Ingrown fingernails can cause pain, swelling, redness, and sometimes infection. People can usually treat them at home.

In this article, learn about some home remedies for an ingrown fingernail, as well as some symptoms that may indicate an infection.

a person soaking their hands as this is how to fix an ingrown fingernailShare on Pinterest
Soaking the fingers may help treat mild ingrown nails.

If the nail appears to be pushing into the skin or curving downward, it is likely an ingrown nail.

People with diabetes, neuropathy, or circulation problems should not try to treat ingrown nails at home. They should see a doctor for safe treatment in these cases.

Before trying to treat the ingrown nail at home, wash the hands thoroughly with soap and water.

One of the following remedies may help:

Soaking

Soaking the finger may help the nail grow outward on its own. This works well for mild ingrown nails that are not causing pain or other symptoms.

To soak the ingrown fingernail:

  • Fill a clean container with warm salt water.
  • Soak the affected hand in the water for 15–20 minutes.
  • Rinse the hand and dry it with a clean towel.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment and cover it loosely with a bandage.

Using cotton or gauze

If soaking alone does not bring relief within a day or two, a person can try gently encouraging the nail to grow upward with cotton or gauze.

After soaking, take a tiny piece of clean gauze or cotton and insert it under the nail. This can help relieve pressure and pain, separating the nail from the skin slightly.

Replace the cotton at least once per day until the nail has grown out and healed.

Using dental floss

Sometimes, it is too difficult to insert a piece of cotton under the nail. In these cases, it may be easier to use waxed dental floss.

After soaking and washing the hands, gently thread a clean piece of dental floss under the nail’s ingrown edge.

Seeing a doctor

If home care does not treat the ingrown nail, a health professional can remove the part of the nail that is causing the issue.

Some people get repeated ingrown nails. In these cases, a doctor may suggest removing the nail with an in-office procedure.

An ingrown nail can allow bacteria or fungi to enter the body through a break in the skin. These bacteria or fungi can multiply, causing an infection.

A person should inform a doctor if any symptoms of infection develop. These might include:

To help prevent infections, try to practice good hand washing techniques. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend scrubbing the hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and running water.

People with long fingernails should also scrub underneath the nails. Use a clean towel to dry the hands and nails after washing. The CDC say that long fingernails are more likely to carry germs and bacteria, which can encourage an infection to develop.

If there is a cut or break in the skin, a person should cover it with antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage to help keep germs out.

The most common cause of ingrown fingernails is cutting the nails too short. The American Academy of Dermatology recommend following these steps for safe nail trimming:

  • Soak them first. Softer nails are easier to trim. Take a bath or shower or soak the nails in warm water for a few minutes before trimming them.
  • Use clean, sharp tools. Disinfect nail clippers and emery boards with rubbing alcohol at least once per month. Do not use clippers that have rust or that have become worn out or dull.
  • Use fingernail clippers for fingers. Do not use toenail clippers on fingers, and vice versa.
  • Cut the nails straight across. Do not cut the edges much shorter.
  • Round the edges gently. To round the edges of fingernails, use a clean nail file or emery board. Move the file in the same direction. Avoid a back-and-forth sawing motion.
  • Do not cut the cuticles. Cuticles are a layer of protection for nails. Trimming them increases the risk of infection.
  • Use hand cream. Keeping the hands and nails moisturized can help prevent them from drying and cracking.
  • See a doctor for any nail changes. Nails that have a different color, texture, or shape may point to another health issue.

A hangnail is another common issue that can cause pain and redness near the fingernail’s edge. However, a hangnail has different causes and treatments to ingrown nails.

A hangnail forms from skin cells that separate and grow away from surrounding skin. The result is a spiky shaped piece of skin next to the fingernail. Despite their name, hangnails are not nails at all. They are pieces of excess skin.

A person should not pull or bite a hangnail to remove it. This can leave an injury on the finger that could cause an infection.

Instead, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water and gently clip it with clean nail clippers close to the base.

If it bleeds or is painful, apply an antibiotic ointment and a bandage for 24 hours to help it heal.

Ingrown fingernails are not usually serious, and a person can treat them at home. Home remedies include soaking the nail, using cotton or gauze, or lifting the nail with dental floss.

However, if the nail shows signs of infection or a person has other health conditions, they should see a doctor.