Black toenails can be a frightening sight. Not only do they cause pain and embarrassment, but they show that there is ‘something’ severely wrong with the toenail (and the nail bed). If your toenail is turning black, it’s vital that you find out why this is the case right away.
One of the main reasons for the discoloration is black toenail fungus. It can create significant problems if it isn’t treated quickly. But, there are symptoms that you should look out for to determine why your toenail is turning black. You can then decide what to do.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your big toe or pinky toe, a nail that turns black needs to be treated immediately. The good news is that many of the potential causes can be addressed. Your black toenail treatment depends on the reason for the underlying problem. If you have a black fungus under the toenail, there are a choice of treatments to consider. But, you do need to rule out other nail conditions first!
So, what are the causes of a black toenail? Some of the reasons are harmless and may eventually clear up on their own. What you should keep in mind, though, is that toenail fungus will never go away without a medical solution. You need a toenail fungus treatment that works. It will take diligence and time to clear up, but the infection can be removed entirely from your nails.
Knowing those differences will help you determine if it is a fungus, injury (trauma) or health problem. So, let’s get started.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Does It Mean When Your Toenails Turn Black?
- 1.1 1] Trauma or Injury to the Nail
- 1.2 2] Melanoma
- 1.3 3] Skin Tone/Pigmentation
- 1.4 4] Other Health Conditions
- 1.5 5] Do I Have Black Toenail Fungus?
- 1.5.1 Is Black Toenail Fungus Dangerous?
- 1.5.2 Is Toenail Fungus Contagious?
- 1.5.3 How to Treat a Black Toenail
- 1.5.4 Home Remedies for Black Toenails
- 1.5.5 How Quickly Do Treatments Work?
- 1.5.6 How to Cover Black Toenails
- 1.6 Can Black Toenails Be Prevented?
- 1.7 Should I Be Worried That My Toenail is Turning Black?
- 1.8 Read Our Latest Posts:
What Does It Mean When Your Toenails Turn Black?
This guide will cover the things that can lead to your toenail turning black. We’ll also go over what you can do to resolve each of these problems. The primary focus, though, will be on toenail fungus and the underlying symptoms.
Before that, we’ll explore the other ‘possible’ reasons for a black toenail and what can be done to recover. Once you’ve ruled out these explanations, you should treat the condition as a fungus. We’ll provide in-depth information on fungal conditions and answer your main questions.
1] Trauma or Injury to the Nail
There are two types of trauma your toenails:
a] Repetitive Trauma
This occurs when someone wears shoes that don’t fit right. If your shoes are overly tight, it can create constant pressure each time that you take a step. Think about your toes ‘jamming’ against the inside of the shoe with every step you take.
Not only can it be uncomfortable, but it can lead to a whole host of problems. You may even experience a blood blister underneath the nail, which can lead to a black toenail with pain. This results in injury called runner’s toe. It occurs most frequently among athletes or runners. But, it can happen to almost anyone. If you have a job that causes you to walk around a lot during the day, you could be prone to this type of injury.
b] Blunt Force Trauma
This is a one-time injury. You can’t always protect your toes from accidents. Blunt force trauma to the toes usually occurs when something heavy is dropped on the toe, or you bang your toe on a hard object. Your body will react almost instantly, so you’ll be aware that something is wrong.
If the object is hard, it will cause the blood vessels in your nail bed to break. This will result in blood under the nail. In severe cases, the blood can build up so much under the toenail that the entire toe can become swollen. A doctor or podiatrist may need to drain the blood away.
It’s rare, but sometimes you can get a melanoma underneath the toenail. This is a form of skin cancer and can become aggressive. The most evident symptom of this condition comes in the form of dark patches of skin. Sometimes, this can occur underneath the toenail. If your toenail is black but doesn’t hurt, it could be a sign and should be monitored closely.
Unfortunately, melanoma grows slowly and doesn’t usually have any other symptoms. So, it can be hard to recognize in the early stages, especially under the nail. But, if you let it go for too long cancer will have a chance to progress and become worse.
The best thing you can do is to pay close attention to your toenails. If you have any sudden discoloration or dark patches underneath them, consult with your doctor. They’ll perform some tests and provide you with an accurate diagnosis.
3] Skin Tone/Pigmentation
Sometimes, discoloration or darkening of the nail can be nothing more than changes to your skin pigmentation. Remember that there is skin underneath the nail. It can change color just as easily as anywhere else on your body.
