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Try One of These 10 Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus
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You may be able to treat toenail fungus at home with certain essential oils and other products with antimicrobial and antifungal properties, like Vicks VapoRub.
Toenail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a common fungal infection of the toenail. The most noticeable symptom is a white, brown, or yellow discoloration of one or more of the toenails. It may spread and cause the nails to thicken or crack.
Sandal season or not, toenail fungus typically isn’t what you want to see when you look at your feet. There are many treatments you can try.
Prescription oral antifungals, such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or fluconazole (Diflucan), are traditionally used to treat toenail fungus. These treatments are often effective but may cause serious side effects such as upset stomach, dizziness, severe skin problems, and jaundice.
This may be why many people try home remedies instead. Here are 10 of these at-home treatments.
Vicks VapoRub is a topical ointment. Although designed for cough suppression, its active ingredients (camphor and eucalyptus oil) may help treat toenail fungus.
A 2011 study found that Vicks VapoRub had a “positive clinical effect” in treating toenail fungus.
To use, apply a small amount of Vicks VapoRub to the affected area at least once a day.
Snakeroot (Ageratina pichinchensis) extract is an antifungal made from plants in the sunflower family.
A 2008 study showed that the remedy is effective against toenail fungus as the antifungal medication ciclopirox.
For the study, snakeroot extract was applied to the affected area every third day for the first month, twice a week for the second month, and once a week for the third month.
Tea tree oil, also called melaleuca, is an essential oil with antifungal and antiseptic abilities.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health , some small-scale clinical studies showed that tea tree oil might be effective against toenail fungus.
Paint the tea tree oil directly onto the affected nail twice daily with a cotton swab.
Oregano oil contains thymol. According to a 2016 review, thymol has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
To treat toenail fungus, apply oregano oil to the affected nail twice daily with a cotton swab. Some people use oregano oil and tea tree oil together.
Both products are potent and may cause irritation or allergic reactions. Combining them may increase this risk.
An active substance in olive leaf extract, oleuropein, is thought to have antifungal, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting abilities.
You can apply olive leaf salve directly to nail fungus or ingest it in capsule form.
According to a 2012 review, taking one to three olive leaf capsules with meals twice daily is more effective than olive leaf salve in treating toenail fungus. It’s recommended that you drink plenty of water throughout this treatment.
Ozonized oils are oils like olive oil and sunflower oil that are “injected” with ozone gas.
According to a 2011 study , this type of ozone exposure in low concentrations for a short duration can then inactivate many organisms, such as fungi, yeast, and bacteria.
Another study found that ozonized sunflower oil was more effective in treating toenail fungus than the prescription topical antifungal ketoconazole (Xolegel).
To treat toenail fungus with ozonized oil, work the oil into the affected toenail twice a day.
Only anecdotal evidence exists supporting vinegar as a treatment for toenail fungus. Still, it’s a reasonably safe home remedy to try.
Soak the affected foot in one part vinegar to two parts warm water for up to 20 minutes daily.
Listerine mouthwash contains menthol, thymol, and eucalyptus, which have antibacterial and antifungal properties. This may be why it’s a popular folk remedy for toenail fungus.
Supporters of the treatment recommend soaking the affected foot in a basin of amber-colored Listerine for 30 minutes daily.
A 2009 review found that garlic has some antifungal and antimicrobial capabilities.
You may treat toenail fungus with garlic by placing chopped or crushed garlic cloves on the affected area for 30 minutes daily.
It may be better, and less smelly, to treat it from the inside out with garlic capsules. Take as directed by the manufacturer.
The link between diet and health is clear: The healthier the foods you eat, the better chance your body has to fight off conditions such as toenail fungus.
Give your body the nutrients it needs by eating:
- probiotic-rich yogurt
- enough protein to support nail regrowth
- enough iron to prevent brittle nails
- a diet rich in essential fatty acids
- foods rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as low fat dairy products
In most cases, toenail fungus is considered a cosmetic problem. Still, it may cause serious complications for some people.
If you have diabetes, toenail fungus may lead to foot ulcers or other foot problems. According to a 2012 study, chronic toenail fungus is a significant risk factor for bacterial cellulitis of the leg.
You shouldn’t use home remedies for toenail fungus if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system. Contact your doctor for the appropriate course of action.
Home remedies may be more effective than prescription medications in treating mild-to-moderate toenail fungus. Although home remedies typically have fewer side effects, there’s less scientific evidence that they work.
Many factors come into play when treating toenail fungus, such as nail penetrability, infection severity, and overall health.
Home remedies may take longer to wipe out toenail fungus than topical prescription medications or oral systemic antifungals. You may not see results for several months. Reinfection is common.
Once the infection is gone, keep your toenails dry, clean, and well-trimmed.
Severe cases of toenail fungus may cause pain and irreversible toenail damage. If you try home remedies to treat the infection that don’t work or cause side effects, consult your doctor.
Last medically reviewed on October 9, 2022
The 7 Best Toenail Fungus Treatments of 2023
Danielle Zoellner is a freelance writer with an emphasis in health and wellness. She graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia.
Jennifer Nied has written about health, fitness and wellness for over 10 years. She has a degree in magazine journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
Sarah is a freelance writer with a focus on health and wellness. She has written for publications like Women’s Health, Healthline, and Parents. She taught creative writing for five years, and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Connecticut State University.
Updated on August 05, 2022
Leah Ansell, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
Toenail fungus is a common fungal condition that often starts after a rash on the foot spreads to the nails. When mild, it looks like white and yellow spots growing under the nail beds. If left untreated, the fungus can grow severely by hardening the nails and spreading to other toes.
Reviewed & Approved
Lamisil Terbinafine Antifungal Cream treats fungus all over the body, including athlete’s foot, making it the best overall choice. The Fungi Nail Anti-Fungal Ointment is infused with five oils and makes for a budget-friendly option.
“The more severe the toenail fungus, the thicker the nail, and the more nails involved makes it that much harder to treat the nails even with effective therapies,” says Shari Lipner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine. The fungus often begins in the form of athlete’s foot between the toes or on the soles of the feet. At this stage, the fungal infection is easier to treat with over-the-counter medication, and that’s where toenail fungus treatments come in. In addition to understanding stage and severity of your toenail fungus when shopping for treatments, you should carefully assess the ingredients and the type of treatment for the fungus based on its location.
We researched dozens of toenail fungus treatments and evaluated them based on the following attributes: cost, medication forms, ingredients, and treatment areas.
What to Look for in a Toenail Fungus Treatment
Toenail fungus, if left untreated, can become a tough problem to treat and will greatly influence what medications you need. In fact, it’s best not to wait until your problem is severe before starting some kind of treatment, especially if you’re hoping to stick with OTC products.
“Toenail fungus is very hard to treat, and even under the care of a dermatologist it doesn’t always resolve,” says California-based dermatologist Caren Campbell, MD. “Given how difficult it can be to treat, it’s best to get in to see a dermatologist as soon as possible to avoid it worsening.”
Furthermore, the fungus can spread to other nails and other areas of the body, adds Dr. Campbell, another reason why early treatment is ideal. If you notice the fungus spreading, or if your toenails have become thick and yellowed, you might need either a prescription-strength product or to seek help from a board-certified dermatologist.
Dr. Lipner says toenail fungus starts as athlete’s foot: “It begins with a rash on the foot and spreads to the toenails,” she says.
Since treating athlete’s foot differs from treating toenail fungus, you’ll have to pay attention to where your problem is on your foot. Athlete’s foot can be addressed with antifungal ointments, sprays, and powders available over-the-counter, but if your fungus has moved to under the nail or the surrounding skin, says Dr. Campbell, you’ll need to focus on treating it with topical creams, ointments, and polishes, or oral medications.
Zinc undecylenate and undecylenic acid are both FDA-approved ingredients to treat toenail fungus. Also, if you seek help from a dermatologist, they will likely prescribe medications in the “azole” family. “The compound interferes with the synthesis of the fungal cell membrane,” Dr. Lipner says, which essentially kills the fungus.
One common medication in the “azole” family used to treat toenail fungus is Jublia (efinaconazole). Other medications often prescribed include the active ingredient terbinafine, which is usually prescribed as oral or topical Lamisil.
Toenail fungus treatments can come in a variety of forms, but oral, topical, and homeopathic medications are the most commonly used for treating toenail fungus.
Oral medications have been proven effective, but they take time to work.
“Lamisil also has the lowest side effect profile of the oral antifungal medications and works as a fungicidal which destroys a fungus by blocking its ability to ‘breath’ or make the oxygen molecules it needs to survive,” says Orit Markowitz, MD, founder and CEO of OptiSkin treatment center in New York City.
But there are several conditions that can make people ineligible for oral antifungal medications. The same underlying comorbidities, including chronic renal failure (with dialysis) and renal transplant, immunodeficiency, diabetes, cancer, and peripheral arterial disease that make someone more susceptible to toenail fungus also make them more at risk for side effects when taking the drugs. Speak with your doctor to ensure you can safely take an oral antifungal.
If you’re eligible for oral drugs, however, you may want to take a multi-pronged approach: “I prefer to do orals and topicals if patients really want a chance at a cure, since it is so difficult to treat nail fungus,” says Dr. Campbell.
You also might want to opt for an oral medication if more than one nail is affected.
“[You] might use [Lamisil] if there are multiple nails involved,” says Michelle Henry, MD, founder of Skin & Aesthetics Surgery of Manhattan, “because oral treatment is significantly more effective in clearing the fungus.”
Topical treatments (like amorolfine and ciclopirox) can help with minor toenail fungus. They cause fewer and less serious side effects. But, it’s difficult for them to penetrate the nail plate so treatment is longer and efficacy is low.
“Azole antifungals like Jublia inhibit fungal elements involved in the biosynthesis of critical fungal elements like fungal cell membranes,” says Dr. Markowitz. She adds that, “topical therapies can be effective, but require lengthy and costly regimens without an established method for predicting outcome.” It could mean daily topical treatments for 52 weeks.
Natural preventative measures can be effective, but once fungus sets in, your best bet is a research-backed and FDA approved oral antifungal. Garlic has antifungal properties, and when used in a footbath can provide some relief.
“Given that topical prescription remedies take at least one year of daily use to work in only two thirds of mild to moderate cases, it is difficult to recommend an off-label natural remedy treatment,” says Dr. Markowitz.
You could also try tea tree oil in conjunction with other more traditional treatments, says Dr. Henry, or even white vinegar: “I often recommend white vinegar soaks: patients [put] a quarter cup of white vinegar in a bowl and soak the toenail once or twice a day.”
A complete cure can take as long as 18 months; while you wait, Dr. Campbell suggests washing your socks in hot water to prevent reinfection and using antifungal powders, like Zeosorb, in your shoes. Keep in mind that for fungal nail infections, a cure is not achieved at all in 20 to 25 percent of treated patients.
“I’ve always counseled patients that even oral medications [only] work approximately 60% of the time, so it’s oftentimes a chronic condition,” says Dr. Campbell.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should I use a toenail fungus treatment?
Antifungal medications take some time to fight the fungus. Most products recommend twice daily application for one to two weeks, but the reality is that you’ll likely need to treat the fungus for much longer than that.
“Toenails take a year to grow out,” says Dr. Campbell. “Oral treatment is usually three months, [while] topicals need to be used for 12 months.”
If you’re treating your fungus at home and nothing changes after you’ve used the product for the prescribed time, consult your doctor for treatment recommendations and next steps.
Can topical toenail fungus treatments cause irritation?
The active ingredients in most antifungal treatments are quite potent. That means they do have the power to cause burning, stinging, swelling, irritation, redness, bumps, and other irritation on the skin. If this occurs with use, consult your doctor. But, most people are able to use the antifungal creams and gels without problems and with healing, soothing effects. “Terbinafine, or lamisil, is typically well tolerated,” says Dr. Henry. “However, undecylenic acid is often included in OTC treatments [and that] can cause irritation to the skin if used improperly.”
Below, you’ll find the best toenail fungus treatments on the market today.