What Is an Ingrown Toenail and How To Prevent and Deal With It

Ingrown toenails are quite common, with 20 out of 100 people seeking help from their family doctors.

The majority of sufferers are teenagers who often mistake the issue for something else.

Several unique features can affect the development of ingrown toenails over time.

What Is an Ingrown Toenail?

An ingrown toenail is a condition wherein the side of a toenail grows into soft flesh.

It’s usually painful, red, and swollen. At times, it can cause an infection.

Types of Ingrown Toenails

When dealing with my ingrown toenail, I always want to determine which of the four types I have.

Every type of ingrown toenail isn’t the same, as per these four categories:

Distal Nail Embedding

With distal nail embedding, the nail growth is reduced because of a tissue section at the nail’s edge known as hyponychium.

Likely, distal nail embedding can occur because of congenital deformities or past nail avulsion.

Subcutaneous Ingrown Nail

I dealt with the type of ingrown toenail known as a subcutaneous ingrown nail, which is also quite common.

When the toenail grows under the skin, it can cause inflammation and pain.

This type is most often what I thought of when thinking about ingrown toenails.

Hypertrophy of Lateral Nail-Fold

With this issue, the toenail doesn’t get enough space to grow, causing it to grow inside the skin.

Typically, skin tissue will begin to grow over the toe with the ingrown toenail.

Pseudo Ingrown Toenail

Interestingly, a pseudo ingrown toenail can occur in up to two percent of newborns.

In this case, the plate of the toenail is short and grows somewhat within the skin.

On the positive side, it’s not painful.

What Causes Ingrown Toenails?

Not all ingrown toenails occur due to injury. Often, it’s because of lifestyle choices.

For example, my issue started because I cut my toenails too short, and the end of the nail began to dig into the skin.

A few other causes of toenail problems include:

  • Wearing too-tight shoes
  • Excessively sweaty feet
  • Genetic toenail growth shapes that are highly curved
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes and other diseases that cause water retention in the feet
  • Specific medications

Can Shoes Cause Ingrown Toenails?

There are plenty of foot and toe concerns that can occur from wearing ill-fitting shoes.

With ingrown toenails, any shoe that puts an excessive amount of pressure on the feet can become an issue.

If they aren’t breathable and encourage sweating, they could bring the onset of ingrown toenails.

The more the toes are pressed together with a poorly sized toe box, the more the skin will be pushed to the nail.

Unfortunately, this can lead to ingrown toenails, significantly if they have been recently trimmed.

I found that most of my tighter shoes made my symptoms worse, which is why I switched to more foot-friendly styles.

Do Steel Toe Boots Cause Ingrown Toenails?

As with any shoe, steel toe boots that aren’t appropriately sized can certainly cause ingrown toenails.

This point is especially crucial since these shoes’ toe box is unmovable due to the protective steel plate.

Another common way that toes are affected is by the steel’s hardness, especially if the toe is stubbed.

The more the toes are pressed against the shoe’s front, the more the nail is affected.

Steel Toe boots can also encourage the toes to be pressed against each other throughout the day.

As most industrial workers face anywhere from ten- to twelve-hour shifts, constant toe pressure can be a hazard.

It’s essential to consider opting for steel toe boots with a wider toe box.

Can Socks Cause Ingrown Toenails?

Often, I wondered if it would be simpler to avoid socks when dealing with consistent ingrown toenails.

It turns out that socks can cause them as well, even without shoes.

Socks can be tighter than shoes against the feet, which can also cause ingrown toenails.

It’s likely to experience tender and swollen skin, fluid build-up, and general pain with small socks.

Although socks are made from flexible fabric, the toes’ restriction from the material’s tightness is painful.

How To Prevent Ingrown Toenails

I’ve dealt with far too many ingrown toenails in my lifetime that preventative techniques are essential now.

Although I’m sure I haven’t seen the last of them, here are a few of my favorite tips to keep them at bay.

Trimming Nails Properly

I find it’s way too easy to cut my toenails too short, especially since they grow quickly.

Instead of trying to get them as short as possible, I now trim into smaller sections to find a comfortable length.

When finishing the nail with a file, I don’t curve the edges; instead, I file them straight across.

This tip is also vital when visiting salons since I always have to tell my nail technician to avoid curving my nails.

I’ve found the most comfortable length for my toenails is right at the tips of my toes, ensuring they’re even.

Find the Perfect Shoes

My whole life, I had believed that I have a specific size of shoes regardless of style.

Little did I know that I was a size nine in boots but a size ten in running shoes.

It’s essential to measure feet correctly before settling on a specific pair of shoes for everyday wear.

I even remember when I had trimmed my toenails short precisely to fit into a size that I had measured too small.

