How to Get Rid of an Ingrown Fingernail

Of all the words of wisdom you've heard from friends and family over the years, you've probably been warned at least once to avoid footwear that squishes your toes together, no matter how stylish those pointed toe flats of the 2000s were — sorry. After all, forcing your digits into a crowded space in the name of fashion could cause a grody ingrown nail.

And while that guidance rings true, no one likely told you that your toes aren’t the only place you can develop ingrown nails. While less common than ingrown toenails, ingrown fingernails can happen, and it’s something to be mindful of, particularly when it comes to manicures, says Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. So what causes them, and how do you treat an ingrown fingernail so it never comes back? Here, pros break it down.

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Ingrown Fingernail Symptoms and Causes

An ingrown nail is exactly what it sounds like: A nail plate that has curved downward and grown into the skin bordering the side of the nail, says Dr. Garshick. “When that happens, it can trigger inflammation because your body is reacting to something being there that normally shouldn't be, so it can lead to redness and swelling,” she says. “And the longer it goes on, the more painful it can be.”

If bacteria gets into the wound, such as through repetitive exposure to wet, unclean environments (think: washing the dishes), it’s possible to develop an infection, adds Melanie Palm, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Art of Skin MD in San Diego, California. In turn, the inflamed area might start weeping or releasing pus, according to an article published by the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.

Ingrown fingernails can happen without cause (rude!), but in many cases, they're caused by improper nail trimming, explains Dr. Garshick. Cutting the nail too short, such as removing the entire distal edge (the white part of the fingernail tip), can cause trauma to the nail, and this injury can make it more likely to grow into the skin rather than straight out, says Dr. Garshick. Similarly, rounding the nail's edges when trimming, rather than cutting them straight across, can potentially increase the chance the nail grows back a bit crooked, she adds. (

Folks who are constantly working with their hands or washing them frequently may also be more likely to develop ingrown fingernails, as the skin itself may be more irritated and inflamed than normal, says Dr. Garshick. “If the skin itself is more swollen, it can sort of go into the path that the nail wants to grow, and that can also cause an ingrown fingernail,” she explains. “So it can be the nail growing into the skin, or the skin kind of getting into the way of the nail growing.” (

How to Get Rid of an Ingrown Fingernail

Some ingrown fingernails may resolve on their own, but even just the initial swelling around the nail can oftentimes become uncomfortable and make it difficult to carry out your typical day-to-day activities, says Dr. Garshick. So if you can’t type on your keyboard without wincing, take it as a sign to book an appointment with your derm. “It’s generally best if you are experiencing any discomfort to just see a professional,” she explains. “They may not necessarily say you need to cut it or do something of that nature, but they may recommend an antibiotic ointment, a vinegar soak, or some kind of way to prevent any type of infection in the area.” And by getting on top of your condition early, you’ll also “decrease the chance of surrounding tissues, skin, or the nail permanently growing back abnormally,” adds Dr. Palm.

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Another reason to visit your doc: What you're dealing with may not truly be an ingrown fingernail, but rather paronychia, says Dr. Garshick. Paronychia is a skin infection around the nails, often caused by bacteria or yeast, and just as with ingrown fingernails, can result in redness and swelling, she explains. “Sometimes it can be a result of an ingrown nail, or sometimes the ingrown nail can result from the paronychia,” she says.

Regardless, there are a few other instances in which you’ll want to see your doc ASAP, such as when a pus pocket has developed on the affected area or its weeping fluid, says Dr. Garshick. “Those would definitely be reasons to see the dermatologist because that can certainly be a cause for concern of infection and something that would need to be addressed, either with draining or antibiotics,” she says. Folks with diabetes should also get their ingrown fingernail checked out early, says Dr. Palm. This is because diabetes is linked with poor blood circulation, which slows down healing time for wounds (such as ingrown nails) and may increase the risk of developing an infection, according to UCLA Health. (

In-Office Ingrown Fingernail Treatments

How your doctor treats your ingrown fingernail all depends on the severity. When a nail is just slightly ingrown (meaning there’s redness and pain, but no pus), your provider may gently lift the edge of the nail and place cotton or a splint under it, which separates the nail from the skin and encourages it to grow above the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. They may also suggest an antibiotic ointment to ward off any potential infections until it heals, says Dr. Garshick.

If you’re dealing with a painful ingrown fingernail with discharge, your doc may remove the nail’s lateral edge (aka the side) from the cuticle to the tip, she explains. During this procedure, called a chemical matrixectomy, your provider will place a band around your digit to restrict blood flow, numb the area, gently lift the ingrown portion out from under the skin, and cut and remove the side of the nail from tip to root, according to the Foot and Ankle Center of Arizona. They’ll then apply a chemical solution to the base of the nail (called the matrix), which prevents the nail from re-growing in that area. “We just completely remove the [affected] side,” says Dr. Garshick. “It’s minor in the sense that it’s narrow — it’s not like the whole nail comes off with that — but it’s basically helping to [prevent] the nail from even growing into that edge of the skin.”

