Fungal infections of the skin and nails, which fall under the broader category of tinea, can be tough to beat, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Tea tree oil, when applied topically, is strongly supported as a way to kill the fungus that affects the toenails. But beware–you won't get instantaneous results, cautions integrative physician Dr. Andrew Weil.
Onychomycosis, or tinea unguium, is the medical term for a fungal toenail infection. This type of infection has a close relationship with tinea pedis, or athlete's foot, according to the AOCD. Your big toe is most likely to show signs of this infection, typically after an injury. Signs of a toenail infection include a yellowing nail that thickens and crumbles. Although not serious, toenail infections can be embarrassing. Weil says that you may be more likely to get this infection if you have diabetes, a compromised immune system, a prior bout with athlete's foot or if your feet sweat a lot.
Tea tree oil, derived from the leaves of the Australian Melaleuca alternifolia evergreen, has antibacterial and antifungal properties, according to the University of Michigan Health System. As a complementary therapy, tea tree oil may be used in treatment of burns, as well as in surgical and dental settings. The health system states that tea tree oil is commonly used topically for for minor cuts and burns, acne lesions, vaginitis (yeast infections), as well as athlete's foot and fungal nail infections.
How to Use
To treat toenail fungus, Weil advises painting tea tree oil on the infected nail twice a day. The University of Michigan Health System states that when used topically, tea tree oil is generally safe even when used daily. However, some people are sensitive to the oil and develop an allergic rash. The health system advises testing a small bit of the oil on your skin if you're concerned that you may be sensitive to it.
Toenail fungus is slow to resolve. Weil notes that the toenail needs to grow out completely before the fungus that causes the infection completely resolves. He advises a home treatment plan that involves painting the nail with the oil for at least two months. However, you may not completely get rid of the fungus for a year.
Toenail infections are prone to reoccur in certain adults, cautions the AOCD. This is largely a genetic condition in which their body doesn't acknowledge the fungus as an unhealthy intruder. Prevention is important after a nail infection clears up. Keep your feet clean and dry, advises the AOCD. Avoid walking barefoot in damp public areas, such as indoor swimming pools and changing rooms. Make sure your shoes aren't too tight, and consider wearing open-toed footwear or shoes made of breathable material, such as leather.