If you are one of the approximately 5%-25% of the general population who has suffered
from the common but annoying, unsightly and sometimes painful symptoms of toenail fungus, you know that common treatments can often be ineffective, costly and temporary. While most toe and fungal conditions are mild and may not require treatment, some conditions are more severe, chronic, contagious and carry possible risk factors that should be treated and monitored more closely.
Common treatments to fight toe fungus may include oral or topical anti-fungal drugs, such as Terbinafine or Fluconazole, medicated polishes or surgical nail removal in more severe cases. These treatments can cause many side effects, including allergic reactions, weight gain, liver damage, heart problems, gastrointestinal disorders and trouble breathing, just to name a few.
But if you would prefer to treat your condition more gently and naturally, herbal medicine offers many alternative remedies, including essential oils, that may best suit your needs and diagnosis to fight fungal infection.
Table of Contents
What is Toenail Fungus?
Onychomycosis or tinea unguium, more commonly known as nail fungus, is a condition where fungi become overgrown and infect the toenail, causing it to become discolored, thick or brittle in mild cases and painful or hardened in more severe cases. It can begin as a yellow or white spot underneath the tip of the nail bed and will become more severely discolored as the fungus spreads. Toenail fungus may occasionally, but rarely affect multiple nails. Unfortunately, even if properly treated, the fungus can and does often recur.
This condition is considered to be contagious in most instances.
When should you seek treatment?
If the infection has become painful, it does not go away, or if you have any of the following risk factors, you should seek treatment for toenail fungus as soon as possible.
- Circulation issues
- Down’s syndrome
- Immune disorder
- Psoriasis or other skin conditions
The most severe cases can cause permanent damage to the nail or to the toe and may spread to other areas of the body where more serious infections such as cellulitis or other bacterial infections may occur, so it is always best to treat the toenail fungal infection while it is still minor.
What are the Symptoms and Causes?
- Ragged, brittle or crumbling nail
- Nail that is misshapen
- Discoloration of the nail, usually yellow or with white spots, especially on the tip
- Thick or hardened nail that becomes difficult to cut or file
- A dull or even a dark, greyish color, where fungal debris has developed
- Pain and possible inflammation in the toes
- The presence of a slightly foul odor
- Separation of the nail from the nail bed (onycholysis)
Toenail fungus is usually caused by a dermatophyte fungus, but can also be caused by mold or yeast fungi. Microscopic fungi thrive in damp, warm conditions, such as showers, within closed-toe shoes, sweaty socks and swimming pools. Therefore, it is important to keep feet as dry as possible, wear breathable material, and avoid germs by cleansing the foot area regularly. Since fungi can easily permeate the skin, it is important to treat open wounds or cuts promptly and cover them with a protective bandage. Toes are especially vulnerable to fungus, because they are often contained within shoes, where fungi can easily grow under moist, warm and dark conditions. Toes also have less circulation than other extremities, which prevents your immune system from identifying and targeting the infection before it can spread.
Top Essential Oils for Toenail Fungus
This aromatic oil contains a high concentration of euganol, an antifungal chemical component with excellent abilities in taking out dermatophytic fungi, such as athlete’s foot, Candida and toenail fungus. Cinnamon oil is an excellent choice in preventing the spread and growth of fungus, due to its antimicrobial and antifungal agents. For a very powerful remedy, mix cinnamon oil with clove oil, which is another essential oil containing a high concentration of euganol. Be sure to buy pure, high-quality cinnamon and clove oils, if using, for the most effective cure. You may apply a concentration of 2% diluted oil directly to the affected toe.
This citrus fruit contains antiseptic and antifungal components that can help to prevent growth of toenail fungus. Lemon is a cost-effective, readily-available and very simple natural treatment option. For a simple home remedy, just apply freshly-squeezed lemon juice onto the nail, soak for at least thirty minutes, and then rinse in warm water.
3. Oregano Oil
This potent essential oil is known for its antifungal and antimicrobial properties. This ancient herb has been used for thousands of years to treat numerous medical conditions, including bacterial infections, sinus congestion, parasites, various skin infections and unwanted fungal growth. The oil that is extracted from Greek or Mediterranean oregano contains a high amount of thymol, which has been proven as an effective alternative to toxic antifungal drugs in treating harmful fungi such as Candida, athlete’s foot, yeast and nail fungus. Since oregano is so easy to grow, you may inexpensively make your own oregano-infused oil or you may purchase a bottle online or at specialty health food stores. As a topical ointment, mix a few drops into a base oil such as olive oil or coconut oil and blot onto the affected nail with a cotton ball. Apply several times daily, but be sure that the oregano oil is well-diluted, as higher concentrations can cause adverse skin reactions.
