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.
Here are eight ingrown toenail remedies to try at home, plus a couple of treatments you’ll need to talk with a doctor about.
The 10 best ways to treat an ingrown toenail are:
- Warm water soak
- Apple cider vinegar
- Antibiotic ointments
- Comfortable shoes and socks
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- Toe brace
- Hydrogen peroxide soak
- Toe protector
- Prescription antibiotics
- Toenail removal
Here are the deets on each.
1. 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. Ooh la la!
2. 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.
3. Antibiotic ointments
Over-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.
4. 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.
5. 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).
6. Toe brace
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.
7. 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.
8. Toe protector
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.
1. Prescription antibiotics
If you already have an infected ingrown toenail, your doc might prescribe an antibiotic. This can help ward off whatever microbe is giving you grief.
2. Toenail removal
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.
The big toe is most susceptible to ingrowing, but any toenail can become ingrown.
The most common causes are:
- cutting your toenails too short
- cutting toenails at an angle and allowing them to grow
- trauma to the toenail (which can happen if you drop something heavy on your toes or stub your toe — ouchie! 😩)
- footwear that doesn’t fit properly, such as shoes that are too tight or very pointy
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.
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:
- chronic throbbing pain
- severe pain or discomfort
- skin that’s warm to the touch or red
- 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.
Ingrown toenails are a common problem that can happen when a toenail grows into the skin that surrounds it. Most times, this happens on the big toe.
Ingrown toenails are usually not a huge issue, but they can cause complications if left untreated. They come with a high risk of infection and may require antibiotics. If they become too ingrown, portions (or all) of the toenails may need to be surgically removed.
Many home remedies may be helpful to treat an ingrown toenail in its early stages. If you have any doubts, it’s best to err on the side of caution and consult a healthcare pro.