Pinky toenails are tricky customers. If they’re not too short, they’re too long and cutting into your other toes. Maybe yours are growing sideways, thick and yellow, or falling off. But did you know that deformed toenails are quite common? It’s true, so you’re far from alone.
There are all kinds of nail deformities. Toenails can grow upwards, inwards and to the side. This can prove to be extremely painful, but surprisingly, most people choose to live with their ‘weird toenail’ rather than trying to do anything about it. That’s no doubt in part because treatments take a long time to work, and most people give up without really trying.
But, no matter what’s wrong with your toenail, the solutions are usually the same. There are dozens of pharmaceutical and natural cures that you can utilize. There’s bound to be something that you like, whether you’re interested in lab-grade topical creams or all-natural remedies.
If you want to know more about the kind of deformities which might affect your toenail, read on.
Table of Contents:
Common Pinky Toenail Problems
There are perhaps a dozen different problems that might affect your toenail. Fortunately, they’re relatively easy to tell apart, so it’s also fairly easy to suggest a potential treatment for each.
For now, here’s a shortlist of the most common toenail problems that we’re going to cover:
- Having no pinky toenail at all, or one that’s far shorter than the rest of your nails
- Having a toenail that’s falling off, or is starting to fall off for some reason
- Ingrown toenails, where the nail digs into your skin and is painful to remove
- Fungal infections which make the toenail brittle, yellow and soft
- Toenail trauma, which can permanently dent your toenail or change its color
- Ski jump toenails, which aren’t a medical condition, but are a shape of the nail
- Ridged toenails, where your toenail has a horizontal ridge running across it
The rest of this guide is going to cover each of these problems in turn, and what can be done about them.
Why Do I Have No Pinky Toenail?
A relatively common complaint about pinky toenails is that they are either:
- Far shorter than the rest of your nails
- Completely gone, i.e., you have no toenail left
The first and most obvious reason why this might be the case is that your pinky toe itself is small. Whereas the toenail on your big toe has lots of room to grow, your pinky toenail doesn’t. Another reason might be that your pinky toe is cramped. If you regularly wear tight shoes, such as high heels, then your toe and toenail will look deformed.
Even so, if you have a tiny pinky toenail, there’s no need to worry. In fact, it’s very common, and has no adverse ‘side effects.’ The only problem is that your toe as a whole might hurt if you keep trying to fit into tight shoes.
What Can I Do?
If your toenail is short, and you would rather it be longer, try not cutting it. Keep it up for as long as you can. The problem is that the longer it gets, the more likely that you will catch it on your sock. Give it a try, and see if you prefer your toenail when you grow it out this way.
Unfortunately, the problem is that your nail bed is short, not your nail. Your nail bed is the soft tissue underneath your nail that your nail grows from. If you have long nail beds, you will have long nails; if you have short nail beds, you will have short nails.
There’s nothing you can do to change the length of your nail bed, so if you have a very short pinky toenail or no pinky toenail at all, there’s no way of encouraging it to grow.
Why Is My Toenail Falling Off?
Perhaps you had a toenail on your pinky toe, but lately, it has started falling off. Or perhaps it has fallen off altogether. This can be exceptionally painful, especially if your shoes are too tight. The last thing you want is for your nail bed rubbing against your sock, or against the inside of your shoe.
The first thing that you should know is that it’s not possible to put your toenail back on. It won’t reattach itself, and the skin won’t heal around it like a cut heal. If your toenail has fallen off, it has fallen off for good.
You will have to wait until your toenail grows back naturally. That being said, there are ways to make your condition less painful.
What Can I Do?
You could use topical analgesic (anti-pain) creams to make the area hurt less. This would be an acceptable solution for when you go to bed. But it will be quite painful indeed to wear socks and shoes, so you will have to make sure that you apply an anti-bacterial and analgesic cream and cover the area with a bandage.
Over time, your toenail will grow back. There is no way to make it grow faster; in fact, it’ll grow as quickly as your toenail does typically. All you can do until then is keep the area clean, make sure you continue to apply a bandage to the area, and wait.
