How to Treat an Ingrown Nail

If you've got an ingrown toenail, chances are it's an ongoing battle, both to treat it and to prevent it from coming back. Unlike many medical conditions, an ingrown toenail is often one that you can treat at home. In fact, although many doctors offer surgical solutions to ingrown toenails, conservative treatment can offer excellent relief. For example, research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1986 noted that 79 percent of patients were symptom-free after conservative treatment.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Self-Treatment Is Not for Everyone

Although for many people an ingrown toenail is easy to manage on their own, others should see a doctor rather than self-treat. If you suspect an infection has set in, or if you're unsure -- because symptoms of an ingrown toenail, such as pain, redness and swelling, can be hard to distinguish from symptoms of infection -- it's best to see your doctor for treatment. Likewise, if you have certain health conditions that make careful foot care necessary, such as diabetes, nerve damage, or poor circulation in your feet, you should see a doctor for treatment of your ingrown toenail.

The Two Goals

The two main goals in treating an ingrown toenail at home are (1) to soak and soften the area, making the tissues easier to move; and (2) to free the troublesome piece of ingrown toenail from where it's embedded in your skin.


When working on an ingrown toenail, it helps to soak your feet often -- about three or four times a day, for about 20 minutes each time. At other times, however, it's important to keep your feet dry, because dampness can encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi, making your problems worse.

Freeing the Nail

After you soak and dry your feet, it's the best time to try to loosen the ingrown portion of your toenail. You can massage the part of the skin that's inflamed, pushing it gently away from the nail, allowing you better access to the nail. Then, to loosen the embedded piece of the nail itself, you can carefully insert a piece of dental floss or a small piece of cotton under the nail. You can continue to do this until you notice that your ingrown nail is pain-free.


Once the pain of your ingrown toenail is relieved, it's easier to try to prevent a recurrence than to deal with it again. Cutting your nails straight across rather than on a curve can help; so can making sure that you've cut the nail all the way to the edge, rather than leaving a long skinny sliver at the edge -- which can easily get embedded again. Wearing comfortable shoes that aren't too tight can help prevent ingrown toenails as well. If despite your best efforts your ingrown toenail keeps coming back, ask your doctor for advice.