How Podiatrists Handle Ingrown Toenails
Step 1 – Take a Soak
Fill up your tub or a large bowl with warm water, and add 1 Tbsp. of Epsom salts for every quart of water. (Andersen prefers Epsom, but says you can use table salt in a pinch.) "Soak your foot for 20 minutes twice a day," she says. "It'll draw out any fluid that might be under the nail, and Epsom salts are really soothing if you're dealing with an infection."
Step 2 – Massage It
Your skin will be pretty pliable after a good soak, so now's the time to "gently use your fingers to massage the skin back away from the nail, so the nail has room to grow over the skin," says Andersen.
Step 3 – Do the Thing You Thought You Weren't Supposed to Do
You're going to stick something underneath your nail. Take a really small piece of cotton, ball it up so that's it's firm and put it beneath the part of your nail that's growing into the skin. "Leave a little tail so you can easily take it out when you need to change it," says Andersen. "The idea is to lift the nail so it can grow up and over the skin instead of getting caught under it." Change the cotton every couple of days, or after each soak, if you prefer. Once you've placed the cotton, apply an antibiotic ointment if you think the nail is infected (you'd notice redness, swelling and warmth) and top it with a bandage.
What to Do If Your Nail Isn't Getting Better
If you're not seeing signs of improvement within a week, or it's actually getting worse, see a podiatrist. There's a very simple in-office procedure they can do to take care of the ingrown, says Andersen, which involves numbing the toe and removing a sliver of the nail itself. They'll also know how to handle infections, which can be serious if left untreated, potentially spreading to the bone. (More reason not to let the problem drag on and on.)
How to Not Get One Ever Again
The best way to avoid ingrowns is to get your clipping technique right. You want to cut straight across, says Andersen, and gently smooth out the corners so they're not sharp enough to pierce your skin. "If you cut the corners back too far, the skin grows over the edge and the nail can't grow out," she says. When you lose entire toenails (whether it's because you're wearing too-small shoes, you're a runner or tennis player or you just dropped something heavy on your toe), it's more likely to grow back funky, says Andersen, so be sure to massage the skin back as the nail grows in to give it space. Finally, anything that could thicken your nail, like a fungal infection, could lead to an ingrown, so if you've got fungus brewing, take care of it ASAP.