4. Lavender Oil
Another effective essential oil to try in the treatment of mild toenail fungus is lavender. This soothing and pleasantly fragrant oil is best used as a topical treatment overnight. Just put a few drops of lavender oil directly onto the infected nail before bed and allow it to permeate the nail and skin as you sleep. For best results, cover the treated feet with soft socks made of purely natural fibers, such as cotton or wool. To prevent the infection from recurring, be sure to continue this treatment for several weeks, even if the symptoms appear to be gone.
5. Tea Tree Oil
One of the best and quickest home remedies for killing fungus around the toenails is tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca. This powerful fungicide has many healing properties, and works fast against onychomycosis. Apply tea tree oil directly to the clean, infected toe area and let it soak for at least ten minutes. After soaking, scrub the nail with a soft brush. If applying to skin, you should dilute with an equal part of a carrier oil, such as olive or almond oil. Perform this treatment once per day for at least three weeks or until the healthy, uninfected new nail has completely grown out.
Alternative Natural Remedies
Snakeroot extract, also called Black Cohosh, is an antifungal fluid made from plants in the sunflower family. A 2008 study of 110 subjects showed that this herbal remedy was as effective against toenail fungus as the prescription antifungal medicine ciclopirox olamine, a synthetic antifungal medication. Apply topically to the affected toenail twice per week using a cotton swab during the first month. Once you see an improvement, you may reduce usage to once per week.
Coconut oil contains caprylic acid, a fatty acid that is able to destroy the protective outer wall of Candida and other fungus cells, causing the cell to dissolve and thereby stopping the infection. Since coconut oil is an effective skin treatment, it can be applied liberally when used as an antifungal treatment as well. To use, simply rub a thin layer onto the affected area and soak for at least fifteen minutes. There is no need to rinse.
Corn contains a naturally-occurring fungus that will fight against other fungi, including Candida. The fungus found in corn is harmless to humans. Organic cornmeal is a convenient and viable method to derive the beneficial properties of corn to treat toenail fungus. Mix one cup of cornmeal and two quarts of water. Allow the cornmeal to sit and absorb the water for at least one hour prior to treatment. Once the cornmeal has soaked, cover the affected foot in the mixture and rest for at least thirty minutes. For best results, perform this treatment at least once per week or up to once daily as needed.
Apple Cider Vinegar
By now, you have probably heard of the seemingly endless benefits of taking organic, raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar for health benefits and home remedies. Its remedies include arthritis treatment, a weight loss aid, a liver detoxifier and a regulator of blood sugar. Apple cider vinegar’s benefits are largely due to its abundance of beneficial bacteria and raw enzymes, so it should be no surprise that it can also be used as a natural antifungal treatment. As a foot soak, mix one part vinegar, one part Epsom salts and six parts warm water. Soak feet for 30 minutes twice daily. To take orally, mix two tablespoons of vinegar with one cup warm water. You may add honey to sweeten, if desired.
Baking Soda with Sodium Borate
The alkaline properties of baking soda basically suffocate toenail fungus, since fungus survives best within an acidic environment. The application of baking soda will therefore prevent fungus from spreading. The addition of the highly effective fungicide sodium borate, which is a natural mineral more commonly known as borax, forms a powerful remedy when mixed with baking soda to quickly kill toenail fungus. As a topical paste, mix one part baking soda with one part sodium borate powder and add water until mixture becomes a spreadable paste. First, wet feet, then rub the paste mixture onto the affected nail area. Perform this routine twice daily and fungus should be cleared within two weeks.
If your system is lacking the healthy and beneficial micro-flora that it needs, you may be experiencing an overgrowth of fungi, including that which causes toenail fungus. Taking an active probiotic supplement may help to balance the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, thus thwarting the growth of parasitic microbes and fungi. Most probiotic supplements contain lactobacillus bacteria, which has been shown to demonstrate poisonous properties against some fungal infections, such as Candida. When selecting a probiotic supplement, look for those with little to no artificial additives and no sugar, as these ingredients may actually promote harmful fungal growth.
Olive Leaf Extract
The active substance oleuropein that is found in olive leaf extract is another excellent option to take out toenail fungus. Derived from the olive tree (Olea Europea), this detoxifying, antibacterial and antiviral extract has had positive results in killing Candida. Olive leaf extract should be taken orally in liquid or powder form. It can also be consumed as a tea. When taken orally as a supplement, it naturally improves immune function as well as circulation, which may decrease susceptibility to infections, including fungus. Olive leaf extract has also demonstrated an ability to cure toenail infection, preventing recurring instances. Take daily as a supplement for continued maintenance.
Natural home remedies can be great alternatives to modern, synthetic medicinal treatments. These herbal and natural methods can provide relief without the inconvenience of a doctor’s prescription or the harmful side effects of prescription drugs. Please keep in mind that natural treatments may take longer to take effect than their synthetic counterparts, so you should consider your level of urgency in attaining relief before beginning any of the recommendations contained in this article.
Severe cases may result in the destruction of the toenail, they may spread to become more serious secondary infections or they can cause serious discomfort. These cases may require more immediate and urgent care under a physician’s diagnosis and supervision.