Anyone who’s ever had an ingrown toenail likely knows how painful, annoying, and persistent this condition can be. While the very best way to treat an ingrown toenail is to see your general practitioner or a specialist like a podiatrist, there are steps you can take by yourself at home to ease the pain or even eliminate the ingrown nail entirely — just make sure to keep an eye on your toe after your home treatment and contact a medical profession at the first sign of trouble. All you’ll need to begin are a few basic tools (like tweezers and a nail file), soap, and water!
Removing Ingrown Nails
Clean the area thoroughly before beginning. With any sort of procedure or treatment where there’s a risk of irritating or cutting the skin, infection is a concern. However, it’s especially important to protect against infection when dealing with an ingrown toenail for several reasons. If you have an ingrown toenail, there’s a good chance that the skin around it is already likely tight, irritated and inflamed already, making it vulnerable to infection from the get-go. In addition, the skin around toenails is often kept in dark, semi-moist environments all day — the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. For these reasons, it’s extra-important to clean your toenail before beginning.
To clean your toe, try soaking it in warm water, gently rubbing in antibacterial soap, and rinsing. Use gentle pressure if your toe is painfully sore.
You’ll also want to make sure to clean any tools you use to touch the areas around and underneath your toenail. Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is a good choice here.
Expose the nail edge with tweezers. Using a clean, sterile pair of tweezers, lift the edge of your toenail away from the flesh it has grown into. You may need to pull back the skin on the side of your toe with one hand to be able to reach the ingrown part of the nail. Pull the nail material away from the toe as far as you can comfortably.
Handle your tweezers with care — the last thing you want to do is to accidentally poke or jab the sensitive underside of the nail. In addition to being really painful, this can cause your toe to get inflamed and swell up, making your work more difficult.
Carefully place sterile cotton under the nail. Gently slip a small amount of clean, sterile cotton under the ingrown edge of the nail. Don’t force the cotton into the space under the center of the nail ‐ just place it under the effected edge to prop it up. Gently release your hold on the toenail with the tweezers. The nail edge should rest somewhat comfortably on the cotton.
This home remedy is very similar to a common form of treatment that doctors often use to treat ingrown nails. The cotton supports the toenail, allowing it to gradually grow over the top of the skin as it normally would.
Clean your toe and change the cotton frequently (about once per day is usually enough unless you sweat heavily) to avoid infection.
If needed, clip excess nail material. Sometimes, a nail is so ingrown that it’s very painful or outright impossible to insert cotton under it. In this case, it may be necessary to remove some nail material. If you can, use a small pair of nail clippers to remove material from the edge of the nail that is biting into your skin. This should relieve some of the pressure that the nail is putting on the flesh of your toe, lessening the pain and irritation. Try to make a smooth cut — you don’t want to leave a sharp corner, which can catch on your skin as the nail re-grows and lead to another ingrown situation.
Alternatively, use a file to abrade the underside of the nail. Another way to remove excess nail material is to use a file — try picking the smallest, skinniest one you can, as it will need to fit next to or under your nail. Slide the file into the gap between the tight skin and the nail edge. Gently rub against the nail to abrade it. Stop once the pressure against the skin of the toe has been relieved and the tight feeling has let up somewhat.
Though it may be hard, try not to abrade the flesh of the toe itself as this can further irritate skin that’s already inflamed.
Clear any blood away. Though your goal with the tips above is not to tear the nail away from the skin of the toe or irritate the skin further, it’s very easy to start some minor bleeding when handling a sensitive ingrown toe and/or manipulating the nail. If this happens, end your home treatment by soaking up blood with a cotton ball, gauze, or a clean rag. Rinse the toe to remove blood stains once bleeding stops, which should only take a minute or so.
When you’re done with your home treatment, clean the nail again, making sure to gently apply soap to any sore spots or areas that showed signs of bleeding. As noted above, preventing infection is a major concern for ingrown toenails.
See a doctor for any problems. While the home remedies described above may work well for non-serious ingrown toenails, they may not necessarily work for all ingrown toenails or cases that have progressed beyond a certain point. If your ingrown toenail doesn’t seem to go away or becomes worse, make an appointment with your doctor or a foot specialist as soon as you can. Medical professionals have a variety of options available for treating badly ingrown toes that ordinary people do not, including prescribing medicines and removing part of the affected nail.
Though rare, infected ingrown toenails can eventually require surgery or cause dangerous illnesses like osteomyelitis (a type of bone infection) if they’re not dealt with. While these conditions are treatable, preventing them by handling infections early with antibiotics is much easier (and cheaper) than the more drastic approaches needed to fix more serious complications. Common signs of infection include: