Toenail fungus, also called onychomycosis, is a common fungal infection of your toenail. The most noticeable symptom is a white, brown, or yellow discoloration of one or more of your 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. Luckily 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 they may cause serious side effects ranging from upset stomach and dizziness to severe skin problems and jaundice. This may be why many people try home remedies instead. Here are 10 of these popular at-home treatments.
1. Vicks VapoRub
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 Vicks VapoRub had a “positive clinical effect” in the treatment of toenail fungus. To use, apply a small amount of Vicks VapoRub to the affected area at least once a day.
2. Snakeroot extract
Snakeroot extract is an antifungal made from plants in the sunflower family. A 2008 study showed that the remedy is as effective against toenail fungus as the prescription antifungal medicine 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.
3. Tea tree oil
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. To use, paint the tea tree oil directly onto the affected nail twice daily with a cotton swab.
4. Oregano oil
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 reaction. Combining them may increase this risk.
5. Olive leaf extract
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 in capsule form. According to this review, taking one to three olive leaf capsules with meals twice daily is more effective than olive leaf salve in treating toenail fungus. Drink plenty of water throughout this treatment.
6. Ozonized oils
Ozonized oils such as olive oil and sunflower oil 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 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. To use, soak the affected foot in one part vinegar to two parts warm water for up to 20 minutes daily.
Listerine contains ingredients such as 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.
10. Change your diet
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
When to see a doctor
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.
If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system, you shouldn’t use home remedies for toenail fungus. Contact your doctor for the appropriate course of action.
The bottom line
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 little 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 prescription topical 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 and they don’t work or cause side effects, consult your doctor.