Toenails may appear to have little purpose, but they play an important role. Made from keratin — the same protein that makes up your skin and hair — your nails protect the soft tissue beneath them and keep the tips of your toes safe.
Occasionally, due to trauma, infection, or other scenarios, you might lose a toenail (or fingernail). The good news is that nails grow back. It can take up to 6 months for fingernails to grow back and up to 18 months for toenails to regrow.
Here’s a look at the stages of nail regrowth, including next steps if you lose a nail.
Both toenails and fingernails grow slowly, with toenails taking longer to regrow.
On average, it can take up to 18 months for a toenail to completely regrow, and about 4 to 6 months for a fingernail to grow back.
The reason fingernails grow faster isn’t fully understood. But according to one theory, fingers receive more blood flow because they’re used more often, which likely contributes to faster fingernail growth.
Although it can take months for nails to grow back, the rate of regrowth can be faster or slower depending on the scenario, as shown in the following table.
|Scenario||Regrowth timeline (for fingernails and toenails)|
|after trauma||6 months to 2 years|
|after fungus||12 to 18 months|
|after medical removal||up to 18 months|
|after psoriasis||6 months or longer|
Stubbing your toe or dropping an item on your foot can damage your toenail. Depending on the severity of the injury, your toenail might turn black and fall off.
Toenail regrowth tends to be slower after an injury or trauma, taking anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
Toenails are susceptible to fungal infections because fungus thrives in warm, wet environments. Shoes and socks provide the perfect condition for fungus to grow.
Toenail fungus is contagious, too, so it can transfer to your nail after visiting a nail salon or if you walk barefoot in a locker room.
Symptoms of toenail fungus include yellow or dark discoloration, brittleness, and thickening of nails. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription products can treat nail fungus, but it can take 12 to 18 months for the fungus to grow out.
After medical removal
Surgical removal of a nail might be necessary with severe fungus, recurrent ingrown toenails, or when a large section of a nail is diseased or damaged. After medical removal, it can take up to 18 months for a nail to fully regrow.
Psoriasis is a condition that causes itchy, scaly patches on your skin — it can also affect your nails. Symptoms of nail psoriasis include:
- nail pits
- blood under your nails
- nail separation
Medications used to treat psoriasis (corticosteroids and biologics) and topical steroids might improve nail appearance. It can take 6 months or longer for your nail to grow out.
Other factors that affect regrowth
Other factors affect the speed of regrowth. For example, nails tend to grow slower in older adults and in colder climates. Nails grow faster in the summer.
In addition, nails on a dominant hand tend to grow faster than nails on a nondominant hand.
It’s also been noted that trauma or an injury increases the rate of regrowth, due to an increase of blood flow to the injured area.
Overall health also has an impact on growth. Nail growth can slow down if you’re sick or malnourished. And since hormones affect regrowth, your toenails and fingernails might grow quicker during pregnancy.
Nails grow from underneath your skin at the matrix, which is the root of your nail.
New cells form in the matrix. And as these new cells grow, older cells move up and push through your skin. The cells on the surface die and harden, turning into nails.
Here are tips for how to care for a damaged nail, and speed the healing process:
- Apply a cold compress for up to 20 minutes to reduce swelling and inflammation. Wrap a cloth over an ice pack before applying to your skin.
- Keep your nail elevated. This reduces blood flow to the injury, which can decrease swelling and bruising.
- Take biotin supplements. These supplements promote cell growth, and help your body metabolize protein-building amino acids, thus contributing to faster nail growth.
- Keep the wound dry and covered. The skin underneath your toenail is sensitive. Clean and dry your nail bed daily and cover it with a bandage. Change the bandage once a day.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the damaged nail to prevent infection.
- If it hasn’t already, try to keep the nail in place until it is ready to fall off. This provides extra protection to the nail bed underneath.
Nail trauma doesn’t always require medical attention. OTC anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve mild pain, and the nail will eventually grow back.
You should call a doctor for hard-to-treat nail fungus, nail psoriasis, and other symptoms of an infection. Symptoms of infection include:
- thickening of your nail
- change in shape
Toenails and fingernails protect your skin, but you might lose a nail due to trauma, fungus, or other reasons.
Most nails grow back, although the rate of regrowth can vary from person to person. It might take several months or a year to grow back.
If you’ve recently lost a nail, keep it clean, dry, protected, and most importantly, be patient.