be diligent and careful), however polish seems to be just fine.

For added protection, try frequently rubbing in moisturizer or olive oil (straight or mixed with tea tree oil). It’s also beneficial to pull on rubber gloves while washing dishes and doing chores. Keep things nice & tidy with regular trimmings (will help prevent snags & tears). It’s also advised to push back cuticles rather than trimming off, again, making no opportunity for infection is the goal here.

If inflammation or tenderness develops around the fingernail area, or they become infected, inform your doctor promptly.

Does the 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. If you have any first-hand experience or have other tips to help chemo patients, please share in the comments section below, there are a lot of people are looking for any good advice they can get!

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    • Jayne

    Suggestions are all worth a try. We are all individuals and our bodies react in different ways. I used nail varnish but during lockdown I haven’t bothered and most of my fingernails are split, brittle and broken. They were good beforehand. Nothing to lose and possibly beautiful nails to gain. Go for it!!

    • Heather

    My oncologist said no dark toxic nail polish. I use a clear harder that is organic and an organic nail strengthening cream. Chemo attacks rapidly dividing cells, like nails and hair. It isn’t the sunlight. Icing your fingers and toes restricts blood flow. By icing you limit how much chemo is pushed through your veins near the iced area. This is the same as the method used in cold capping to reduce hair loss during chemo. Light sensitivity during chemo is for your skin. You will sunburn easily.

      • Sandy Henriquez

      Hey sorry for asking buy my sister is battling leukemia at the moment and she want to look pretty. I’m trying to figure out what would be the best nail polish to get her do you have any advice

    • Mary Jane Moore

    Try Hard as Hoof nail cream, available on Amazon. It did wonders for my splitting, flaking nails, as well as for my ragged cuticles>

    • Colin Griffiths

    Hi, I’m in chemo for prostate cancer. still in the 1st phase. Docetaxel.
    I’ve been given black nail varnish by my hospital oncology

      • Rhonda

      Second time around, new tumour type in other breast. The black nail polish was recommended at my 1st treatment last week. It’s a done deal now and sure worth a try.

    • Linda

    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.

    • JulieCC

    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!!!!

      • Andrea

      Hello! I am currently going through chemo treatments. I have had 13 rounds and still have my hair and nails. I use the COLD CAPS for my hair and have acrylic on my nails.
      FYI….I went through 12 rounds of Taxol and 1 round of AC thus far.

    • SueSue

    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.

    • Red

    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

      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!

    • Purple

    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?

    • A Nail Tech

    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.

    • Ann Isaac

    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.

    • meanjeang1

    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

      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!

    • Kathryn

    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.

    • donna

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

    • Terri

    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.

    • Wendy

    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.

    • Melissa S.

    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

      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!

    • melissa

    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

      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.

    • Angela Holdread

    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

      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!

      • Rhonda

      Me too Kathryn. Second time around, new tumour type in other breast. The nail polish was recommended at my 1st treatment last week. It’s a done deal now and sure worth a try.

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