The pigmentation of your skin can change over time. It may happen slowly, so it can be harder to recognize. But, the skin underneath your toenail is no exception to these changes. A shift in pigmentation can happen to anyone, but it occurs more frequently in people of color.
How can you tell if what you’re experiencing is just a change in your skin tone? One of the main tell-tale signs is to look at your fingernails. If you’re starting to see the same sort of discoloration, it’s likely just a change in pigmentation.
These changes are also usually symmetrical. For example, if you’re experiencing discoloration on one big toe, you’ll probably see the same thing on your other big toe. In rare cases, these changes can be malignant, but they are usually harmless. If you still aren’t sure whether you’re experiencing changes in skin tone or something more severe like melanoma, get the nail change checked by your doctor or podiatrist.
4] Other Health Conditions
There are conditions to be aware of that may contribute to your toenail turning black.
Some of the most common conditions include:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
Each health problem has other symptoms. If you already know that you’re dealing with one of these issues, the best thing to do is continue treating it. If an underlying condition is causing your toe to turn black at the cuticle, you have to address the issue itself before treating the toe.
When you have specific conditions like diabetes, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to your toes. People with diabetes often have poor foot circulation. You may not notice foot conditions until they become severe and harder to treat. By paying attention to your toes, you should be able to see discoloration at an early stage so that you can monitor and manage it.
5] Do I Have Black Toenail Fungus?
One of the leading causes of black toenails is toenail fungus. Fungal infections are common under the toenails because it’s an ideal environment for fungus to grow. You need to know the difference between black toenail fungus, a melanoma, nail trauma (injury), and other medical conditions.
Let’s look at some signs of toenail fungus that you should look out for. In most cases, you can treat the condition before it gets worse. But, that requires you to be aware of the symptoms of toenail fungus. The best way to know if you’re dealing with a black fungus and not something else is to check for other symptoms that you’re experiencing.
Some of the common signs of toenail fungus include:
- Foul odor
- Brittle nails
- Pain and discomfort
- Nail deformation
- Yellowing and discoloration
- The toenail is black and lifting from the toe
The early signs of toenail fungus can consist of a white or yellow spot in the center of the nail. But if it’s left untreated, severe cases can cause the toenail to turn black. As you might expect, you must treat a fungal infection for it to go away. Otherwise, it will keep getting worse.
Is Black Toenail Fungus Dangerous?
Getting a fungal infection isn’t as concerning as a melanoma. But, the dangers of toenail fungus shouldn’t go unnoticed. The longer you ignore it, the more you’re putting yourself at risk of significant problems. If your nail has already turned black, there’s a good chance you’ve been dealing with a fungus for a long time and needed to start treatment long ago.
Some of the dangers that come from ignoring a fungal infection include:
- Foot pain – If your toenail is black and thick from the fungus, it could make it difficult to walk. Wearing socks and shoes will cause you pain and discomfort. Your toes might feel tender, or you may experience a constant dull pain.
- Infection – If you have diabetes or another condition that weakens your immune system, a robust toenail fungus can be a huge problem. If it is ignored, it can lead to widespread infection elsewhere on your body. If it spreads to your skin, it can crack open and allow bacteria in. The most common skin complaint is cellulitis. This can cause your skin to become swollen and red, and may even infect your bloodstream.
- Lifting nail – The toenail may start to lift from the nail bed due to a buildup of the infection. The nail may need to be removed by a doctor for it to heal. If you continue to ignore it, a loose part of the nail may fall off on its own, and that can cause further pain.
Is Toenail Fungus Contagious?
Another danger is that toenail fungus is contagious. Even when you’re treating a fungus, it can grow and spread to other people, or even other areas of your body. If a fungus spreads to the surrounding skin of your foot, for example, it can cause a common condition known as athlete’s foot (also known as ringworm of the foot). This can cause your skin to peel away and become red and itchy.
A fungus can also spread to others if they are exposed to it. In fact, that’s how many people contract toenail fungus in the first place. If your feet aren’t protected in areas like public showers or pools, you could pick up the infection from someone else who has been walking around with bare feet. Because fungus loves moist environments, these areas are breeding grounds for them to spread.
If you have toenail fungus or live with someone who does, you should be extra careful to avoid spreading it. Never share things like nail clippers, nail polish, or anything else that might touch the toes. Even towels should be off-limits.
