Everyone knows what toenails are supposed to look like: A pale, pinkish color, with pearly-white tips, growing straight. But why can toenails grow the wrong way, and what can you do to course-correct the issue? Here is everything you need to know.
So, why are my toenails growing sideways? There are actually a few reasons why toenails can grow sideways. Your toenail being ingrown is a really common cause. However, you may also be dealing with a fungus or seeing the fallout of wearing too-tight shoes. You might even have damaged your nail through trauma, have clipped them improperly. You may even have inherited them from your parents!
Not perhaps as simple as you might have been hoping.
But do not despair; I’m here to help.
By the end of this article here today, you’ll be in a much better position to identify the cause and know how to respond to get those wonky toenails to align as intended.
All you need to do is keep reading.
So, let’s begin!
Why Do My Toenails Grow Sideways?
Your toenail may be ingrown, you may have a nail fungus, your shoes may be too tight, your toenail may be damaged, you might have clipped them improperly, or you may have gotten it from your parents.
Needless to say, there are many different things that can cause your toenails to grow sideways.
It can be hard to narrow down what might be wrong because so many people have more than one of the main problems listed above.
Ingrown toenails are very common, after all.
And so are nail fungi, something nearly all adults will have at one point in their life.
Whether it’s work boots or fancy heels, tight shoes are available for everyone… which means that the problems they cause are available for everyone, too.
First, there are ingrown toenails.
This is one of the most common culprits.
You’ll know this one by the redness and pain around the sides of the toe in question.
Because they begin growing into the soft skin around your toenail, they may begin to veer off to the side.
And that’s what makes your nail grow sideways!
Presence Of Fungi
Fungi can also cause your nails to take a turn.
Your standard toenail fungus can do some really strange things to your nails, down to making them fall off!
So it’s no surprise when you learn that it can make them grow sideways, too.
Thankfully, standard over-the-counter antifungal treatments will usually clear that fungus up!
Stylish, pointy stiletto heels.
Hardy work boots with a steel toe.
A nice, new pair of running shoes.
This isn’t a shopping list; it’s a list of reasons your toenails might be crooked!
Wearing shoes that are too tight crowd your toes (and, thus, your toenails) together.
This overcrowding can cause your nails to grow in whatever direction they can manage.
And that isn’t often the traditional “straight.”
Have you injured your toenail at some point?
If you have, and particularly if it was bad, you might have damaged the nail itself.
This isn’t too common, but people who have injured themselves in that area should keep that in mind when trying to determine what’s going on.
You might also be clipping them incorrectly.
Think of your toenails like little bonsai trees.
The way you remove bits of it determines the direction it grows. Always be sure to clip straight across, not at an angle.
Lastly, it could be down to genetic bad luck. If one or both of your parents happen to have toenails that naturally angle off to the side, you’re likely to have that problem yourself.
You can try trimming them in a way that coaxes them to grow in the right direction, but you’ll probably never see any permanent change.
How Do You Fix An Ingrown Toenail At Home?
Start with a soak in cool or slightly warm water and Epsom salt. After using sterilized tweezers, gently lift the ingrown nail. Slide unflavored, unwaxed dental floss beneath the nail, and stop lifting it. Replace floss daily. Frequently give your feet air and check for infection.
Ingrown nails are one of the more common reasons that your nails may grow crooked.
The most common answer you’ll get when you ask about remedies is likely to be to go to the doctor.
But there’s no real need for that if you’re healthy, if you don’t have diabetes, and if the skin around the nail doesn’t look infected.
Get Your Supplies
To begin, make sure you have everything ready that you’ll need.
For the soak, you’ll need a basin big enough to submerge your toes (or your bathtub), room temperature to warm water, and Epsom salt.
This is the Epsom salt product I buy from Amazon.
For everything else, you need sterilized tweezers and plain (unflavored, unwaxed) dental floss.
You may also want to have antiseptic cream, such as Neosporin, nearby, as well.
Sanitize Your Tweezers
Before you start the next step, be sure that your tweezers are sanitized.
Otherwise, you may end up with an infection that requires a doctor’s visit.
You’ll do this by boiling, so be sure your tweezers are all metal.
Take a pot with a lid, pour in water, and add tweezers. Top with lid, and begin to heat.
Continue until it boils, and then keep it boiling for at least fifteen more minutes.
Allow the water to cool and, wearing gloves, retrieve your tweezers.
Don’t let them touch anything not sterile between the kitchen and where you’ll be tending to your toenails!
Start by soaking the infected feet.
Fill the basin or tub with water, and add Epsom salt.
The water can be either cool (straight out of the tap), room temperature, or even slightly warm.
However, if the water is hot, it could cause swelling of the skin, which will only make the situation worse.
Soak for fifteen minutes to half an hour daily until your toenail and skin are as soft as you’d prefer.
Insert Dental Floss
Make sure that you have a six-inch length of dental floss ready before you start.
Then, using your tweezers, pull up the nail that is ingrown.
It might be a bit painful, but you don’t have to pull back far.
Take the dental floss, and slide it beneath the nail using the tweezers.
If you like, you can apply your Neosporin to the floss before putting it under your nail.
Change Dental Floss Daily
This fix may take a few weeks. In the meantime, you should change out the dental floss every day or whenever it becomes soiled.
If it’s very painful but with no other signs of infection, you can change it out as little as every two days.
Whenever possible, go barefoot; it allows your feet to breathe.
But you should also keep them clean!
Clean them thoroughly every single day.
How Do I Stop My Toenail From Growing Sideways?
Seek treatment or home remedies for ingrown toenails, use an antifungal treatment, prevent fungus, change out your shoes for roomier ones, always check the shoe’s fit around the toe box, wear steel-toed boots when an injury is more likely to happen, always clip properly, or consider surgery.
Now that you have some ideas about what may be causing your crooked toenails, it’s time to move on to fixing them.
These can often work as a way to stop the sideways growth in its tracks, as well!
For most of these, the solution is pretty simple. So don’t worry; it’s something you can manage!
Preventing an ingrown toenail isn’t all that difficult.
In fact, many of these are things you should be doing, anyway, so they shouldn’t change your life too much.
You can even kill two birds with one stone here: One tip is to not wear tight shoes!
Besides that, to prevent ingrown nails, you should trim your nails the right way and protect your feet from trauma (such as hitting it on the table leg and other infuriating accidents).
But more on these shortly.
Is your problem a fungal infection of the nail? Then your best option is to get rid of the fungus altogether!
Many over-the-counter treatments work just fine for this. Here’s a good one to buy from Amazon:
- One 0.33 fluid ounce package of Kerasal Nail Renewal
- Helps reduce discoloration and thickness, as well as hydrate and exfoliate brittle nails to improve the appearance of damaged nails
- Combines the keratolytic properties of urea with hydrating propylene glycol and lactic acid to penetrate nail plates
- nail renewal formula improves nail appearance with visible results in days
- Effective for improving the appearance of nails that have been damaged
If one doesn’t do the job, don’t worry: just try a different brand.
You’ll almost certainly find something that works.
And if you don’t? You can ask your doctor!
After that, you’ll want to do your best to prevent the fungus from returning.
To do that, start by keeping your feet dry; fungi love moisture.
You should also keep them clean and trimmed. (Sensing a pattern?)
And air those puppies out!
While your lungs are a bit away from the toes, your feet need to breathe, too.
Change Your Shoes
As we mentioned when talking about ingrown nails, you should definitely change your tight-fitting shoes for something a little more comfortable.
When you’re shopping for your next pair of shoes, or pulling a pair out of the closet, make sure they’re properly fitted.
For shoes, that means that, when on and tied, you can slip a finger between the shoe and your heel.
The finger should be snug.
Boots should have an inch of space between the tips of the toes and the end of the boot.
Heels are a bit trickier, but the general consensus is that they should be snug-fitting enough that your foot doesn’t come out of them at all with each step, but not so tight that it squeezes your foot.
A roomier toe box is important in heels, too. Aim for that same one-inch space at the end.
Speaking of shoes: Steel-toed boots are a life (or, more accurately, toe) saver!
If you work or spend time doing activities that could end with something heavy falling on your toes, you should invest in a good pair.
This can prevent damage to the nails and the sideways growth that comes with it.
It will also stop you from possibly losing a few toes in an emergency.
Clip Your Nails
Clipping your nails properly is such a simple thing, but it makes an absolutely huge difference.
And a lot of people make mistakes when doing so.
For example, you don’t curve the edges around toenails as you would on fingernails, but many do.
You should also be sure to cut them straight across and remember to leave them a little longer.
Last is the most drastic solution for those unfortunate enough that crooked toenails run in the family: Surgery.
Because crooked nails are more likely to become ingrown, those who get the problem from their parents often suffer from more ingrown toenails.
If it becomes a problem, there is a small surgery that can be done. It removes a very small piece of your nail matrix.
Unlike clipping your nails, this is a permanent solution.
Getting this surgery stops the nail from growing in that very small area ever again, so your toenails are far less likely to become ingrown.
When Should You See A Doctor About A Toenail Growing Sideways?
You should go to a doctor if you are diabetic, have any other serious illness that may make open wounds on the foot dangerous, can’t cure your foot fungus, badly injured your foot (or toes, including nail), suspect infection, or are considering surgery.
Of course, there are times when you have to see a doctor about your sideways nails.
Particularly if they’re causing you certain issues, such as infections, because of an ingrown nail.
Diabetics and people with other illnesses and conditions that make it dangerous to have open wounds on their feet should call a doctor for advice here.
Because of the ramifications that could result from this (including amputation or even death), you need to get a medical professional involved, stat.
For most people, foot fungus is something that’s treated at home.
Usually, it’s successful, though it might take trying a few different brands to find one that works for you.
But, sometimes, nothing seems to do the trick.
If you’ve tried a few different over-the-counter remedies for your fungal infection, you should see a doctor.
They can prescribe you antifungal pills and stronger creams to better fight the problem.
If you’ve damaged your foot, toe, or toenail in the past, you could benefit from seeing a doctor.
They may have advice for solving some issues or preventing even more issues.
This wouldn’t be an emergency, but it’s something you should consider.
Another issue? Infection. An infected ingrown nail should be treated by a doctor.
Signs of infection include swelling, redness, heat, visible pus, oozing fluid, pain, throbbing, pressure, and a bad smell.
If that describes your nail, there’s not much you can do at home. It’s time for a trip to the doctor and some antibiotics.
Finally, there’s the surgery.
While most people will never get it, if you’ve decided it sounds good, your first stop should be a doctor.
They can discuss it with you, give you relevant information, and help you decide whether it will solve your problem.
You may even walk out of the office with a podiatrist referral, or maybe even a surgery date!
Toenails grow sideways for all sorts of different reasons, as you should now understand.
Thankfully, while the solutions and treatments do range, you should be able to get your toes to grow straighter by implementing the strategies discussed here today.
Hey – I’m Jemma – a certified nail technician and manicurist with over fifteen years of hands-on industry experience. I created AlmondNails.com to share all that I have learned about the nail industry – from the different types of manicures available, suggestions for wear, recommendations for keeping nails strong and healthy, all the way through to providing the best nail salon tips and practices.