Ingrown toenail

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Ingrown toenails are common and happen when your nail grows into your toe. It can be painful and can cause an infection, but there are things you can do to ease the pain and to prevent them from happening.

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is when the nail grows into the skin around it. This can be very painful and is most common on the big toe, where the sides of the nail can curve and grow downwards into the toe. 

What are the symptoms of an ingrown toenail?

Key symptoms include:

  • The toenail curling into the skin around your toe

  • Hot and red skin around the nail, with some mild swelling due to inflammation

  • Hard skin around the nail

  • A painful toenail, especially when pressed

What causes an ingrown toenail?

There are many factors that can cause or increase the change of an ingrown toenail, these include:

  • Having toenails that naturally curve down into the skin more 

  • Having a nail infection or injuring the nail 

  • Cutting your toenails too short (especially at the edges)

  • Wearing shoes that are too tight and squeeze on your toes

  • Playing sports where your feet are sweaty – this can soften the skin around the nail, increasing the chance of the nail growing into the skin

How are ingrown toenails diagnosed?

For most people a pharmacist will be able to help with an ingrown toenail if you’re worried or in pain. However, in severe cases, a doctor can diagnose an ingrown toenail by asking you questions about your symptoms and prescribing the right treatment. 

How can I treat an ingrown toenail?

For mild ingrown toenails

You can usually treat an ingrown toenail yourself from home. Wear comfortable wide shoes that don’t crowd your toes. When you next cut your nails, make sure you cut straight across rather than an arch. 
Try these 5 steps to help ease a mild ingrown toenail:

  1. Soak your foot in warm salty water daily: this will help to soften the skin around the nail and keep it clean.

  2. When doing this, you may be able to use a cotton wool bud to gently push the skin covering the toenail off the nail. Start at the base of the nail and work upwards to the tip. 

  3. As the new nail starts to grow healthily over the skin and not into it, you may be able to lift the nail edge and wedge a small amount of cotton wool under it. This will help train the nail to grow flat.

  4. Dry your foot thoroughly.

  5. Replace the cotton with a fresh piece after every time you soak your foot.

If this feels like it’s working then try this for a week or so to see if the nail improves.

For more severe ingrown toenails

For a painful or infected ingrown toenail – if there is blood, pus or it’s hot to touch or has severe swelling – you may need further treatment. Common treatments include:

  • Antibiotics – these may be used for an infected ingrown toenail

  • Podiatry referral – you may be referred to a podiatrist (a foot specialist). They can remove some or all of the toenail, using a local anesthetic.

When should I speak to a doctor about an ingrown toenail?

Speak to a doctor if:

  • You think you have an infection in the skin around the toenail

  • You’re still struggling after home treatments and pharmacist advice

You have diabetes – as wounds on your feet may need a doctor’s attention


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi