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How to Cure Toenail Fungus

To cure toenail fungus, prescription medicines may work, but home remedies are less expensive. All require a lot of patience and persistence.

Are you embarrassed to go barefoot at the beach or even in your own backyard? This is the time of year when people often kick off their shoes to cool down. Sandals or flip-flops have become everyday wear in the summer.

The only trouble with baring your tootsies is that everyone can see your toenails. If you have a fungal infection, your nails may be thick, yellow, crumbly and misshapen. They will not be pretty. In that event, you might be wishing for a way to cure toenail fungus.

Prescriptions for Toenail Fungus:

What can be done about nail fungus? Doctors can prescribe antifungal medications to treat the condition. The most popular drugs for toenail fungus these days are topical prescription solutions such as efinaconazole (Jublia) or tavaborole (Kerydin).

One drawback of such medications is that they are not all that effective to cure toenail fungus. Daily applications for nearly a year resulted in a complete cure for 6.5 to 9.1 percent of patients using Kerydin and 15.2 to 17.8 percent of patients using Jublia.

Another is that a prescription can be quite pricey, running to hundreds of dollars a bottle. Usually a year of treatment will require multiple bottles of solution. Some insurance policies do not cover these treatments.

Physicians might choose instead to prescribe oral medicines such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or itraconazole (Sporanox). These work significantly better than placebo pills, but they must be taken for extended periods. Moreover, they may have side effects such as digestive distress, headache and susceptibility to infection (Kreijkamp-Kaspers et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 14, 2017). Liver damage is also a possible complication.

Lasers to Cure Toenail Fungus?

Dermatologists are now offering non-thermal laser treatment to cure toenail fungus (Zang, Sullivan & Shanks, Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, May 2017). While this appears to work for some patients, not all studies confirm its effectiveness (Carney et al, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Oct. 2013).  Treatment often requires more than one session and insurance may not cover the hundreds of dollars charged.

Colloidal Silver for Ugly Toenails:

Q. I was glad to read your article suggesting that some toenail infections may be more bacterial than fungal. I have been treating my left big toe for more than 10 years with every antifungal treatment imaginable (multiple laser, OTC meds, Listerine and apple cider vinegar, to name a few). It always came back.

Once I read about bacteria-infected toenails, I treated mine topically with liquid colloidal silver daily for two weeks. My toenail is growing in healthy and I can finally see improvement as the old nail grows out. I treat it again periodically, as I want to keep it healthy. What causes bacterial growth in a toenail?

A. Experts now recognize that both bacteria and fungi can infect the nail bed (Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, March 1, 2021).  Why this happens remains somewhat mysterious. Colloidal silver can be helpful as a “topical treatment for bio-film related infections” (ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, July 5, 2017).

Can Home Remedies Cure Toenail Fungus?

People who cannot afford pricey procedures or prescriptions sometimes turn to home remedies. Health professionals are usually skeptical about such unproven treatments. Even some readers are cautious, like this person:

Q. The nails on my big toes are so thick even large nail cutters do not open wide enough to trim them. I’ve tried smearing on vinegar or Vicks VapoRub with the hope that they would soften the nails enough to file them. Neither worked. What can you suggest?

A. Thick hard toenails are often caused by an underlying fungal infection. There are lots of approaches to cure toenail fungus, both prescription and OTC, but they can take many months to work. The same is true for remedies like amber Listerine and vinegar soaks or applications of Vicks VapoRub.

You may need to use a foot bath to soften nails enough to trim them. An hour or two of soaking may be required while you are treating your nails and possibly even after the healthy nails grow out.

If all else fails, a podiatrist can trim nails and offer other nail fungus treatments.

Could Neosporin Help Cure Toenail Fungus?

Q. I’ve been dealing with what I thought were fungal infections on three toes for about four years now. No matter what topical antifungal treatment I used, OTC or prescription, the nails did not improve.

I saw an article in your newsletter about bacterial nail infections. That made sense to me, since it explains why antifungals may fail.

I began using Neosporin on all three toenails. Their appearance has improved greatly. I’m seeing clear pink under the nails where there used to be cloudy white patches. For me, this is a real game changer!

A. We were surprised at first to read that some nail infections are caused by bacteria as well as fungi (Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, March 1, 2021). That could help explain why nail infections may persist despite treatment with antifungal medications. Other readers have also reported success with the antibiotic cream Neosporin.

Vicks VapoRub for Toenails:

Two of the most affordable and popular remedies involve old-fashioned OTC products. Vicks VapoRub has even been tested. A small study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (Jan-Feb, 2011) showed that 15 out of 18 participants got benefit from daily applications of Vicks to their fungus-infected toenails.

Rebecca shared her story:

“I fought toe nail fungus on my big toes for years. This has been with me for over 20 years and I began fighting it in earnest about 9 years ago. At first, I used tea tree oil twice a day for several years. My nail would look cured but then, within a few days, the fungus would show up and run over much of the nail. So I would start the whole process over again.

“Then I tried Listerine-soaking my nails for several minutes twice a day. That never worked. I guess you must soak for a longer time (which I just didn’t have the time for), or possibly this just doesn’t work on my fungus.

“Last winter I decided to try Vicks Vapor Rub. I could push the ointment under the nail twice a day. This time, I think I have really cured the fungus. I have not seen any indication that it still exists for over 3 months. But, I still keep checking and using the Vicks since I was surprised and disappointed so many times with the tea tree oil.”

Listerine for Nail Fungus:

Amber Listerine contains a number of ingredients with antifungal activity. Many readers have found that soaking their feet in a solution of white vinegar and Listerine (50/50) can cure toenail fungus. This approach requires patience, however. Eradicating fungus can take up to a year.

Serena is hopeful about this approach:

“I’ve been using the vinegar/Listerine mixture on my feet now for a month. It is working beautifully.

“I got toenail fungus from a nail salon, and have had it for over 3 years. This is the only thing that has even touched the fungus (I’ve done tea-tree oil, Vicks VapoRub, and painted some of everything on my toes religiously).

“My nail is now finally growing back normally and the fungus has turned white (from greenish-brown) and the toenail is no longer spongy. I’ll be able to wear sandals without bandaids very soon!

“Not only is Listerine/vinegar good for the toenails, but my feet have never looked better – the cracks and redness have disappeared. I soak my feet every night for 15-30 minutes. And I’m going to continue doing this until my toenails have completely grown out, at least 3 times per week.”

Other Home Remedies for Toenail Fungus:

Other remedies include soaking the feet in a mixture of cornmeal and warm water or scrubbing the nails with dandruff shampoo in the shower. Many people have found that applying hydrogen peroxide, white iodine or tea tree oil to the affected nails can help control toenail fungus. You can learn more about these and other inexpensive options from our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Kreijkamp-Kaspers S et al, "Oral antifungal medication for toenail onychomycosis." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, July 14, 2017. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010031.pub2
  • Zang K et al, "A retrospective study of non-thermal laser therapy for the treatment of toenail onychomycosis." Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, May 2017.
  • Carney C et al, "Treatment of onychomycosis using a submillisecond 1064-nm neodymium:yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Oct. 2013. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2013.04.054
  • Love E et al, "DNA sequencing to evaluate nail pathogens: An investigation into bacteria and fungi." Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, March 1, 2021. DOI: 10.7547/18-122
  • Richter K et al, "Taking the silver bullet Colloidal silver particles for the topical treatment of biofilm-related infections." ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, July 5, 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acsami.7b03672
  • Derby R et al, "Novel treatment of onychomycosis using Over-the-Counter mentholated ointment: A clinical case series." Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Jan-Feb, 2011. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3122/jabfm.2011.01.100124
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