4 Common Toenail Fungus Myths, Debunked

December 08, 2021
Mary Honkus
By: Mary Honkus | skincare.com by L'Oréal
4 Common Toenail Fungus Myths, Debunked

Let’s be real, nobody enjoys thinking about toe fungus. But the lack of conversation around this unpleasant topic can lead to many misconceptions and improper treatment. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society, 20% of the U.S. population deals with toenail fungus. To debunk several common myths about toenail fungus, we tapped the expertise of Skincare.com consultants Dr. Dendy Engelman, an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and Marcela Correa, a professional medical pedicurist and founder of MediPediNYC.* 

What Is Toenail Fungus?

Fungal infections are common and can occur all over the body — even under your toenails. “Toe fungus is an infection that occurs when fungus, yeast or mold grows under the toenail,” explains Dr. Engelman. During the infection, a variety of ailments can occur. “The nail may become thicker, warped and/or change in color and you may feel irritation and pain in the area,” she continues.  If not properly treated the nail can become brittle, more susceptible to breaking and, in some serious cases, can fall off completely. 

Fungus, yeast and mold thrive in warm, damp environments like sweaty athletic shoes, pools and bathtubs. If your toenails are cracked or lifted, that gives the bacteria an easy route under the nail where it can multiply to the point of causing an infection, says Dr. Engelman. “You can also get toe fungus from improperly sterilized hygienic care tools like files and clippers.”

There are many misconceptions about toenail fungus and how to prevent it. Below, Dr. Engleman and Marcela Correa set the record straight by busting common toenail fungus myths. 

Myth: Nail Polish Can Prevent Toenail Fungus

Not only can nail polish prevent you from noticing the beginning stages of a fungal infection, but it can also make the infection worse. “Heavy nail polishes tend to trap moisture on your nail, creating ideal conditions for fungus to form,” says Dr. Engelman. It’s best to avoid continuously wearing nail polish especially during the warm summer months, taking a break for a few weeks in between. 

Myth: Fungal Infections Only Form Because of Poor Hygiene 

Anyone can develop a fungal infection regardless of their hygienic habits. Toe fungus most commonly thrives in warm, sweaty or wet environments (like in athletic shoes after a workout) so the longer you wear your tennis shoes post-sweat sesh, the more likely you are to develop an infection. “There can also be a lot of underlying medical reasons that make fungus easier to catch such as our diet, diabetes, poor circulation or even side effects from prescribed medications,” explains Correa.

Myth: You’re Only Susceptible to Toe Fungus if You Have Thick Toenails

The thickness of your toenail does not factor into the likelihood of you developing a fungal infection, however, thinner nails are typically more prone to break and detach from the nail bed which can lead to the formation of toe fungus, says Correa. If your toenails are on the thicker side, Dr. Engelman recommends visiting your doctor — especially if you are experiencing discoloration, irritation or pain in the area, as you may be in the beginning stages of a fungal infection. 

Myth: Toenail Fungus Will Dissipate Without Treatment

Even in the earliest stages, fungal infections require doctor-prescribed medication to fully eradicate. Make sure to follow your doctor’s advice for treatment and prevention. In addition to medication, your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes, such as regularly washing your feet and keeping them dry to prevent a breeding ground for more bacteria. Your doctor may also recommend that you sanitize your athletic shoes often (try using the MediPedi Fungi-Fix Shoe Sterilizer) and wear flip flops when in locker or shower rooms. “shoes are a primary host for fungi,” agrees Correa.

MediPedi Fungi-Fix Shoe Sterilizer

*This article is provided for informational purposes and is not a replacement for medical advice.  If you suspect you have toenail fungus or any other skin or nail condition, consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. 

Illustration: Isabella Humphrey

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