Introduction 

An ingrown toenail develops when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin.

The nail curls and pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender. The toe can also feel painful when pressure is placed on it.

The big toe is most likely to be affected, either on one or on both sides.

Read more about the symptoms of an ingrown toenail.

The medical name for an ingrown toenail is onychocryptosis.

What causes ingrown toenails?

There are several possible causes of an ingrown toenail, including:

  • incorrectly cut toenails
  • tight-fitting shoes, socks or tights
  • excessive sweating or poor foot hygiene
  • injury
  • nail infections
  • natural shape of the toenail

Read more about the causes of an ingrown toenail.

Treating ingrown toenails

There are several things you can do yourself to treat mild ingrown toenails and prevent them from getting worse, including:

  • practise good foot hygiene by taking care of your feet and washing them regularly using soap and water
  • trim the nail straight across to help prevent it continuing to dig into the surrounding skin
  • gently push the skin away from the nail using a cotton bud (this may be easier after using a small amount of olive oil to soften the skin)
  • wear comfortable shoes that are not too tight and provide space around your toes
  • painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to help relieve any pain (children under the age of 16 should not take aspirin)

Surgery may be recommended in cases where an ingrown toenail is more severe. This may involve either removing a section of the affected toenail or removing the whole nail.

Read more about treating an ingrown toenail.

Left untreated, an ingrown toenail can cause the toe to become infected.

When to visit your GP

If you still have an ingrown toenail after you've tried self-care treatments, see your GP or podiatrist for advice. Podiatrists are healthcare professionals who specialise in diagnosing and treating foot conditions.

Depending on how severe your ingrown toenail is, surgery might be recommended.  

It is very important you visit your GP if you have diabetes and an ingrown toenail. Having diabetes could affect the healing of your toenail, particularly if your diabetes is poorly controlled.

Read more about foot care and diabetes.

Preventing ingrown toenails

There are several measures you can take to keep your feet healthy and prevent problems developing.

For example, cut your toenails straight across, not at an angle or down the edges. Always maintain good standards of foot hygiene, including washing your feet regularly and drying them thoroughly. It is also important that your footwear fits properly and is comfortable.

Read more about preventing an ingrown toenail.

Ingrown toenail

An expert discusses the causes of ingrown toenails, how to avoid them and how a podiatrist can help.

Media last reviewed: 16/03/2013

Next review due: 16/03/2015

Who gets ingrown toenails?

Ingrown toenails can affect both men and women. They are more common in teenagers and older people.

During the teenage years, the feet tend to sweat more. This can cause the skin around the toenail to soften and split, resulting in an ingrown toenail.

Older people also sometimes get ingrown toenails because with age the nails get thicker. This can make them more difficult to cut and more likely to put pressure on the skin around the nail.

Foot care advice

Ten top tips on how to take care of your feet, including advice on preventing and treating problems

Page last reviewed: 19/11/2012

Next review due: 19/11/2014