Do I Have an Ingrown Toenail?
You will no doubt have heard of ingrown toenails. However, you may never have seen one or had one before. If you have no experience with them, you must appreciate how painful they are. The only good thing about them is that if you have an ingrown toenail, you would know about it.
Here are a few of the signs that this may be the condition you’re suffering from:
- Sharp pain on one or either side of your nail.
- Tenderness, redness and swelling along the side of the toe.
- Infection of the tissue around your nail. As the nail digs into the tissue, it creates cuts which can become infected more easily.
The main problem with ingrown toenails is the pain that they cause. They’re notoriously painful. They don’t point downwards and inwards and irritate the skin. They go one step further by continuing to grow inwards, which can cut the skin. In the worst case scenario, ingrown toenails dig deep enough to cut into your bone.
This is why ingrown toenails have always been a reason to see a doctor, but there are ways to fix an ingrown toenail without surgery. But have modern medical advances made it possible to do so today?
What Can I Do?
Ingrown toenails have many interrelated causes. You will have to tackle each one of these causes, in turn, to ensure that you get rid of the problem. First, you have to ensure that your shoes and socks fit correctly and that you do not cut your nails too short. Once the problem begins, of course, these solutions may be no use.
Your next step should be to treat the fungal infection you may or may not have. Begin by using a natural anti-fungal treatment such as tea tree oil. These keep the area clean and kill off any fungal infections, and prevent any complications that are going to make your ingrown toenails far more painful and difficult to treat.
If you leave your toenail untreated, it will keep growing—inwards. If you leave it to continue growing, it will eventually hit the bone of your pinky toe. This is exceptionally painful. You should, therefore, look to treat the condition with nail softening creams in the meantime.
Do I Have a Fungal Infection?
One reason why your pinky toenail might look a little weird is a fungal infection. Fungal infections have many symptoms which are instantly recognizable.
If you have noticed any of the following:
- Your toenails have become thicker than they used to be
- Your toenails have become slightly yellowed
- Your toenails have lost their flexibility, and become crumbly instead
- Even if you cut the edge of your toenail off, the rest will grow back thick, yellow and crumbly
If it is only your pinky toenail that is deformed, it is unlikely that you have a fungal infection. Fungal infections—as the name suggests—are infectious. It is, therefore, more likely that all of your toenails will look the same. That being said, if your symptoms match those above, you most likely have a fungal infection.
What Can I Do?
If you have a fungal infection on your pinky toe, or on any nail, you have several options. It is not easy to treat fungal toenails. At the very least, however, you have many different methods of treating them.
The following are just a few:
- Over-the-counter topical creams
- Tea tree oil is a natural anti-fungal treatment. Other essential oils such as oregano oil are not proven to work
- Baking soda and borax (borax is naturally anti-fungal, too)
- A visit to the podiatrist
Many people take to fighting their fungal toenails with a topical cream. But what you might not appreciate is that it takes a long time to get rid of a fungal toenail infection. In fact, it can take up to a year, and you always run the risk of catching the same problem again.
However you treat your fungal infection, make sure to change your habits afterwards to try and avoid catching it again (e.g., don’t walk around the local swimming pool in bare feet).
Do I Have Toenail Trauma (Injury)?
General trauma to your pinky toenail may be a reason why it grows differently to the rest. Trauma is a loose term which means physical damage: so the reason for it could be anything from dropping a piano on your toe to stubbing it against a fencepost. Whatever the reason, however, the damage can be lasting and can cause your nail to grow differently.
This is especially the case with a heavyweight causing damage to your toenail. Say for example that you drop a dumbbell on your toe: the damage, for the time being, might be intensely painful. But years later, when the pain is gone, you would still see the after-effects of the damage. You would have a small scar, lighter in color to the rest of your nail, and perhaps a dent in your nail.
