Toenail infections can be troubling, embarrassing, and downright painful if they become severe. Caused by a variety of pathogens, including fungi and yeasts, they are surprisingly common and are just one type of fungal foot infection – the most common being athlete’s foot. Though there are plenty of solutions on the market for fungal infections, sometimes all you need is some tried and true at-home remedies.
But firstly …
What Causes Toenail Fungus?
Toenail fungus occurs because of an overgrowth of fungi under or around the nail. Fungi are always present in our own bodies so you can get toenail fungus in one of two ways: by an overgrowth of your own fungi, or by coming into contact with someone else with an overgrowth.1
Like all fungi, toenail fungus loves to hang about (and grow) in dark, warm, moist places.
So, when you hear about people catching fungal infections from locker rooms or pool bathrooms that’s because they offer optimal conditions – with the added bonus of many people walking around barefoot. This means you can pick it up quite easily and it may then spread to more of your own toes.
Having wet toenails for extended periods of time – perhaps due to sweaty work boots or long hiking trips – can also lead to a fungal infection. As can any activity that has you coming into contact with other people’s feet – such as visiting nail salons that don’t disinfect their tools correctly. Sharing nail files and clippers can spread nail fungus if they’re not correctly sanitized.2
Toenail fungus is no different to the fungi that cause jock itch, athlete’s foot, ringworm, and yeast infections in women.3
What Does It Look Like?
Toenail fungus often appears with some kind of nail discoloration. The nail may develop a white spot. Or, it may turn slightly yellow, brown, or green. It may also appear as if there is some debris under the nail. As the infection worsens, infected nails usually become much thicker, may start to crumble, or may lift completely up from the toe.4
Who Is At Risk of Fungal Nail Infections?
Anyone can get a toenail fungus. Because fungus thrives in dark, damp places, try to avoid this type of environment. Keep your feet dry and wear shoes in shared bathrooms facilities.
However, some people are just more susceptible to developing it. You’re more likely to develop a fungal nail infection if you:
- Have ultra-dry, cracked skin on your feet
- Are already suffering from athlete’s foot
- Have a nail injury or surgery
- Suffer from diabetes
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have blood circulation problems 5
5 Effective Home Remedies
If you’re suffering from the itchy symptoms of toenail fungus (or athlete’s foot) here are some great DIY remedies that can really make a difference.
1. Tea Tree Oil
This antibacterial, antifungal essential oil is a fragrant addition to any cleansing foot soak. Also a clinically proven remedy to kill the fungus that causes athlete’s foot, tea tree oil is cooling, refreshing, and able to relieve the itching and pain commonly associated with fungal infections of the foot.6
Fight toenail fungus with 40-50 drops of organic tea tree oil for every 4-5 gallon foot soak. After cleaning and drying feet, soak them in lukewarm water plus tea tree oil to ease infections.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
This home remedy for athlete’s foot is ideal for getting into deep cracks, between toes, and under toenails, where infections can fester. To use apple cider vinegar for toenail fungus, simply pour the vinegar over the affected area to relieve inflammation and kill the fungus. Additionally, you can spritz a small amount of apple cider vinegar into the soles of close-toed shoes.
Note: Only purchase 5 percent vinegar that contains “Mother” of Vinegar – the lingering, brown, cloudy substance at the bottom of the bottle. It’s the purest and most effective form of ACV.
Ok, ok … so athlete’s foot stinks enough, right? Well, garlic may be stinky, but it is also one of the most powerful natural antibiotic substances on Earth. Able to kill off even some of the hardest-to-handle pathogens, garlic extract can be purchased in a dropper bottle for easy topical application, and even use in the kitchen. You can also purchase high-potency garlic supplements in the form of tablets or capsules.7
4. Olive Oil
Soothe the peeling, cracked, and painfully dry skin that often accompanies fungal infections of athlete’s foot with ozonated olive oil. The omega-3 and omega-6 essential fats it contains penetrate skin cells quickly, delivering ultra-hydrating moisture right where you need it most. Research shows that the olive oil compound hydroxytyrosol is also a clinically proven antifungal compound in vitro.8
5. Baking Soda
Similar to cornstarch, baking soda can be used to help absorb excess moisture inside of your shoes – a common breeding ground for bacteria and fungus, including athlete’s foot. The added antibacterial activity of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) helps to reduce the risk of a fungal toenail infection. Just sprinkle the powder inside of your shoes or socks before you start your day, and again in the afternoon to help absorb foot sweat.9
Preventing Toenail Infection
With every ailment, it’s always easier to prevent than recover. So, practice these five tips to keep your toenails, toes, and feet healthy:
- If you need to keep an extra pair of clean socks in your workplace, do it! It’s worth it to stave off those troublesome toenail fungal infections worsened by moisture.
- Trim back toenails, and always cut them straight across to avoid lingering fungus in tight places.
- Never walk barefoot in locker rooms, public pools, or showers.
- Do not share nail care products with others.
- Only visit nail salons with a state license from the cosmetology board and that use sanitized tools (they usually come in a sealed bag.)
So, if you have itchy, painful fungus growing in between your toes, on top of your feet, or under your toenails, turn to these simple home remedies above for fast relief.
Article updated: March 14, 2018
For more foot health tips, keep reading here:
5 Signs You’re Wearing Shoes Too Small
3 Flat Feet Exercises (that really help strengthen arches!)
1. www.healthline.com/health/fungal-nail-infection#causes. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2018.
2. www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/nail-fungus. 14 Mar. 2018.
3. www.kidshealth.org/en/parents/ringworm.html. 14 Mar. 2018.
4. www.nationalnailfungus.org/the-stages-of-a-nail-fungal-infection. 14 Mar. 2018.
5. Fungal Nail Infections. www.cdc.gov/fungal/nail-infections.html
6. Andrew C Satchell, Anne Saurajen. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: A randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australasian Journal of Dermatology (2002) 43, 175–178.
7. Ledezma E, Marcano K. Efficacy of ajoene in the treatment of tinea pedis: a double-blind and comparative study with terbinafine. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000 Nov;43(5 Pt 1):829-32.
8. Zoric N, Horvat I. Hydroxytyrosol expresses antifungal activity in vitro. Curr Drug Targets. 2013 Aug;14(9):992-8.
9. Drake D. Antibacterial activity of baking soda. Compend Contin Educ Dent Suppl. 1997;18(21):S17-21;quiz S46.