Natural "cures" for fungal nails (and what actually works!)

Do you have a fungal infection, a particularly bad one perhaps? Has your nail turned yellow and brown and is it flaking and chipping easily? Turn to the World Wide Web and you will find a multitude of natural “cures” for your fungal toenails…. But do they work? Today I will give you the low down on what actually works, and absolutely does not work for your fungal toenails!

What Doesn't Work?

I will cut to the chase, there are three common natural treatments that people believe work to treat their fungal nails that absolutely do not. Let's take a look at them more closely --

1. Tea Tree Oil

Melaleuca Oil, or Tea Tree Oil is the most commonly recommended natural anti-fungal remedy. Indeed, researchers have proven that tea tree oils DO have antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Any evidence to their success, however, is in “in-vitro” studies – meaning in studies that have occurred in a laboratory and not in the real world. So in other words, there is no evidence that tea tree oil will work on your fungal nails, and a lot of evidence that it won't - it will also discolour your nail and make it brittle and fragile (kind of like what a fungal infection does!)

Additionally, allergic contact dermatitis has been reported in about 5% of those who use tea tree oil. The skin reaction that tea tree oil causes can range from a mild contact dermatitis to a severe blistering rash. Apart from the obvious pain associated with such a reaction, the rash can look a lot like Tinea, so could encourage you to use more tea tree oil in the belief you are treating your fungal infection, leading to a more severe reaction!

"Many Podiatrists still recommend Tea Tree Oil for fungal nails but in my opinion they are ill informed and verging on unethical for recommending it!" Sarah Newman

2. Vicks Vapo Rub

The active and inactive ingredients in Vicks Vapo Rub (thymol, menthol, camphor, and oil of Eucalypus) again have shown efficacy against dermatophytes in in-vitro (laboratory) studies.

I’ll keep this short. There is absolutely NO evidence that Vicks is effective for the treatment of your fungal nails. Sure, the internet is full of the recommendation, but I have never seen a shred of scientific evidence for it. Just. Don’t. Do. It.

3. Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar is all the rage right now. Does it work to cure your toenail fungus? NO! Vinegar is acidic, and while it possibly may stop bacteria growing on your skin, there are no scientific studies that show that it works to treat your fungal infections in your nails, or elsewhere. So, you might as well just put your vinegar on your salad and enjoy it in the hope that it will help your fungal nails as well!

Above are three natural “cures” for your fungal nails that do not work. I could continue, but don’t want to keep repeating myself – there is NO evidence that these treatments work.

What does work?

Admittedly, fungal toenails are a very tricky condition to treat and I do understand why people search out natural remedies. The best place to start is with a visit to your Podiatrist, or even your GP. A nail that may appear sick or fungal to you, may not be a fungal infection at all. In fact, the only way to tell if you have a fungal nail is a pathology test – but that is a whole other can of worms as fungal scrapings are notoriously difficult to culture in a lab.

Podiatrists see discoloured, damaged and fungal nails every day and are best placed to advise on whether whether you have a fungal nail based on what we see in our clinic every day. There are a few things that we look for including;

  • Discolouration
  • Odour
  • Presence of fungal skin infection (tinea)
  • Severity of the condition and whether it is on more than one of your nails
  • Whether there are other underlying medical issues (like Diabetes and Heart Disease)

To treat your fungal nails, we recommend a treatment program which consists of;

  • Thinning the thickened nail
  • Removal of as much of the infected nail as possible
  • Application of a topical treatment that has been scientifically proven to be effective
  • Treatment of your fungal skin infection (if present)
  • Change in footwear and socks
  • Possible referral for oral antifungal medication if clinically indicated

The most effective agent for curing your fungal nails is Terbinafine, known as Lamisil, which is taken orally. Most people I meet, however, do not want to go straight to an oral antifungal treatment due to the side effects related to taking it.

Terbinafine is the also active ingredient in the over the counter anti-fungal cream Lamisil. This has very high evidence of effectiveness for tinea infections on your skin.

For your toenails, the evidence is less strong, but shows that Ciclopiroxolamine is effectve in the treatment of fungal nails. We recommend you apply Rejuvenail to your toenails which contains this active ingredient.

Please be aware that fungal nails take a very long time to resolve. An average toenail can take between 8-12 months to fully grow out, so expect that you will be following your treatment plan for this period of time. Usually you will see a change in the base of your nail at about the 3 month mark, but this is dependent on a number of factors.

I hope that this has been helpful to you if you are looking for a quick and natural treatment for your fungal nails. I'm sorry to say, that this treatment does not exist, and some of the natural "cures" can be harmful to you in other ways. If you have concerns about your fungal nails, or just are not even sure that you have a fungal a nail - come in for a consultation! Podiatrists are experts in toenails and will be able to help you make an informed choice in your treatment.