A dead toenail is a surprisingly common problem. Many people will have a loose or lifting toenail at some point in their life. Unfortunately, lots of those who will experience this issue have no idea how to remove it safely and painlessly.
So – what is the best way to remove a dead toenail? The entire process starts with identifying the cause. Once you’ve pinpointed the cause of the lifting toenail, you’ll be in a better position to treat and remove it carefully.
Some of the most common causes including toenail fungus (tinea unguium), trauma to the toe (subungual hematoma), wearing tight shoes or a blister under the nail. Identifying the cause of your lifting toenail will also help you avoid a recurrence in the future.
If you’re trying to remove a toenail, it’s important to get the process right. When performed correctly, at-home toenail removal should be painless. It should also leave space for a new, healthy nail to grow in with no trouble at all.
Do you have a dead toenail that you need to remove? Perhaps you’re not sure what’s caused it, or maybe you’re not sure if your toenail is fully dead and therefore safe to remove. In this guide, we’ll go through the best removal techniques, as well as an examination of the causes and the provision of tips on aftercare.
Table of Contents:
What’s the Cause of a Dead Toenail?
The first thing you should do when considering whether to remove the toenail is to establish what caused the nail to die in the first place. Loose, lifting or dead nails can be caused by a multitude of things, including:
- Fungal nail infections. If a fungal infection gets under the toenail, it can cause it to lift over time. The separation of the nail from the nail bed can be quite painful, and it’s vital to seek treatment for the fungus infection as quickly as possible. You don’t want it to start infecting the new nail that could soon be growing in.
- Trauma to the nail. When people hear the word ‘trauma,’ they think of extreme injuries or accidents. But trauma to the toenail can be something as simple as wearing shoes that are slightly too small. This causes compression of the toes, and your nail may get jammed into the shoe, causing it to loosen with every step. If you run in ill-fitting shoes, the effects can be even worse.
- Blisters can also form under the nail bed, causing the nail to peel away from the skin. In these cases, you’ll need to treat the blister before you start to remove the nail.
How Do I Know My Toenail Is Dead?
There are lots of signs that your toenail has died, or is dying. The most obvious sign will be some discoloration of the nail. When the nail is dying, it might present as black or bruised in appearance, with a greenish tinge if there is fungus involved. In the early days of a fungal infection, you may see your toenails becoming slightly yellow in color. This is the time to act with an anti-fungal treatment if you wish to keep your toenail.
Infected toenails that are dying will become brittle or crumbly, and they may have a slightly distorted shape. It’s possible that the nail may look as though it’s peeling up from the nail bed.
If you’ve experienced any or all of these signs of symptoms, it’s very likely that your toenail is dead and ready to be removed fully. Talk to a podiatrist or doctor before you start if you wish. Toenail removal is a very simple and safe procedure, which can be carried out in your own home without much effort.
How to Remove a Dead Toenail
If you’re ready to remove a dead nail, there’s a simple process you can follow to ensure the most painless removal.
- Firstly, you need to clean your toes. Make sure the skin and the surrounding toes in the affected area are totally clean, as well as your hands – wear fresh latex gloves if you wish. When the nail is removed, the area beneath will be very susceptible to bacteria and infection, so it’s vital that the entire area is clean.
- Next, you should grab a pair of sterile nail clippers and trim the nail. Cut away any pieces of the dead nail that you can, to make the job of removing the actual nail much easier. Stainless steel nail clippers are the best option for this job.
- Once you’ve removed what you can with the clippers, it’s time to pull away the rest. If the nail is truly dead, there should be little to no resistance, and you should feel no pain when you start to pull. Many people are squeamish and prefer to have a friend, family member or professional take care of this part.
- If you’re only able to remove a small portion of the nail, with the rest clinging on, don’t force it. Wrap the nail in clean gauze and leave it to heal for a few days until you can tackle the final section.
- You also need to know the right way to pull your toenail off. You can’t yank at the skin – the area is very delicate, and you could end up causing unnecessary pain. This can also cause a brittle nail to shatter, which makes your removal job much tougher. Instead, take a pair of clean tweezers and gently wiggle the nail from side to side. Using this tactic, the nail should slip out of position in a few minutes.
- Once the toenail has been removed, you should clean the area thoroughly again. Apply a form of antibiotic gel or ointment, then cover the area with clean gauze. As the area heals over the coming days, you may experience a small amount of pain. Stock up on painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen to help you get through the recovery period.
Will My Dead Toenail Grow Back?
Absolutely! If you’ve carefully treated the cause of the dead toenail and removed every section of the nail itself, the toenail will grow back in the vast majority of cases. Be warned that this can take a while – anywhere between six months and a year for full toenail regrowth.
It’s important to maintain the highest standards of foot hygiene and care during this time, to minimize the risk of your toenail becoming infected again.
Toenail Removal Aftercare
As we’ve covered, the area around the recently-removed nail is susceptible to infection, so it’s very important that you take the proper aftercare precautions. Use a daily antibiotic cream to minimize the risk of infection.
Try to exposure the nail area to fresh air as much as possible, rather than keeping it hidden beneath socks and shoes constantly. When you have to wear shoes, make sure there’s at least half an inch between the end of your toe and the inside of the shoe.
It should only take a few weeks before you start to see the beginnings of a new toenail. If the area around the toenail has healed well, you can start to use nail-strengthening products that will help ensure your new nail won’t fall victim to breakage or infection.
If the area around the nail is still inflamed or oozing days or weeks after removal, see your doctor or podiatrist. This could be a sign of continuing infection which may need a stronger prescription treatment. You don’t want this infection to affect the new nail, so seek advice as soon as possible if you think there’s still an underlying problem in the area.
Dead Toenail Removal Can Be Painless
Once you’ve identified the cause, removal can be simple and straightforward. Before you try to remove the nail, you must make sure the underlying issue has been addressed. Fungal nail infections should be all but cured before you attempt to remove your toenail, or it may end up infecting the new nail.
If you’ve suffered trauma to the foot which caused your toenail to die, you should be safe to remove the toenail once it’s completely dead. This should be painless and easy, with little resistance. Make sure you use the appropriate tools – sterilized tweezers and clippers – to minimize the risk of infection.
If you’re not sure of whether you want to remove your dead toenail yourself, you could ask a family member, friend, or even a podiatrist to perform the procedure for you. When carried out safely and effectively, you should have a fully-grown toenail within six months to a year after toenail removal.