How to trim thickened toenails
You probably don't think much about your toenails. But they may get your attention if the nails start to thicken. Thick toenails usually are painless. If they get too long, however, they can become uncomfortable. Read on to learn more about thickened toenails and how to properly trim them.
What causes thickened toenails?
The most common cause of thickened toenails is aging. Toenails thicken with age because the growth rate of the nail plate slows. Other reasons toenails may thicken include:
- A common skin condition called psoriasis. It causes cells to build up rapidly on the surface of the skin.
- An injury or trauma to the toes.
- Tight-fitting shoes.
- Fungal infections.
Among these, a fungal nail infection called onychomycosis (on-ih-koh-my-KOH-sis) is a common cause of thickened toenails. The photo below shows an example of thick toenails that have onychomycosis.
Getting ready to trim
Before you trim your toenails, soften them by soaking your feet in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes. Then dry your feet and toenails with a towel.
Nail nippers, shown below, work best for trimming thickened toenails. They're lightweight, easy to grip and easy to control. You can buy them at most pharmacies or drugstores.
Nail nippers can be very sharp. Be careful when using them, especially if you have:
- Poor circulation.
- Reduced sensation in your feet.
If you have any of these health issues and you have questions about trimming your toenails, talk to a member of your health care team.
Trimming the nails
Start at the corner of the nail, and make small straight cuts all the way across your toenail. Taking small cuts helps prevent splintering. Don't use the nail nippers to round the edges of the nail. Cut straight across. This lowers the risk of developing an ingrown toenail.
Smoothing sharp edges
The thickened toenail pictured below has been trimmed correctly. The toes next to it need a similar straight cut.
After you've trimmed your toenails, gently file them with an emery board or nail file. This removes sharp edges that could cut your skin. Not only is a cut painful, but it also can raise the risk of an infection or an ingrown toenail. Filing your nails can help keep them from catching on your socks too.
When to contact your health care team
Thickened toenails usually don't need medical care. But if they keep getting thicker over time or if they become painful, contact your health care team.
Also make a medical appointment if you don't think you can trim your toenails safely on your own.
If the look of thickened toenails bothers you, talk with a member of your care team about possible treatment options.
Aug. 15, 2023
See more In-depth
- How to trim your nails. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/nail-care-secrets/basics/how-to-trim-nails. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Tips for healthy nails. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/nail-care-secrets/basics/healthy-nail-tips. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Dinulos JGH. Nail diseases. In: Habif's Clinical Dermatology. 7th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Rich P, et al. Overview of nail diseases. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Goldstein AO, et al. Onychomycosis: Management. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 15, 2023.