Ingrown toenails can often be treated at home with DIY remedies. But for more severe or stubborn cases, you might need a professional treatment.
An ingrown toenail occurs when the side of a toenail grows into your soft flesh. Big ouch. While you might be tempted to cut that sucker out, that’s def not a good idea. But don’t worry! There’s still hope for you and your poor little tootsie.
An ingrown toenail occurs when the edges or corners of the nail grow into the skin next to the nail and break the skin. Treatments can vary from home remedies to surgeries, depending on the severity of the problem.
An ingrown toenail is a common condition, but it can be painful, causing swelling, redness, and sometimes infection. It usually affects the big toe, either on one or both sides.
People can usually treat ingrown toenails at home. However, if the pain is severe or spreading, it may be necessary to see a healthcare professional, to relieve symptoms, and prevent further complications. If a person has a badly ingrown toenail, they may need to see a foot specialist (podiatrist) for treatment.
Causes of ingrown toenails
Here are some of the causes of ingrown toenails:
- Poor foot hygiene or excessive sweating: If the skin on the toes and feet is moist and warm, there is a higher chance of developing an ingrown toenail. A fungal infection can increase the risk.
- Heredity: Ingrown toenails can run in families.
- Genetic factors: Some people are born with larger toenails.
- Toenail injury: Dropping something on the toe, kicking something hard, and other accidents can lead to ingrown toenails.
- An unusual curvature: This increases the risk that the toenail will grow into the soft tissue, causing inflammation and possible infection.
- Posture: How a person walks or stands can affect the likelihood of developing ingrown toenails.
- Footwear: Shoes and socks that crowd the toes and are too tight increase the chance of an ingrown toenail.
- Cutting the toenails too short: Not cutting straight across or cutting the edges of the toenail can encourage the surrounding skin to fold over the nail. The nail can then push into that skin and pierce it.
The symptoms of an ingrown toenail include:
- pain in response to pressure
- tender, swollen, or hard skin next to the nail
- inflamed skin at the top of the toe
- bleeding from the ingrown toenail
- white or yellow pus in the affected area
- fluid buildup in the affected area
Home remedies for ingrown toenail
Hydrogen peroxide soak
An infection can turn an ingrown toenail from an annoyance to an ugh, ew, why?! situation. Hydrogen peroxide and iodine soaks can help reduce your risk.
But FYI: You shouldn’t wash your feet in pure hydrogen peroxide. Instead, dilute it in water. Here’s how you do it:
- Get a large plastic basin or foot bath.
- Combine 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 3 parts warm water.
- Soak your foot for up to 15 minutes.
It might sting at first, but this should subside after a minute or two. If it really hurts, take your foot out ASAP and run some cool water over it.
Toe braces are basically tiny shin guards for your toenails. Cute, right? They work by keeping the nail edges raised. This helps to un-ingrow (we’re making that a word) the toenail as it grows. It also puts a protective barrier between sensitive toe skin and sharp toenail edges.
They’re usually made of a thin composite material that has an adhesive side to help them stay in place. But you might also want to use a gentle foot powder to absorb moisture. Toes can get pretty sweaty, after all.
OTC pain relievers
An OTC pain reliever can ease discomfort and reduce swelling in most mild ingrown toenail cases. But as anyone who’s ever stubbed their toe can tell you, toes have a lot of nerves in them.
If OTC pain relievers aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to talk with a healthcare professional (more on that in a minute).
Comfortable shoes and socks
Get those Crocs out, fam. It’s their time to shine.
As decreed by science, tight footwear is one of the leading causes of ingrown toenails. Switching to comfy socks and roomy shoes can help slow the development of an existing ingrown toenail.
But your best bet? Let those babies breathe and wear sandals or open-toed shoes that don’t squish your little piggies.
Antibiotic ointmentsOver-the-counter (OTC) antibiotic ointments can reduce your risk of a toe infection. They can also provide relief from discomfort and swelling, but research suggests they can’t speed up recovery time.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV)
Is there a ton of science to back ACV as an ingrown toenail remedy? No. But many people swear by it anyway. And there might be a reason for that!
ACV contains acetic acid, which has some pretty impressive antimicrobial properties. That means it might help treat an infected ingrown toenail. Just keep in mind that, despite the buzz, ACV is not a cure-all.
If you do wanna give it a whirl, here’s what to do:
- Fill a foot tub or large bowl with lukewarm water. Make sure it’s not too hot — that will dry out your skin.
- Add 1/4 cup of ACV to the water.
- Soak for 20 minutes.
- Rinse with water and pat dry with a clean towel.
Warm water soak
Nails are made from skin cells, so even though they’re hard, they can absorb moisture. Soaking your feet in warm, soapy water might help relieve swelling and pain from an ingrown toenail.
Any gentle soap is a good option here. However, some peeps say Epsom salts actually work better to reduce inflammation and discomfort. You can also get fancy and do a combo of bath salts and soap.
Toe protectors are available online and in some drugstores. They’re cushiony rings you put around an ingrown nail to create a barrier. Some also have medicated gels with various supposed benefits, such as nail softening.
Most are made from soft silicone or a similar material. Whether they actually work may vary, since many products are available and not all of them are designed with ingrown toenails in mind. It’s definitely worth checking out some reviews before making a purchase.
MIMI (Multi ion mask insert)
- Can be worn with any facemask and provides additional heavy-duty protection.
- Adult & Youth Sizes Available
Professional treatments for ingrown toenail
Prescription antibioticsIf you already have an infected ingrown toenail, your doc might prescribe an antibiotic. This can help ward off whatever microbe is giving you grief.
Last and certainly most dramatic, a recurring ingrown toenail — or a nail that’s past the point of no return — might need to be removed. This procedure is called nail avulsion.
To do this, a healthcare professional will inject a local anesthetic to numb the pain. Then they’ll remove any combination of your toenail border, nail bed, or middle growth plate. But don’t worry, it’ll grow back!
Healing times vary, but most folks recover in 2 to 6 weeks. During this time, you need to give your toe a lot of TLC and avoid tight shoes and strenuous activity.
How to prevent ingrown toenails
Considering how painful and infection-prone they are, preventing ingrown toenails is actually super easy. Here are a few tips:
- Use only clean tools to trim your nails (yes, you should clean your nail clippers between uses).
- Trim your toenails straight across, not at an angle.
- Don’t trim them shorter than the tip of your toe.
- Wear protective footwear, like steel toecap boots, if you’re moving heavy objects around.
- Wear shoes that fit properly. Again, loosen those laces and let those puppies have room to stretch.
When to see a doctor about an ingrown toenail
Most ingrown toenails can be treated at home. But they can become a big (toe) problem if left unchecked. Hit up a healthcare pro if you have:
- skin that’s warm to the touch or red
- chronic throbbing pain
- severe pain or discomfort
- a weird or foul smell coming from your toe
- inflammation, especially if it gets worse over a short time
You should also call a doctor if the ingrown toenail is not responding to your at-home remedies.
An ingrown toenail is a common condition that can cause pain and swelling. People can usually prevent them by maintaining hygiene and dryness on the feet. Healthcare professionals recommend following certain self-care practices, such as cutting nails correctly and wearing shoes that fit well.
However, if the pain is severe or a person has a badly ingrown toenail, they may need surgery to remove part or all of the nail to prevent further complications.