Ingrown toenails are really common, but that doesn’t take away from the pain and discomfort they cause. Ingrown toenails or onychocryptosis occurs when the edge of a toenail grows into the side of the nail bed, resulting in a painful or swollen toe. They usually develop on your big toe.
You Can Get An Ingrown Toenail If
- your toenails have been cut too short or the edges are not straight
- you wear tight socks which squeeze the skin around the nail or ill-fitting shoes which put pressure on your toe
- you have sweaty feet which make the skin around your nails soft, making it easier for the nail to grow into it or
- you’ve stubbed your toe or injured it.
Some people are (unfortunately!) just born with nails that are naturally fan-shaped and tend to grow downward.1
Make That Nail Toe The Line
If an ingrown toenail is not taken care of, the toe can get infected and start oozing pus. In some cases, the infection may spread into the bone.
If your toe has become infected, or you have nerve damage in the foot or leg, poor circulation of blood to your foot, or diabetes, you need to see a doctor right away – it’s not advisable for you to try and treat an ingrown toenail at home as there’s a chance of complications. When an ingrown toenail doesn’t heal or keeps growing back, your doctor might remove the part of your nail that has skin growing over it (partial nail avulsion) or use a chemical agent or electrical current to get rid of an area from where a new nail may grow. Antibiotics might also be prescribed for an infected toe. 2
If you’re not in the at-risk category, there are several simple things you can do at home to deal with an ingrown toenail.
- Soften the skin around your toenail with some olive oil and gently push it away from the nail with a cotton bud.3
- Wet some cotton with water or antiseptic and place it under the ingrown edge of the nail. You can also place some dental floss under the nail to help it grow properly.4
- Gently massaging the skin folding over the ingrown nail as it develops can reduce pain and may help separate the skin fold from the nail.
- To prevent infection, keep your feet clean and regularly change your socks.5
- Soaking your foot in warm water three to four times a day can help reduce pain and swelling. Do take care to dry your foot afterward.6
- According to Ayurveda, people with kapha (dominated by the elements of earth and water) and vata (dominated by space and air) constitutions tend to have stronger nails and are, therefore, more likely to get ingrown toenails. Ayurveda recommends soaking an ingrown toenail in warm water and applying tea tree and neem oil under the nails to treat it.7
- Soaking your foot for about half an hour in warm water to which tinctures of St John’s wort and calendula have been added can be helpful. Do make sure that your toe is properly dried afterward.8
- Homeopathy recommends taking preparations of Hepar sulph (Hahnemann’s calcium sulfide) or silica for about two weeks to reduce inflammation due to an ingrown toenail.9
- Essential oils such as lavender and tea tree oil can also help. Blend together one drop of each oil and, using a cotton ball, dab this on the affected area at least twice a day. The essential oils will help soothe and disinfect the area. You can add two drops each of lavender and tea tree oil to a foot bath that also has one teaspoon each of Epsom salt, baking soda, and salt. Soak the toe at least twice a day in this foot bath and dry it out thoroughly.10
Thwarting An Ingrown Toenail
- Wearing shoes that are comfortable and which have sufficient room for your toes can help prevent ingrown toenails. Avoid shoes that are too loose too, especially while exercising, running, or walking.11
- Soak your feet in water to soften your nails before you trim them and use a sharp, clean nail trimmer. Don’t cut your nails too close to the skin. Instead, make sure you cut straight across the top without rounding the corners.
- Wash, thoroughly dry, and moisturize your feet every day if you are prone to ingrown toe nails. A pumice stone can be used to remove dead skin.12
|↑1, ↑2, ↑6, ↑11||Ingrown toenail, National Institute of Health.|
|↑3, ↑12||Ingrown toenail, National Health Service.|
|↑4, ↑5||Ingrown toenail, National Institute of Health.|
|↑7, ↑8, ↑9||Longe, Jacqueline L. The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Cengage, 2005.|
|↑10||Worwood, Valerie Ann. Aromatherapy for the Healthy Child: More Than 300 Natural, Nontoxic, and Fragrant Essential Oil Blends. New World Library, 2000.|