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How to Treat an Ingrown Nail: The Dos and Don'ts of Dealing With One

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Mar 23, 2023

How to Treat an Ingrown Nail: The Dos and Don'ts of Dealing With One

Ingrown toenails can be painful and irritating. Here is everything you need to know about how to treat an ingrown nail.

What Causes an Ingrown Nail?

An ingrown nail may be due to one or a combination of the following reasons:


Some people may have ingrown nails because it is congenital. The nail might naturally be too big for the toe or finger, causing an ingrown without a particular cause.

Some people may also naturally have nails that curve more than others. That can make them more susceptible to ingrown nails. 


Trauma to the nail, such as stubbing your toe or getting your finger pressed on, can lead to an ingrown nail. 

Improperly sized footwear

Wearing shoes or socks that are too short or too tight can cause ingrown nails. Overly tight footwear adds more pressure to your toes, causing the nail to abnormally grow into your nail bed.

Wearing loose shoes 

People who often jog, play sports, run, etc. while wearing tight shoes may notice that they frequently get ingrown toenails. 

Improper Grooming

Many people cut their nails so it tapers to a semi-circle, mimicking the shape of the toes or fingers. However, most people would recommend that you do not do this. Cutting nails into a rounded shape can lead to ingrown nails. The nail’s sides tend to curl down then dig into your skin, causing an ingrown.

Therefore, it is advised to cut the nails straight across. Try to make your nails not too short. This applies to the toenails, and not so much for the fingernails. Most people can cut their fingernails in different shapes without getting an ingrown nail.

Repeated Activity

Certain activities that apply pressure to your nails can cause ingrown nails. For instance, kicking a ball frequently can make your toenails much more likely to develop an ingrown nail.

how to treat an ingrown nail

Complications of Ingrown Nails

If an ingrown toenail goes untreated, you may experience some of the following complications:

Bone Infection

An ingrown nail can leave your body more exposed to bacteria and germs, making it very susceptible to a bone infection. While it may be rare, it is a possible cause, especially if the nail goes untreated for an extended period.


As stated above, ingrown nails can make the area more susceptible to infection. The complications can become more severe if the person has diabetes. Diabetes can damage nerves and cause poor circulation. It can also delay the healing process if you have wounds.

Therefore, if the ingrown nail cuts into the skin, it would take longer to heal and it raises the chances of developing an infection. 


How to Treat Ingrown Nails


For more minor cases of ingrown toenails, a doctor may simply place cotton under the nail’s edge. The cotton will separate the overlying skin from the nail. Eventually, the nail should grow over the skin’s edge, so it can be trimmed and shortened appropriately. 

Ideally, you would want to keep the cotton dry and replace it as needed. Using wet cotton could invite more bacteria into the affected area.

Soak your feet

To avoid infection and relieve pain, you may soak the infected nail for 20 minutes in warm salt water. You can do this 2-3 times in one day.

Keep in mind that you should not rely on this tip as the only way on how to treat an ingrown nail. You should always consult a doctor, especially if it is infected and painful.


You may need to see a foot specialist (podiatrist) if you have a severely ingrown nail or frequently get ingrown nails. In many cases, the foot specialist may suggest a treatment plan involving surgery to get rid of the problem.

There are different kinds of surgical procedures. For instance, a doctor may suggest partial nail removal if only one part of the nail digs into the skin.

Partial nail removal surgery is one of the main ways how to treat an ingrown nail. A doctor will also likely apply phenol to prevent the nail from growing back into the skin.

If your nails are rather thick and curve into the nail bed, then your doctor might suggest total and permanent nail removal. The procedure is called matrixectomy.

Key Takeaways

Ingrown nails can be painful and may lead to complications. While you can learn some of the way how to treat an ingrown nail, it is still advised to consult a doctor especially for more painful and complicated cases.

Learn more about Nail Care here.


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Martha Juco, MD


Written by Ruby Anne Hornillos · Updated Mar 23, 2023

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