Natural Ways to Treat an Ingrown Nail

An ingrown nail is a common condition that can turn into a painful infection. Here are ways to treat it and avoid it in the future.

Top view of a foot resting on white sheets with an inflamed toe

An ingrown nail develops when the edges of the nail grow into the surrounding skin, causing swelling, redness, and pain. As the nail cuts into the skin, this can further create an opportunity for bacteria or other pathogens to enter the broken skin and cause a full-blown infection.

This condition, also known as onychocryptus or unguis incarnatus, usually develops on your fingers or toes. While ingrown nails can affect anyone, teenagers, athletes, the elderly, and diabetics are more likely to develop this condition.

Causes and Symptoms of an Ingrown Nail

Several things can cause your nail to dig into your skin, leading to an ingrown nail: 

  • Cutting the nail too short, at an angle, or in a curved line, causing the nail to dig into exposed skin.  
  • Wearing shoes that don’t fit well, resulting in crowding of the toes.  
  • Excessive sweating not followed by proper hygiene and ventilation. The extra moisture softens the skin around the nail, making it easier for the nail to break into the skin.  
  • Biting your fingernails, causing a jagged and uneven nail edge. 
  • A hard bump or other repetitive trauma on the toes due to high-impact physical activities such as running or football. 
  • Anatomical abnormalities that make it more likely for ingrown nails to develop. 

When you have an ingrown nail, you’ll notice one or more of the symptoms below, depending on the severity: 

  • Flesh around the nail is swollen, with a feeling of heightened pressure due to swelling. 
  • Redness, warmth, and pain at the site of the ingrown nail, indicating inflammation. 
  • Pus forming just underneath the inflamed skin, indicating the presence of pathogens in the broken skin, and therefore an infection. 

Ingrown Nail Home Treatment

Top view of feet soaking in a small tub of water
Soaking your ingrown nail in warm water helps relieve pressure from the swelling and draw out pus.

Fortunately, most ingrown nail cases will resolve with some home treatment. Soak the infected area in a soothing bucket of warm water a few times a day. You may add some Epsom salt or soap in the warm water. After soaking, ensure that the area is clean, dry, and well ventilated. Consider toe separators and wear sandals until the swelling and infection subside. 

If infected, apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the area with a sterile bandage. Take over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to get some pain relief. Your physician may also prescribe antibiotics in the case of a bacterial infection. 

Natural Remedies

Winter melon cooked in brown sugar water in a pot
Boiled winter melon can help remedy inflammation and infection from an ingrown nail.

The feet hold a very important place in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as they reflect and affect the health of other parts of the body. If you have an infected ingrown toenail, it is essential to attend to this blockage to restore the flow of blood and qi (vital life energy) throughout the body. 

Yunnan Baiyao for bleeding and infections

One of the most well-known TCM formulations for treating injuries associated with bleeding is Yunnan Baiyao, which can be applied topically and taken internally for ingrown nails.

While the exact formulation remains a guarded proprietary blend, about 40% of the formulation consists of panax notoginseng, which is often used in TCM to stop bleeding and disperse blood stasis. Several studies have shown that this formulation has an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-ulcerative effect.

Honey products for wound management

Traditional medicine uses honey bee products such as honey, propolis, and royal jelly for both health and therapeutic purposes for a long time.

In TCM, honey is classified as a tonic with a neutral profile of being neither warm nor cool/cold, with the ability to disperse and eliminate toxins of the skin. The efficacy of honey products applied topically for wound healing is well documented.

Winter melon for dispersing heat 

Inflammation and infection, especially of the kind associated with ingrown nails, usually indicate an excess of heat in the body.

In TCM, the winter melon or Dong Gua has a cooling profile and helps with relieving the infection caused by ingrown nails. The vegetable is a popular summertime food. You can make this into soups or a winter melon drink with brown sugar to help clear body heat and improve skin health. Other traditional medicine cultures also recognise winter melon for its health benefits as well, offering anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer benefits, among others. 

An ingrown nail is a common condition that can progress into a painful infection if left untreated. Fortunately, you can expedite healing both externally and internally with a combination of home and TCM remedies. Once your ingrown nail has healed, remember to cut it straight across to encourage proper nail growth and prevent future occurrence. 

This is an adaptation of an article, “趾甲 (Nail) ”, which first appeared on Health123 website.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Ingrown Toenails.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]. 
  2. Informed Health. 2018. Ingrown Toenail Treatment.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]. 
  3. Pacific College of Health and Science. 2021. Healthy Body, Healthy Sole – Foot Health and Chinese Medicine.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]. 
  4. International Journal of Medical Sciences. 2019. Yunnan Baiyao reduces hospital-acquired pressure ulcers via suppressing virulence gene expression and biofilm formation of Staphylococcus aureus.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]. 
  5. International Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2019. Yunnan Baiyao is effective in the treatment of stage3 Onychocryptosis.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]. 
  6. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2017. Honey, Propolis, and Royal Jelly: A Comprehensive Review of Their Biological Actions and Health Benefits.  [Accessed 22 November 2021] 
  7. Molecules. 2021. Bioactives from Bee Products and Accompanying Extracellular Vesicles as Novel Bioactive Components for Wound Healing.  [Accessed 22 November 2021] 
  8. International Journal of Engineering & Technology. 2018. Therapeutic Benefits of Commercially Available Gourd Family in Improvement and Sustainability of Human Health.  [Accessed 22 November 2021]  

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