Toenail fungus is contagious at any stage of development, whether it’s just starting out, or even if the nail has turned black. Keeping it contained is one of the most important factors in treating it. It can become much harder to treat if it spreads to other nails or other areas of the body.
How to Treat a Black Toenail
There are many remedies for black toenails caused by toenail fungus. The sooner that you start treatment, the better. So, pay attention to the early symptoms, such as discoloration or a strange odor. But, if your nail has already turned black, there are still things that can be done.
In severe cases, you may want to get a podiatrist to look at the infection. Sometimes, nail removal unavoidable and is the best way to begin the healing process. But, most people want to treat the problem at home. If you’re ready to put an end to the pain and embarrassment of a black nail, you can remove it with an antifungal agent. Let’s look at some of the different options for treating a nail fungus.
Most over-the-counter treatments for toenail fungus have antifungal formulas. Antifungal creams and ointments, like Lamisil, are known for their effectiveness. Antifungal creams work by breaking down the cell structures. They get underneath the nail and destroy the cells.
Not only will this help to stop the fungus in its tracks, but it will keep it from growing and spreading. When holes form in the fungus’ cells, it can no longer thrive. The cells will continue to become weaker, and the fungus will eventually die off.
There are rarely any severe risks to using over-the-counter creams and ointments unless you are allergic to the ingredients. If you experience any redness, itching or burning from a topical cream, stop using it and try an alternative.
Foot Soaks for Toenail Fungus
Another at-home treatment for toenail fungus is foot soaks. There are many varieties of foot soaks you can try, including some that are homemade. But, one of the best is the Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System. This is a three-part system and foot soak designed to get rid of even severe cases of toenail fungus naturally.
The potent ingredient in the Purely Northwest system is tea tree oil. This is a strong antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial agent. It has been used for years as a treatment for a variety of different skin conditions. The Purely Northwest system contains an antifungal soap, a renew nail solution, and a foot soak that is a blend of tea tree oil and Epsom salt.
Soaking your feet can soften up your nails. One of the symptoms of a nail fungus is nail hardening. This can make them difficult to clip or clean, and gives the fungus a chance to keep growing. When a foot soak softens your nails, they can be easier to clip. This will create a more difficult environment for the fungus to grow. Cut nails can also allow other treatments (creams, etc.) to get underneath the nail easier.
Laser therapy for toenail fungus was one only provided by doctors and podiatrists. Now, manufacturers are creating laser treatments that you can use at home. They are safe, easy to use, and good at getting rid of fungus quickly.
One of the most popular products is the Cure Ex Fungus Treatment Laser Device. It works by penetrating through the nail. The laser light targets fungus and kills it at the core. It’s a much more practical option than going to the doctor for laser therapy, and won’t cost you thousands of dollars.
Often, these devices can get rid of toenail fungus in nearly half the time as creams or other topical agents. But, a black toenail may take longer to clear up and be restored to its natural color. This is because a new nail will need to grow in its place after the fungal has been eliminated.
Home Remedies for Black Toenails
Some DIY solutions work better than others. So, it’s important to be able to weed out the ones that are most effective.
Here are some of the best home remedies for getting rid of a black toenail:
- Essential oils: Certain essential oils are good for fighting fungus and clearing up the surrounding skin. The best oil for treating this condition is Apothecary tea tree oil. Other popular essential oils for healing toenail fungus include thyme, manuka, oregano, and lavender.
- Baking soda: This won’t kill the fungus itself. But, it can help with specific symptoms and be used along with other treatments. It will help to dry up excess moisture from underneath your toes. This will create a more difficult environment for the fungus to multiply. It will also help to get rid of the foul odor coming from the nails. You can make a paste with baking soda and water and rub it on the affected area. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before rinsing away and drying your feet.
- Apple cider vinegar: This is used to get rid of toenail fungus at home because of its acidic properties. It balances out the pH levels of your skin and can kill bacteria and fungi. It will help to prevent the fungus from spreading to other toes or areas of the body. To use, spray a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water onto the toenails and leave for about 30 minutes. Then, rinse away and dry your feet.
How Quickly Do Treatments Work?
If your toenail has turned black because of fungus, it will take much longer to clear up. Some treatments are stronger than others. For example, an over-the-counter antifungal cream may work faster than a simple home remedy. But, some people don’t want to use chemicals or medications that may cause side effects. Natural remedies are usually safer but tend to take longer to work.
