An ill-advised barefoot romp around the pool deck or even a pedicure gone wrong may be all the fungi need to gain access to the space underneath a toenail. Once there, the fungi set about their task of “mining” your nail for nutrients—and leaving it discolored, thickened, misshapen, and more.
And when you get to that point, the best case scenario involves you waiting months for a new, healthy nail to grow in and push the damaged portions out.
Want to avoid that depressing fate?
Fortunately, exercising a little caution and care can significantly reduce your risk. Here’s what NOT to do if you want to prevent fungal toenails.
Don’t Go Barefoot in Public Places
The first thing you should know about the dermatophytes that cause fungal toenails is that they just love environments that are warm, humid, and dark. The second thing you should know is that they can spread through indirect contact.
This means that places like public pools, locker rooms, gyms, shower facilities, bathrooms, etc. have an increased risk of harboring fungi—which can then be transmitted to you. When in communal areas, always wear something to protect your feet, such as sandals or shower shoes.
Don’t Wear Sweaty Shoes and Socks
Of course, “warm, humid, and dark environment” doesn’t just describe locker rooms. It’s also a pretty good description of the inside of a pair of shoes that hasn’t gotten a chance to dry out properly!
If you want to avoid making your own footwear a safe harbor for fungi, make sure you change out sweaty shoes and socks as soon as they become damp. (For socks especially, that may mean more than once per day.)
Picking fabrics that are breathable and moisture-wicking in the first place, as well as making sure they fit properly, can give you a big advantage in this regard as well.
Shoes should also be rotated, so that you don’t wear the same pair two days in a row. This gives them a minimum of 24-plus hours to dry out before you put your feet back in. For extra protection, apply some antifungal powder to your shoes each evening.
That is, don’t share socks, shoes, or footcare tools (clippers, emery board, pumice stone, etc.) with anyone else. (Don’t buy used shoes either—in addition to potentially harboring fungi, they can also irritate your feet in other ways.) If you already have a fungal infection, sterilize your tools with rubbing alcohol after each use.
As for towels, make sure they are washed after every use—even if you live alone or use your own. An infected towel can not only spread fungi from person to person, but also from one part of your body to another. Speaking of …
Don’t Ignore Fungal Skin Infections
Here’s another thing you should know about those pesky dermatophytes. The very same types of fungi that cause fungal toenails can also cause skin infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and jock itch.
If you already have one of these fungal infections somewhere on your body, it can spread to your feet and toenails through indirect contact with your hands, clothes, towels, etc.
If you develop any fungal skin infections (especially athlete’s foot) and you don’t want a much more irritating fungal nail infection, take steps to treat them as soon as possible. Most skin infections can be dealt with at home using over-the-counter topical products, but fungal toenails almost always require professional care.
Don’t Clip Your Nails Too Short …
One of the biggest mistakes people make when trimming their toenails is cutting too short and, especially, rounding the corners. This increases the risk that the nail will start to dig into the sides of the toe as it grows out, which can lead to both ingrown toenails and fungal toenails. Trust us—you don’t want either.
You should keep your toenails neatly trimmed, but also cut straight across and about even with the tip of the toe.
… But Don’t Leave Them Too Long, Either
Like we said—keep them neatly trimmed. Excessively long toenails can become constricted by, or frequently bump into, the insides of socks and shoes. This can cause them to lift up and make them vulnerable to fungal infection.
Don’t Get a Pedicure From a Spa You Don’t Trust 100%
If we told you how often people get fungal infections after a trip to the spa or nail salon, you’d be shocked. It’s extremely common—even from fully licensed facilities that meet all their state requirements.
You’re at risk if:
- Your technician cuts your cuticles too short.
- Your spa doesn’t fully sterilize equipment or tools between guests (simple UV sterilization is often not good enough).
- Polish bottles are reused for more than one guest.
- Foot baths use common piping or motors, which can harbor fungi and allow them to infect future baths even if they are drained, sterilized, and refilled after each guest.
Don’t Wait to Get Treatment
If your fungal toenails aren’t severe, aren’t particularly bothering you, or aren’t visible (because you’re keeping them hidden under socks and shoes), you might feel you can “wait them out” and delay treatment. However, we strongly recommend you do not do this.
To break it down for you:
- Fungal toenails do not get better on their own. They will only get worse.
- Home treatments (tea tree oil, foot soaks, over-the-counter topical antifungals, etc.) are almost never successful.
- The more severe your condition, the lower your odds of treatment success.
- As we said above, an active infection is always a risk to spread to other parts of your body or the people close to you.
So your best course of action is always to seek our help as soon as you notice something wrong with your toenails. We’ll get you started on an appropriate treatment course so you can get your healthy nails back as soon as possible, with the highest odds of success.