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Decolorized Iodine for Treating Nail Fungus

Home remedies for treating nail fungus are less expensive than most prescription options. Decolorized ("white") iodine is a popular option!

Nail fungus is one of those conditions that usually trouble patients (or possibly their spouses) more than they bother doctors. Before there were modern medicines for treating nail fungus, doctors often advised most patients simply to live with it as a cosmetic problem. Now there are quite a few pricey prescriptions for nail fungus including efinaconazole (Jublia) or tavaborole (Kerydin), but the cure rate is not tremendously impressive on any of them. Treating nail fungus with inexpensive home remedies can be surprisingly effective.

Treating Nail Fungus with Home Remedies:

Q. I found decolorized iodine works remarkably well for toenail fungus. Applied to the top of the nail and around the cuticle, it dries quickly and does not stain stockings or bedding. Cost: about $2.50.

I used it five times a week starting out. After the nail was once again normal, I started using it about once a week for maintenance and prevention. I don’t want ugly toenails ever again.

A. Iodine has broad-spectrum antibacterial activity that has been recognized since the early 19th century. It also is active against yeast, mold, viruses and fungi. Readers have reported that iodine can be effective against warts as well as nail fungus.

A Brief History of Iodine:

We can thank Napoleon for the discovery of iodine. His role was indirect, though. You may remember that Napoleon was ambitious. He wanted to dominate Europe. The Napoleonic wars lasted, off and on, from 1803 until 1815. The French were fighting Britain, Sweden, Russia, Naples, Prussia, Sicily, Austria, Portugal, Spain and a few countries we have probably forgotten.

In 1811 France was desperate for gunpowder. The army was running out because of a lack of one essential ingredient, saltpeter. Saltpeter or “nitre” was known chemically as calcium nitrate and in those days it was mined from dirt and shipped to France in boats. France could no longer access nitrate because the country was hemmed in by the British navy.

A French chemist (Bernard Courtois) was tasked with the job of making saltpeter within France. A key ingredient in the process was “soda.” Courtois extracted this chemical from seaweed (kelp) by burning it. The resulting seaweed ash, when treated with sulfuric acid by Courtois, turned into a distinctive purple vapor. The Greek name for the color was ioeides (iodine in English).

By the mid-19th century, iodine was widely used in medicine. Doctors prescribed it in pills, topically in baths or in tinctures, in soaps, cigarettes, creams, ointments and even in suppositories. During the Civil War doctors applied tincture of iodine to wounds. Today, Betadine Surgical Scrub (7.5% povidone iodine) is often applied to skin prior to surgery to reduce the risk of postoperative infection.

Drawback to Tincture of Iodine:

Tincture of iodine stains the skin and nails brown, which is why people often prefer decolorized iodine. Here are some comments from visitors to this website about using colorless iodine in the fight against nail fungus:

Holly was patient (a key factor in fighting fungus):

“I just wanted to report back to this site, since I did try the “Iodides Tincture” (Decolorized Iodine) for my toe nail fungus. I found the tincture at Walgreens.com and applied it (generously – with a cotton swab) daily for a month, then 2x weekly for the remainder of the year.

“I was careful to apply to all areas of the nail – and underneath what nails pieces were there. Some additional tips: file, scrub, and clip on and around the nail to get as much ‘debris’ away and allow the medicine to work.

“It meant that I could not fake nice nails by sanding then polishing. I had to cut away as much of the nail as I could, and leave unpolished, AND expose my nails for others to see. (Opened toed sandals help them get fresh air.)

“I had to live with not-so-pretty nails for a long twelve months – but it was WELL worth it. A full year later…I now have TEN HEALTHY TOE NAILS and could not be more pleased with the results!”

CR says that once a day is necessary for treating nail fungus:

“Try applying iodine directly to toes once a day. Only thing that worked for my husband.”

Ron says he sees results after a month:

“I have been using decolorized iodine three or four times a week for the past four weeks. It appears to have arrested and begun to reverse the progress of my toenail fungus.”

ET says it is working and his doctor agrees:

“I read in The Peoples Pharmacy about Decolorized Iodine for getting rid of toenail fungus. I have been putting it on a big toe twice a day for several weeks. It is growing out ‘clean.’

“I still have about 2/3 of the nail to go. Showed my GP the toe and asked if he had ever heard of using decolorized Iodine. He said it works for him.”

Ruth says “polishing” her nails with iodine really works:

“Try decolorized iodine. I bought it at CVS. ‘Polish’ your nails and the skin around them twice a day. I’ve been doing this for about a month and my nails are stronger and don’t break as much.”

Georgine says decolorized iodine is inexpensive!

“Whatever became of the good old fashioned use of decolorized iodine for nail fungus? It’s inexpensive and really works. You may have to order online for the decolorized version, but it’s still less than $10.”

We did some searching online and agree with Georgine. We found a bottle of Decolorized Iodine from CVS for $7.59 and a bottle from Rite Aid for $6.79. Humco Decolorized Iodides Tincture was $12.18 for 2 oz from Amazon. De La Cruz Decolorized Iodine Tincture was $15.49 for two 1 oz bottles from Amazon.

Mari provides a lot of details about decolorized iodine:

“I’ve had toenail fungus for several years. I tried Vicks VapoRub topically, but maybe didn’t do it often enough. A few months ago I heard someone call into a National Public Radio program, Dr Zorba on Your Health, thanking the doctor for recommending Decolorized Iodine as a remedy for toenail fungus.

“I bought some. It was inexpensive! No soaking in liquids or greasy salves. I used it about 5 times a week before I put my socks on. I applied it to all the toes at the top and around the cuticle with the little stick applicator in the cap of the bottle. It’s not messy or greasy, dries quickly, doesn’t discolor sheets or socks.

“I had nail polish on my toes for the last couple of months and wasn’t as faithful about applying the iodine–so didn’t know until the last time I cut my toenails that the fungus was gone. The last of the thickened nail was clipped off and the rest of the nail looked completely normal–so I think I will continue using the decolorized iodine once a week or so just as a precaution so that none of the nails have fungus problems again.”

We discuss this and many other remedies for nail fungus in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. You may also find our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies a valuable addition to your library. Here is a link to our bookstore.

Final Words About Treating Nail Fungus:

We have one other explanation for why iodine might work so well against toenail “fungus.” The problem may not be fungus at all, but rather a bacterial infection. Or, it may be a combination of bacteria and fungi infecting the nail bed. Many people report that Neosporin antibiotic ointment is surprisingly effective. Read more at this link!

Iodine has both antibacterial and antifungal activity. That may be why it works so well.

Share your own story below in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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