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At-Home Ingrown Fingernail Treatments

When you’re dealing with a barely-there ingrown and are dead set on toughing it out, there are a few at-home remedies you can try, but it’s important to take a “less is more” approach, says Dr. Garshick. Applying cold compresses can help relieve the inflammation, and sliding dental floss in between the nail and the skin, after soaking your hands in warm water for 15 minutes, can help lift the ingrown edge out over time, she says. “If you continue to do that twice a day for a week or two, you’re helping to facilitate the nail to grow above the skin, so instead of growing into it, the floss kind of redirects it,” she explains. “It reminds it, ‘Okay, I should be lifting up and then growing out.'”

More importantly, don't break out your clippers. “It's often not recommended to cut your own ingrown nail because sometimes when you do so, you recreate the same issue,” she explains. “You'll be cutting it on an angle, so it can still grow back in that same direction.” Remember, if your symptoms worsen or you're experiencing any amount of discomfort, chat with your doctor about your ingrown fingernail treatment options.

How to Prevent Ingrown Fingernails

Your best bet when it comes to preventing ingrown fingernails — and all the agony they cause? Cut your nails straight across, and avoid rounding the sides or trimming them too far back, which may encourage the nail plate to grow into the skin, says Dr. Garshick. Maintaining proper nail hygiene (i.e. not picking, peeling, or biting the nails or the skin around them) is also key, as any of those acts can cause inflammation that can make you more susceptible to ingrown fingernails, she adds. And to keep any potential infection-inducing bacteria at bay, make sure to wear rubber gloves while performing tasks involving wet work, says Dr. Palm.

If you constantly wash your hands, have sensitive nails, or experience hand dermatitis or nail peeling, consider adding Vaseline (Buy It, $12 for 3, or Aquaphor Healing Ointment (Buy It, $14, to your skin-care routine to fend off ingrown fingernails. “This will help continue to keep the skin around and on the nail plate itself strong and healthy,” says Dr. Garshick. “I would say as long as you can get it in once or twice a day, that’s great, so [applying] at bedtime is perfect.” Besides, if slathering on hydrating lotion and not going overboard with the nail clippers is all it takes to reduce your risk of developing a gnarly ingrown fingernail, it’s well worth the routine change.

— Update: 06-01-2023 — found an additional article 7 Ingrown Fingernail Treatments To Try at Home from the website for the keyword how to fix an ingrown finger nail.

Ingrown nails aren’t just a toenail thing, sometimes they can occur on your fingernails as well.

While ingrown fingernails are less common than an ingrown toenail, they can be just as annoying and painful.

Ingrown fingernails can occur if:

  • There is an injury to the nail
  • Nail growth is too slow
  • Nail growth is too fast
  • Trimming nail incorrectly
  • Biting your nails
  • There is a fungal infection

Luckily, most ingrown fingernails can be safely and effectively treated at home without a doctor’s visit and be gone after 5 or so days.

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However, if you are diabetic, the ingrown fingernail doesn’t go away after about a week, or there is significant pain, redness, swelling, pus, or fever, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Below we'll discuss 7 ingrown fingernail treatments you can try at home.

1. Warm water soak

Soak the affected fingernail in warm water for 15-20 minutes.

You can do this 3-4 times daily to help with pain and swelling in the area.

You can add other additives into the warm water soak including:

Epsom salt – For pain and inflammation

Tea tree oil – For its antibacterial and antifungal properties

Hydrogen peroxide – To help prevent infection

2. Lifting the nail

Wedging a little bit of a cotton gauze or cotton ball underneath the affected nail will slightly separate the nail from the skin and hopefully, help the nail grow out properly.

Start by soaking the nail to make it softer, then roll the cotton into a long tube shape and barely wedge it under the nail.

The placement may be a little uncomfortable, or you might need someone to help place the cotton.

Lifting of the nail can also normally be done at the doctor’s office if you are not able to or do not want to do it yourself.

3. Pain relievers

For the first few days, the ingrown fingernail might be painful or very tender to the touch.

Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help you feel more comfortable as the ingrown fingernail runs its course.

4. Antibiotic creams

To help prevent the ingrown fingernail from getting infected you can use a Q-tip to apply an over-the-counter antibiotic cream or ointment to the area.

These creams can normally be found at any pharmacy over the counter and include triple antibiotic ointments, bacitracin, neomycin, or Neosporin.

You can usually apply these multiple times daily, but follow the instructions on the package.

5. Surgical nail removal

For more severe ingrown fingernails, your doctor may recommend the removal of part or all of the nail.

This is done in the office, and once the embedded nail is removed it should regrow properly.

Keep an eye on the nail while it is regrowing to ensure it is not becoming ingrown again.

6. Abscess drainage

If the ingrown nail has become infected it may form an abscess full of pus or liquid that needs to be drained.

Your doctor may perform a draining of the abscess in the office.

You should not attempt to drain an abscess at home for the risk of worsening the infection.

7. Treating the fungus

If you continue getting ingrown fingernails due to the nail having a fungus, you will need to treat the fungus to help prevent these recurrent ingrown nails.

Nail fungus is often more difficult to treat than fungal infections of the skin, and you will likely need to meet with a doctor and as they can prescribe you an ingrown fingernail treatment to help clear the infection via a prescription.

Strut Nail Formula is a compounded medication with prescription antifungal medications blended with a powerful driving agent to get to the root of the nail fungus.

To see if prescription Strut Nail Formula is a good option for your nail fungus issues, have an Online Visit with our doctors today.


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About the Author: Tung Chi