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Tell us if this sounds familiar: You just clipped your toenails and then a few weeks later, you’ve got a weird stinging pain on the edge of one of your toenails. If that’s happened to you before, you probably were dealing with an ingrown toenail.
An ingrown toenail is, for once, exactly what it sounds like: it’s when the toenail grows in such a way that it pokes into the skin surrounding the toenail, causing discomfort and some degree of pain depending on the severity.
That’s all well and good, but now that we know what the issue is, the real question is how to get rid of an ingrown toenail.
To get some expert advice, we called up Dr. Miguel Cunha, a board-certified podiatrist and the founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City. He gave us the rundown on all things ingrown toenails, including possible causes, how to prevent them in the first place and how to get rid of ingrown toenails if you already have them.
What Causes Ingrown Toenails?
There are many factors, but ultimately they boil down to two things: nature and nurture, Cunha said.
On the nature side, ingrown toenails run in some families, so if ingrown toenails are common in your family, you’re likely to develop them too. Conditions like subungual exostosis, when an extra bone develops under the nail plate, can also lead to the formation of ingrown toenails, Cunha told SPY.
On the nurture side, environmental causes, such as exercise and your footwear, can contribute to the development of ingrown toenails. “Any shoe gear that’s tight or has a narrow toe box can aggravate and lead to the formation of an ingrown toenail,” Cunha said. That’s why women frequently develop more ingrown toenails than men: Pointed shoes put the skin “between a rock and a hard place,” he added. But ingrown toenails can crop up anytime for anyone wearing ill-fitted shoes.
Physical activity or regular running can also lead to ingrown toenails because the stress and swelling can crowd the toes and put more pressure on the skin and toenail. That causes the toe to push into the shoe and the shoe to push “causing the penetration of the nail into the flesh,” Cunha explained.
Can I Prevent Ingrown Toenails? If I Already Have One, What Do I Do?
Before we dive into specific products, here’s some advice if you find you’re regularly developing ingrown toenails:
- Clip and file: The best way to prevent ingrown toenails is to regularly clip and file the nails. You want to cut straight across to avoid the nail growing into the toe and file the corners to a curve to prevent them from growing into your toe, Cunha said. If you do cut the corners too, make sure to use a nail file or emery board to smooth the edges and better contour the nail to the toe.
- Direct the toenail away from the skin: Showering can soften up your skin and nails, which presents a great opportunity to direct your toenail’s growth. Using your fingernail, swipe from the outer edge of the toe to the tip of the nail and back again to create some distance between the nail and skin. That helps give the toenail some wiggle room to grow out, Cunha said. This can help prevent the formation of ingrown toenails.
- Get better-fitting shoes: Ill-fitting shoes are a huge factor for ingrown toenails, which is why appropriately fitting shoes are a must. Cunha recommends buying shoes at the end of the evening when feet are most swollen to make sure the shoes you buy can comfortably accommodate your feet at any time. Having your feet measured over time can help too because feet do change, said Cunha. Likewise, you can opt for shoes with wide toe boxes.
- Take a load off and take care of your feet: If you’re physically active, try changing your routines up to take some pressure off your feet. That won’t help with any existing ingrown toenails, but it can help prevent them in the future.
- Don’t take matters too far into your own hands: This isn’t the time for “bathroom surgery” and cutting into the toenail, Cunha said. If you can address the ingrown toenail with clipping or a warm foot soak, try that first, but you shouldn’t be attempting anything more than a small clip to resolve symptoms. If symptoms persist after a couple of days, that’s when you should consider speaking with a doctor for a formal consultation.
- Seek medical attention: If you have pain at the base of your toe or it looks red, swollen or infected, you definitely want to go see a doctor. If you are diabetic, you want to go straight to a doctor because of the increased risk of losing your toes. Lastly, if you have peripheral neuropathy, when you don’t have feeling in your foot, that could be a medical emergency and you must seek medical attention, Cunha said.
And that pretty much covers the basics. Now, check out a few products below that can help you get rid of ingrown toenails. We based our picks on reviews, our own experiences and advice from Cunha, so you can trust they’ll work well for you.
The Best Products for Treating Ingrown Toenails
1. Xiorry Ingrown Toenail Clippers
BEST TOENAIL CLIPPERS
You need toenail clippers to prevent ingrown toenails and you need toenail clippers to get rid of ingrown toenails. No matter what, you need a good set of toenail clippers and the Xiorry Ingrown Toenail Clippers were specifically designed for the job. The slim, steel clippers are angled in such a way so as to make getting in and around the ingrown toenail easier.
2. Zizzon Nail File
BEST NAIL FILE
A stainless steel nail file will last forever and travels easily, meaning you’ll always be able to take care of your toenails before an ingrown toenail develops. The Zizzon Nail File is 7 inches long and has four different edges so you can get the degree of filing you need to keep your toenails in check.
3. Neosporin First Aid Antibiotic Ointment
An ingrown toenail hurts because it’s literally causing a wound. Even if you manage to clear the nail away on your own, you’re still going to need an antibiotic to help it heal and keep it from getting infected. Neosporin First Aid Antibiotic Ointment is the longstanding go-to for a reason. It numbs pain, keeps bacteria at bay and is available to buy everywhere.
4. Amazon Brand Solimo Epsom Salt Soak
BEST FOR A FOOT SOAK
A nice Epsom salt foot bath can do wonders to loosen up skin, soften up toenails, treat your feet and prep them for clipping. You just need a tub of water big enough to soak your feet and the Amazon Brand Solimo Epsom Salt Soak. Any Epsom salts will do, but the Solimo salts offer incredible value.
5. Brooks Men’s Adrenaline GTS 21
BEST RUNNING SHOES
Available in wide fit and extra-wide fit across sizes, the Brooks Men’s Adrenaline GTS 21 has been our top running shoe for at least two years. The wide-fit options are excellent for preventing ingrown toenails and the shoes generally have the best mix of features for comfort, breathability and support.
How To Get Rid of an Ingrown Toenail FAQ
An ingrown toenail is when the edge of a toenail starts to curve into and penetrate the skin surrounding the nail.
Family genetics can predispose people toward developing ingrown toenails. Environmental factors, like strenuous running or wearing shoes with narrow toe boxes, can also cause ingrown toenails due to crowding of toes and pressure on the toenails.
Clip and file your toenails regularly. You can also help create space between your toenail and the surrounding skin by running your fingernail through the gap while in the shower. Avoiding strenuous activity and shoes with small toe boxes will also help over time.
Once you’ve developed an ingrown toenail, you can soak your feet in warm water with Epsom salts to soften it up and attempt to clip it. Whatever the outcome, hit the area with Neosporin for some pain relief and to keep the cut from getting infected.