The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Let’s Talk Toenails

Posted by on Wednesday, June 20th, 2012


With warm weather finally here, some of us are discovering a few old friends we haven’t seen in a while–our toenails!

Yes, after a winter buried in shoes, boots, and warm socks, our little toenail friends have emerged as a happy symbol of summer. But these little…plates? Okay, we’ll go with plates–are not just hanging around waiting for us to put green toenail polish on them. Rather, they are parts of our body, and therefore have their own set of health problems that can crop up  and make you wish that they were covered again in those thick, fuzzy socks. We’ve covered some of them in depth before, but I thought this was a good time to have a round-up of toenail information.

So what are toenails? Well, they’re not actually plates, but they do act like plates of armor as they protect the soft tissues at the end of your fingers and toes. They’re made up of layers of keratin, a protein that’s also found in your hair and skin.

What should healthy toenails look like? They should be smooth and one consistent color.

Really? That’s funny, I see some white spots on my nails. Yeah, well, you shouldn’t. White spots on your nails indicate a lack of zinc in your diet. Drinking more milk and eating eggs are good ways to add zinc to your diet. If you have issues with those foods, you can also take zinc supplements.

White spots aren’t the only indicator of a problem–if you notice that your nails are yellow or cracked, then you likely have a fungal infection. If your nails aren’t that far gone and you’re just beginning to suspect that you have a toenail infection, try putting Vick’s Vapor Rub under your toenails, or soak your feet in Listerine (if nothing else, your feet will smell great!). If, however, your nails are thick, cracked, and yellow, then you should really contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to get an accurate diagnosis of your infection and treatment program (the good news: lasers can knock out some really nasty infections!).

Okay, now that I know all about toenails, what else can I do to make sure they don’t scare me when I look down? Here are some tips that can go a long way to helping your toenails stay something you want to see, not hide.

  • Keep your feet and toes clean. It takes so little for an infection to develop in your toenails, so if you want to be safe, that one shower in the morning isn’t going to be enough to keep your feet clean. If you’ve been out walking a lot with your feet shut up in shoes and socks, wash them off before you put on new clean socks or start walking around your house barefoot, or at least wash them before you go to bed. It takes two minutes and your feet will be a lot happier and healthier. And they’ll smell better.
  • Keep them dry. Fungi love moisture, so when you dry your feet off after any activity, make sure you don’t miss your toes. If you’re an active person who works out every day and your feet sweat a lot, you might want to consider having two pairs of athletic shoes so you can switch off and give each pair a chance to fully dry before you put them on again.
  • Take a powder. After your feet are clean and dry, dust them with foot powder. You can also sprinkle foot powder into your shoes if you want to be extra sure about keeping your feet dry.
  • Be careful where you walk. We can’t warn you enough–if you are taking a shower in a public place or in a locker room or gym where there’s a lot of moisture, make sure you wear flip flops. Those floors are little incubators for athlete’s foot and other fungal infections.
  • Trim your toenails. Keep your toenails trimmed straight across at about the top of your toe. Don’t trim them too short, don’t let them go too long. Most importantly, don’t try to force them into a curved shape–that’s a quick ticket to an ingrown toenail.
  • Make sure your shoes fit. Wearing shoes that cramp your toes into a tight or oddly shaped toe box is bad for your toes–and bad for your toenails. Make sure your shoes fit in a way that allow your toes to lay flat and straight.
  • Eat right. As noted above with the white spots and zinc deficiency, a proper diet is important to your toenails and your overall health. If you’re not sure that you’re getting enough vitamins in your diet, you may want to consider taking supplements (B7 is particularly good for hair, skin, and nails).

There, now you’re all set to have a No Toenail Worries Summer! If you do run into any toenail or foot issues, though, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.



If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.