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Why do I get ingrown toenails?

Ever had an ingrown toenail? They’re the worst, right? So painful, so unsightly, so likely to have your mum attacking your feet with her clippers when she finds out… Ouch.

In a bid to end this pain and suffering, we asked Emma Stevenson – a podiatrist from The College Of Podiatry – for her advice on treating and avoiding ingrown toenails. Bonus: it’s probably a great excuse to buy some new shoes.

What exactly is an ingrown toenail?

“An ingrowing toenail is a nail that pierces the flesh of the toe. It can feel as if you have a splinter, be inflamed, or infected. Ingrowing toenails most commonly affect the big toe, but can affect the other toes as well.”

What are the most common causes?

“There are many genetic factors which can make you prone to ingrowing toenails, including posture and the way you walk. Toenails may also have a natural tendency to splay or curl out instead of growing straight, encouraging nails to grow outwards or inwards into the flesh. One of the most common causes, however, is cutting toenails too short. Other causes include tight fitting footwear and excessive moisture.”

Are they dangerous?

“Not usually, but they can be very uncomfortable and in severe cases – if left untreated – can lead to infection. It is best to see a podiatrist early and not to try and remove it yourself, which can cause more damage, and risk infection.”

How should they be treated? Can I do it myself at home?

“Our advice is to see a podiatrist as soon as you think you have an ingrowing toenail. Podiatrists have special nail clippers that can easily clip this bit of nail off for you. If you leave it too long though, and it becomes badly ingrown and infected, you may need a small operation just to remove the spike of nail. Your podiatrist can give you anaesthetic to take away the pain while they trim the nail back for you. They can show you how to avoid it happening again in the future and you should have no more problems. To relieve discomfort at home, you can bathe your foot in salt water, which can help to prevent infection. A sterile dressing can then be applied. Resting your foot as much as possible can also help.”

Is there any way to get rid of them for good?

“Cutting your nails properly will almost certainly help. It’s best to use nail nippers, rather than nail cutters, because they have a smaller cutting blade and a longer handle. Cut your nails straight across and don’t cut too low at the edge or down the side. The corner of the nail should be visible above the skin. It is better to cut your nails after a bath or shower when they are much softer. Good hygiene can go a long way to preventing ingrowing toenails. Avoid moist, soggy feet by rotating your footwear so each pair has a chance to dry out thoroughly. Avoid man-made materials (synthetics) and wear socks and shoes made of natural fibre, which fit properly. Keep your feet clean and dry, and in the summer try to wear open-toed sandals to let air get to your toes as much as possible.”


Image: Katie Edmunds

For more information about foot health and to find a podiatrist near you, visit

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