For those who are chronic sufferers of ingrown toenails, I highly recommend visiting a specialty shoe store.

Their associates can help with finding the perfect pair of shoes specifically designed for foot problems.

When shopping online, take special care to look at sizing charts since every designer is different.

For example, Puma sneakers tend to run smaller than Nike.

Check Consistently

The first signs of an ingrown toenail in my case were tenderness around the edges of the nail and redness.

By acting on the first signs, I could prevent any further damage and a trip to my doctor.

It’s important to continually inspect the toes if there are any noticeable signs of discomfort.

Best Way To Stop Ingrown Toenails Once You Get Them

Fortunately, I’ve become somewhat of an expert when it comes to stopping ingrown toenails before they get worse.

There are many different tips online to prevent them from getting worse, but my favorite method is using cotton balls.

Cotton Balls

Cotton balls are easy to find even at the dollar store, and they were one of the only options for me.

Taking a small section of cotton and placing it under the toenail allows the nail to grow on top of the cotton.

Instead of entering the skin, the nail will grow upwards, and then the cotton can be removed.

My biggest suggestion with this method is to ensure the cotton is changed regularly, especially after wearing shoes.

Otherwise, dirt and bacteria can build-up in the material, which can cause significant infections.

Foot Soaks

Softening the skin around the toes is a sure-fire way to help prevent the development of ingrown toenails.

I often fill my foot tub up to three times per day and let my feet soak for up to twenty minutes each time.

It’s a great preventative measure, especially if I’m already experiencing tenderness and swelling.

I’ll add a bath bomb or unique foot soak to moisturize the affected area for an added luxurious touch.

Antibiotic Cream

Antibiotic cream was something I was able to get prescribed from my doctor, though some are over-the-counter.

The cream’s sole purpose is to ensure that any infection-causing bacteria are removed from the ingrown nail.

I found that applying the cream after a foot soak and bandaging the toenail helped ward off harmful bacteria.

Surgery for Ingrown Toenails

If the affected toenail isn’t treated at home and gets worse, surgery might be required.

It’s essential to consult a doctor for advice and to determine what the next steps should be.

Surgery is mostly necessary for times when there are significant signs of infection or for pre-existing medical conditions.

Fortunately, the surgeries are typically outpatient and can be done using local or general anesthesia.

The most common surgical procedures for ingrown toenails are:

  • Wedge Resection

This option is the most common, as it’s the least invasive.

The doctor will remove a small part of the nail to stop it from pushing into your skin.

  • Toenail Removal

In some cases, the doctor might need to remove the toenail, although it’s not preferable.

With complete nail plate avulsion, there’s a risk the nail might grow back deformed or misshapen.

Also, it can take up to eight or more weeks for the nail to regrow.

  • Soft Tissue Removal

In situations where wedge resections failed, soft tissue removal can be a more reliable treatment.

With this procedure, the doctor will remove the soft tissue at the tip of the toe or reshape it so the nail can grow properly.

  • Matrixectomy

The most severe cases are likely to experience a matrixectomy, as it’s the most invasive.

During the procedure, the nail bed and the nail will both be removed.

When Is Surgery Needed?

My doctor advised that surgery was the only option to alleviate pain when my toenail was infected.

At the time, I hadn’t tried any of the at-home remedies to prevent the development of infections, which led to surgery.

Some of the most common symptoms doctors look for in potential surgical cases include:

  • Pus
  • Redness
  • Extreme discomfort or pain
  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Failed antibiotic treatments

Will They Remove My Ingrown Toenail During Surgery?

It’s not guaranteed that the ingrown toenail will be removed during surgery.

Often, toenail removal isn’t preferred because there’s no guarantee the nail will grow back correctly.

It can also lead to a higher prevalence of ingrown toenails in the future.

I was worried about the lengthy healing time of toenail avulsion, but fortunately, my doctor avoided it.

Instead, they provided local anesthesia, drained the infection from the surrounding tissues, and resected soft tissue around the nail.

However, in cases where complete avulsion is required, the doctor will ensure it’s quick and painless.

Footwear After Ingrown Toenail Surgery

After surgery, there are a few essential post-op instructions to be followed.

The wound will need to stay bandaged, clean, and dry.

Also, strenuous activity should be avoided to prevent excessive pressure on the nail.

With that said, open-toe sandals are the optimal choice for those recovering from toenail surgery.

Wearing shoes with a large toe box can allow for breathability and movability instead of sandals.

Sandals, such as slides, were a preferable option since they allowed the toe to breathe and stay dry.

Ingrown Toenail Casts

Ingrown toenail casts are an interesting treatment option that doesn’t require surgery.

Doctors have found that it can be slightly more effective than placing cotton under the nail to promote healing.

