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How to cut an ingrown toenail quickly and painlessly

If you’ve ever experienced ingrown toenails before, you know they can be pretty painful, especially if you have to wear close-toed shoes. An ingrown toenail is when the corner of your nail curves inward, growing underneath the skin’s surface. It can happen on any toe, but, usually you’ll find it on your big toe. Ingrown toenails can cause redness and swelling near the area, so you’ll want to take steps to prevent and treat them as soon as you can.

Ingrown toenails happen to both genders and are common if you wear close-toed shoes regularly, do not cut your toenails properly, or aren’t wearing properly fitted shoes. Most people will treat them right away because they can be painful, but they can also cause an infection if not treated properly. Most of the time, you can treat ingrown toenails yourself, and learning how to cut toenails properly can go a long way to avoiding them in the future.

bandaged toe

How to cut an ingrown toenail

If it’s not a severely ingrown nail, it should be easily treatable. First, disinfect any instruments you’ll be using, including nail clippers, tweezers, cuticle sticks, and other tools with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to avoid any bacteria getting under the nail. Next, soak your foot in warm water for 10 to 15 minutes to soften the nail and surrounding skin. Dry your toes thoroughly and massage the skin around the nail (this may be a bit painful).

Gently lift the edge of the toenail with tweezers or a nail file. If there is room, you can slide a piece of cotton under the nail. This will help the nail to grow in a different direction and not burrow under the skin further. You should notice after a week or so that the nail is growing enough that you can cut the edge so it doesn’t regrow under the nailbed.

ingrown toenail
Doro Guzenda/Shutterstock

Preventing an ingrown toenail

The best way to prevent ingrown nails is to wear properly fitted shoes and avoid socks that are too tight. A shoe store or podiatrist can measure your foot and determine the correct size shoe you should be wearing. When trimming your toenails, cut them straight across in line with the tip of your toe, which will help prevent the nail from curling.

If you have to wear close-toed shoes while your ingrown nail is healing, there are protectors you can buy that will cover the entire toe to relieve pain.

This doesn’t mean you can avoid ingrown nails altogether. Sometimes, if you stub your toe or drop something on it, or if you run or cycle as an activity, ingrown toenails can develop. It’s impossible to avoid these situations altogether, but if you can catch the ingrown nail early, it should heal fairly quickly.


Once you’ve treated your ingrown toenail, the area may be sensitive to the touch. You can take OTC pain medication as needed (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc.) and use an antibiotic cream to the area to prevent infection. Make sure to keep the area clean and dry, and wear open-toed shoes until the area heals, which will help with pain management and prevent excessive rubbing on the area.

If you experience any severe pain, swelling, or redness, reach out to your primary care physician immediately, as it may be the result of an infection that may need to be treated. “If an ingrown toenail causes a break in the skin, bacteria can enter and cause an infection, which will make it even more painful. A red, swollen, hot, and very painful ingrown toenail is probably infected,” podiatrist Georgeanne Botek, DPM, told the Cleveland Clinic.

Most ingrown toenails won’t take longer than a week or two to treat at home. In the meantime, if you can avoid close-toed shoes or heels that can compress your toenails, and you cut your toenails correctly, you won’t likely suffer from ingrown nails in your life and can go about your day pain-free. The occurrence of ingrown nails do run in families, so even these steps may not protect you 100% from getting ingrown nails. The earlier you can find and treat the nail, the better off you will be.

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