Now that we’ve entered sandal season and are getting reacquainted with our bare feet, the issue of unsightly and painful ingrown toenails feels especially pertinent. Ingrowns occur when the corner of the nail (usually on the big toe) begins to grow into the skin, causing inflammation, pain, and potentially infection. As podiatrist Dr. Ernest L. Isaacson says, “If you think you have an ingrown nail, you’re probably right.”
According to Dr. Cary Zinkin, a podiatrist and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, there are four main causes of ingrown toenails: footwear that’s too tight, trauma to the toe (like badly stubbing it), improper trimming, and heredity. The first three can be prevented, but there are some people who are just prone to ingrowns “because of the shape of the nail root and the way the skin goes around it,” Zinkin says. In those cases, he recommends seeing a podiatrist for a simple procedure in which part of the nail is removed to prevent further ingrowns.
Zinkin also advises anyone with diabetes or poor circulation to see a podiatrist if they have an ingrown toenail, because it could quickly progress to a dangerous infection. As podiatrist Dr. Krista Archer explains, if the ingrown is left untreated, “the sharp edge of the nail can pierce the skin and form a small hole through which bacteria enters, causing an infection.” Healthy people without signs of infection (like redness, heat, swelling, or odor), however, can take care of ingrown toenails at home — and the products below, chosen by five podiatrists and pedicurists, can help.
Zinkin recommends soaking your foot in Epsom salt and warm water at the first sign of a minor ingrown toenail, in order to soften the skin so that you can “reach that little area [of the nail] that’s pressing in and trim it out.” So does Marcela Correa, a licensed medical pedicurist and the owner of Medi Pedi NYC, who suggests “soaking the feet in Epsom salt for at least 15 to 20 minutes twice daily for the inflammation” until the swelling has gone down and your skin is soft enough for you to safely clip the nail.
Both Correa and Juan Ortiz, medical pedicurist at Aida Bicaj spa, love the Brazilian-made Mundial nippers for trimming the corner of a nail that’s growing into the skin. Ortiz says he’s been using the tool “for years because of its quality and precision.” You can also use it to preventatively clip your toenails to stop ingrowns from forming in the first place. When it comes to preventative clipping, Isaacson recommends “trimming the nail straight across and keeping it short.”
Once you’ve soaked and clipped your nail, Zinkin says the next step is to apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin to prevent an infection. “As clean as you may be, toenails inherently have bacteria around them,” making them naturally prone to infection, he explains.
If the skin around the nail still feels tough after soaking, or if a callus has developed as a result of the ingrown toenail, Correa suggests using this nail softener. She says that its active ingredient, chamomile-derived bisabolol, “helps to alleviate the redness and discomfort associated with ingrown nails. It also softens hard nails and helps to prevent nails from growing inward.”
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