The procedure doesn’t require anesthesia and can be done quickly.

With cotton nail casts, a u-shaped piece of cotton is put between the inflamed tissue and the nail plate.

The cotton is then secured with cyanoacrylate liquid glue, which forces it to harden and form a cast.

Just like after surgery, the cast must be kept clean to prevent infection.

What Shoes To Wear With Ingrown Toenails

Let’s get into some of my top-rated shoe options to be worn with ingrown toenails.

Best Women’s Shoes for Ingrown Toenails

TIOSEBON Women's Athletic Walking Shoes Casual Mesh-Comfortable Work Sneakers 6.5 US Red

The casual mesh design of the TIOSEBON Athletic Walking Shoes makes it one of my favorite options.

It’s incredibly breathable and flexible, which allows the toes to move freely without restriction.

The specialized MD outsole also provides slip resistance, making the shoes safe to wear in any weather.

One of the most notable features is the anatomically engineered design.

The concept of these walking shoes is that they offer a custom fit without needing orthotics.

Also, the environmental-friendly material makes it easier to keep the toenail area clean after wearing it.

The shoes are made from lightweight synthetic materials to prevent excessive toe pressure.

Best Men’s Shoes for Ingrown Toenails

New Balance mens 623 V3 Casual Comfort Cross Trainer, White/Navy, 10.5 Wide US

If sandals aren’t an option, these cross trainers are ideal.

The New Balance 623 V3 Casual Comfort Cross Trainers provides superior comfort, thanks to its luxurious padding.

The injection-molded EVA midsole is flexible but still offers a firmness to support higher arches.

With an athletic style, the toes can move comfortably without feeling restricted, allowing for more effortless movement.

The shoes are highly durable and versatile for everyday wear or special occasions.

Also, they feature the patented ABZORB midsole cushioning for impact resistance.

With several mesh components, the breathability of the trainers is something to appreciate.

Ingrown Toenail Products

Often, treating my ingrown toenails at home was far more cost-effective and convenient.

Here are some of my favorite go-to items for preventing the nails from getting worse.

Ingrown Toenail Tool Kit

Ingrown Toenail Tool Kit (7PCS), Professional Toe Nail Clipper Set for Ingrown & Thick Nail, Stainless Steel Ingrown Toenail Kit, Surgery Grade Manicure Pedicure Tool By Dualeco

In this kit, I put all of the surgery-grade materials to use.

Each item is made from surgical-grade stainless steel, which is rust-resistant, corrosion-resistant, and easy to disinfect.

Seven individual pieces help alleviate pain and soreness, including:

  • Professional Clipper: The clipper’s 15-degree blade helps trim toenails more precisely to avoid sharp corners.
  • Corrector: With the corrector, I was able to help spread the width of my toenail to stop it from growing into the skin.
  • File: The file helped ensure my nail was straight across to prevent rounding and reduce nail thickness.
  • Nail Lifter: In instances where the nail is growing into the skin, the lifter promotes straight and healthy growth.

URIEL Advanced Treatment Ingrown Toenail Drops

URIEL Advanced Treatment Ingrown Toenail Drops

By softening the tissue around the toes, ingrown toenails become less likely.

The URIEL Advanced Treatment Ingrown Toenail Drops is an advanced treatment that doesn’t require a prescription.

The product is to be applied to the skin surrounding the toenail to soften the embedded sections.

I would then take the ingrown toenail tool kit and begin lifting the nail quickly, thanks to the softened skin.

CurveCorrect Ingrown Toenail Home Treatment

CurveCorrect Ingrown Toenail Home Treatment | Ingrown toenail correction kit, includes ten standard toenail braces.

An alternative option to manually adjusting the toenail is to opt for CurveCorrect Ingrown Toenail Home Treatment.

This product is designed to remove the pain from ingrown nails within three days.

It can fix curved toenails by lifting either side of the nail to reduce pressure.

In the kit, there’s a brace applied across the toenail, which acts like a spring to help straighten the nail.

Each of the braces can last up to six weeks.

It’s a practical option for at-home treatments that are far less invasive.

ZenToes Gel Toe Cap and Protector

ZenToes 6 Pack Gel Toe Cap and Protector - Cushions and Protects to Provide Relief from Missing or Ingrown Toenails, Corns, Blisters, Hammer Toes (Large, White)

While treating my ingrown toenails, I wanted something more accessible than bandages to keep the area sterile.

The ZenToes Gel Toe Cap and Protector was phenomenal for my big toe, as it slides on as easily as a sock.

Not only did it help keep my toe clean, but it also added protection from additional injury.

It’s as simple as it looks; all I had to do was slip the protector on and continue with my day.

I also loved how it helped keep my toe cool since the special gel softens the skin for better healing.