Thumbnail image of: Ingrown Toenail: Illustration

Ingrown Toenail: Teen Version

What is an ingrown toenail?

An ingrown toenail is when the corner of a toenail grows into the skin around it. It causes tenderness, redness, and swelling of skin around the corner of the toenail on one of your big toes. Ingrown toenails are usually caused by tight shoes (for example, cowboy boots) or improper cutting of the toenails. They take several weeks to heal.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Soaking

    Soak your foot twice a day in warm water and antibacterial soap for 20 minutes. While the foot is soaking, massage the swollen part of the cuticle outward away from the nail.

  • Antibiotic ointment

    If your cuticle is just red and irritated, an antibiotic ointment is probably not needed. But if the cuticle becomes swollen or oozes secretions, apply an antibiotic ointment (no prescription needed) to the swollen part of the toe after soaking.

  • Cutting off the corner of the toenail

    The pain is usually caused by the corner of the toenail rubbing against the raw cuticle. Therefore, your healthcare provider will cut this corner off so that the irritated tissue can heal more easily. Your healthcare provider needs to do this only once. The main purpose of treatment is to help the nail grow over the nail cuticle rather than get stuck in it. Therefore, during soaks try to bend the corners of the nail upward. Try to slip a piece of dental floss under the corner of the nail and raise it upward. Then keep it elevated with a wedge of cotton.

  • Shoes

    Wear sandals or go barefoot as much as possible to prevent pressure on the toenail until it heals.

  • Use a cotton ball

    When you must wear closed shoes, protect the ingrown toenail as follows: If the inner edge is involved, tape a foam pad or cotton ball between the lower part of the first and second toes to keep the upper toes from touching. If the outer edge is involved, tape a foam pad or cotton ball to the outside of the ball of the lower toe to keep the toenail from touching the side of the shoe.

How can I prevent ingrown toenails?

Make sure that your shoes are not too narrow. Give away any pointed or tight shoes. After the cuticle is healed, cut the toenails straight across, leaving the corners visible. Don’t cut the nails too short. Cut the nail weekly to prevent pressure on the end of the nail, which can push the corners into the skin. Also, after every shower or bath, lift up the corners of the nail.

When should I call my healthcare provider?


  • You develop a fever.
  • A red streak spreads beyond the toe.

Call during office hours if:

  • Any pus or yellow drainage is not cleared up after 48 hours of treatment.
  • The cuticle has not totally healed in 2 weeks.
  • You have other concerns or questions.
Written by Barton D. Schmitt, MD, author of “My Child Is Sick,” American Academy of Pediatrics Books.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-05-15
Last reviewed: 2014-06-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 Barton D. Schmitt, MD. All rights reserved.

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