The proper term for damage like this is a subungual hematoma. This is where blood is trapped beneath the toenail. Soon after the accident, you’ll notice that your toenail turns either blue, purple or black—much like a bruise. If you cause sufficient damage, your toenail may never grow back. This would be because the nail bed itself is too badly damaged.
What Can I Do?
The first thing that you should do is keep the area clean using bandages and anti-bacterial creams. This is going to prevent any complications from toenail trauma. If your injury is severe—such as when you suspect a fracture or the injury doesn’t seem to be getting better—you should seek medical advice.
If your toenail trauma was sustained a long time ago, you won’t be able to get rid of the dent or the scar. It’s much like a scar somewhere else on the body: you can never get rid of it altogether (apart from with surgery—but that doesn’t apply to toenails).
Do I Have Ski Jump Toenails?
‘Ski jump toenail’ is not a medical term. It’s a conversational term for a particular kind of nail. Take a look at your fingernails, for instance, from the side. Do they lie completely flat? Or do they have a slight upwards/outwards bump? If so, you have the most common kind of fingernails. The same (of course) applies to toenails too.
If you have ski jump toenails, however, the nail curves inwards. Since the nail bed curves downwards, and the edge of the nail curves upwards, these nails look a little like a ski jump (the kind you might see at the Olympics).
Ski jump nails are a genetic trait. They occur because the underneath of the nail bed is too short. This is where the nail attaches itself to the skin underneath. There is no way to lengthen the nail bed in the way that you would like.
What Can I Do?
Ski jump toenails are also not easy to treat. The problem is that they are caused by a problem with the nail bed. To be more precise, the nail bed is too short. Unfortunately, you cannot change the length of your nailbed. The best way to treat them is with a nail softening cream.
These creams ‘do what they say on the tin,’ and make your nails softer. You would be able to bend your nail downwards instead of upwards, which would gradually help to improve the way they look.
There are also a few aesthetic fixes which you might think are worth your time:
- Try to shorten your nail as much as possible. This will limit the appearance of the curve so that your ski jump nails are less noticeable.
- Use fake nails over the top of your nails.
- Fill in the dent with gel or extra layers of nail polish. The nail will appear flat.
None of these fixes will get rid of your ski jump toenail, but they may make you feel better. If you’re planning on going to the beach (for example) and you would feel self-conscious if you had to show off your toenails, filling them in could give you extra confidence.
Do I Have Ridged Toenails?
Ridged toenails are precisely what they sound like. If you have ridged toenails, you’ll have a horizontal or vertical line running from one side of your nail to the other. This line is raised enough to feel if you run your finger over it. They are the result of many different conditions, any one of which you may have to tackle.
Vertical ridges are the result of aging, and there is nothing you can do about them. They appear as lines straight up along the nail, which may or may not split at the end. Horizontal ridges (or Beau’s Lines), however, are the result of a few different conditions. They may be the result of conditions ranging from heart disease, malnutrition, and diabetes to infection and zinc deficiency.
Ridged toenails aren’t painful, and aren’t very obvious unless you look directly for them. As such you might not have much of a problem with them.
What Can I Do?
If you do want to try and treat your ridged toenails, the first thing you should try is adding moisture to the nail. The best way to do that is with a nail softening cream. This allows you to bend the nail into a better shape, one that you prefer. You might also like to buff your nail and try to make the ridge less obvious.
It would also be to your benefit to make sure that your ridged nails aren’t a sign of something worse. As we mentioned above, they can be the sign of a far more severe condition. You should, therefore, look for medical help to diagnose any underlying problems at the same time as treating your nails.
So there you have it: our run-down on the most common reasons why your nail might not look it’s best. But where do you go from here? Well, first of all, you have to figure out what’s wrong with your nail. Take a look at each of the conditions above, and see which problem you have. If it’s none of the above, it may be worth asking your doctor what the problem is.
Next—try your best to treat the condition yourself. With a mix of nail softening creams and anti-fungal remedies, you should be able to fix most toenail problems. If you’re not getting results, try covering your nail with a bandage after you apply any cream. This should help it soak in. As a last resort, if nothing else works, always visit your podistrist.