No matter what type of treatment you use, it could take weeks for a toenail fungus to clear up. In some extreme cases, it can take many months. The longer you’ve had the infection, the harder it will be to treat it. Never to stop treating a fungal infection of the toenails early.
If you notice the normal color coming back to your nail or other symptoms going away, you should still keep treating it. Toenail fungus is highly resilient. If it isn’t adequately treated, it can and will come back. If it does, you’ll have to start the treatment process all over again.
How to Cover Black Toenails
Black toenails can be embarrassing. While the health concerns that can come with a fungus are worrisome, most people want to treat the problem quickly, so they don’t have to look at their unsightly toes. So, it’s no wonder many people want to be able to cover up their nails.
One popular method is covering toenails with nail polish. Unfortunately, using regular nail polish isn’t a good idea. You may be able to cover up your discolored nail, but you’re also blocking it from getting any air. Polishing an infected nail seals in the infection. When no air flow can get through, it creates an optimal environment for the fungus to thrive. Your nails need to breathe as they’re a living part of your body.
Additionally, if you apply a nail polish brush to an infected toe and then dip it back into the bottle, you could contaminate the entire thing. When you pull it out again to polish your next toe, you could be spreading the fungus without even realizing it.
A safer way to polish your toenails is with an antifungal polish. Certain polishes, like Dr.'s REMEDY Anniversary 3 Piece Boxed Set, Brave Berry/Resilient Rose, contain antifungal ingredients that can help to eliminate the infection. They are designed to deal with symptoms of toenail fungus while covering up discoloration with beautiful colors.
If you want to use a nail polish to cover up an unsightly black toenail, use an antifungal polish. Be sure to give your toenails time to breathe for a few days between each application.
Can Black Toenails Be Prevented?
Whether a black toenail can be prevented depends on what caused it. If it’s been caused by trauma to the toe, make sure you’re wearing shoes that fit properly. This can help you to avoid repeated banging of the toe against the inside of the shoe. Unfortunately, accidents happen. Blunt trauma to the toe is less preventable because you’ll never know when it may happen.
If you have a black toenail due to fungus, it’s also not entirely preventable. Again, toenail fungus is highly contagious. There isn’t a way to protect yourself all the time, but the risk can be minimized.
Here are some things you can do to lower your risk:
- Keep your toenails trimmed. If your nails become hard and thick, you may have to buy a pair of toenail clippers for thick nails. By keeping your nails trimmed closely, the treatment you use can get underneath them easier. It also gives the fungus less of a comfortable environment to grow.
- Keep your feet dry: Moisture is a fungus’ best friend. What better place for an infection to grow than underneath a toenail that’s inside of a dark and moist shoe or sock all day? Keeping your feet dry is extremely important. If you have sweaty or stinky feet, take extra precautions. Change your socks throughout the day, and alternate which shoes you wear so every pair has a chance to air out.
- Give your feet time to breathe: Besides making sure your feet are dry, they should also have time to ‘breathe.’ This will keep the area dry.
- Avoid contamination: Avoid places and situations where it’s easy to get a toenail fungus. If you go to public pools or showers, wear flip-flops on your feet to protect your toes. You may wish to avoid getting a pedicure at a nail salon. If they don’t properly sanitize their tools, a fungus could be spread from a previous customer on to you.
- Practice good foot hygiene: Making sure your feet are always taken care of is a great general rule for preventing fungal infections. Keep your feet clean and dry them off after you take a shower. Keep them moisturized to prevent cracking.
One of the easiest ways to protect your toenails from becoming black is to pay close attention to them. We often ignore our feet until they start to cause us pain or the nails become unsightly. Examine your feet daily. The more you know about the early signs of fungus, the easier they will be to spot. If you notice these symptoms early on, the infection will be easier to resolve and could go away faster.
Should I Be Worried That My Toenail is Turning Black?
Because there are different reasons for your toenail(s) turning black, don’t jump to any quick conclusions. Pay attention to other symptoms you might be experiencing. If they go along with some of the conditions listed above, you’ll have a better idea of what to do to treat them.
Should you have the symptoms of toenail fungus, a black nail can be an extreme form of discoloration. If your nail has gotten black, the infection is likely pretty severe. Start a treatment plan right away.
We hope this guide has helped you to self-diagnose why your toenail might be turning black. If you have a toenail fungus, using Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System will help to restore your nails to their natural color, and the rest of the symptoms will go away over time.