Nail Fungus: Eew

Three years ago, I picked up a fungus under the nail of my pinky finger. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know. What kind of fungus? Don’t know and it doesn’t matter.

It didn’t bother me unless I looked at it. Then, it did. The nail was lifting … at one point it was nearly 3/4 of the way down to the cuticle. Every now and again, I’d make an attempt to resolve the issue but because it didn’t hurt, my efforts were half-hearted.

At one point, I found a website (can’t find it again, naturally) that said not to clean out the dead skin under the lifted part of the nail. So, I didn’t. I just trickled Tea Tree essential oil as best I could under the nail. The nail would look like it was healing, I’d forget about it and the next time I looked, it would be lifting again.

Finally, a little over a month ago, I decided to really attack the problem. I’m happy to report my nail is now growing naturally again, although it’ll be about three months until the tip is as long as the rest of the fingers on that hand. Here’s what I did:

  • Despite what that website said, it seemed to me the dead skin would harbor fungus. So, I cleaned all the dead skin out from underneath the lifted portion of the nail and then clipped the nail as far down as I could get.  If you need to, use a pair of cuticle scissors so you can cut it back as close as possible to where the nail is still attached to the bed. (An attached nail has a pinkish hue. Unattached will be whitish.) Keep it clipped.
  • Everywhere I looked, it said to keep the nail dry. This makes sense: fungi love moisture. For me, however, this is a difficult thing to do. I’m always washing something, whether it’s just wiping down counters or mopping floors. I have gritted my teeth and unless I’m showering or washing my hands, I put on a pair of rubber gloves – even when brushing my teeth. If you blow-dry your hair (I rarely do), point the dryer at your nail (edge-on) for a few seconds. (If you’re going to be wearing the rubber gloves for any length of time, put on a pair of cotton gloves, first, to absorb your sweat. Avoid moisture of any kind!)
  • This will be the most difficult part for a lot of people. I have very small hands so it’s relatively easy for me. Every night I stuck my pinky into the top of a bottle of Tea Tree essential oil so the entire nail got soaked. It looked and felt strange – I sat for 10 minutes with the bottle upended on my finger. However you manage it, ensure your entire nail is covered and soaking in the oil. After 10 minutes, wipe the excess off your skin but allow the oil to air dry on the nail and any exposed nail bed. Your nail will look a little dry after this but it’s a good thing. Do not put any moisturizer of any kind on that nail for the entire course of this treatment.

You must be diligent in doing all this. I kept up the Tea Tree applications for a week after my nail looked normal. Fungus will take any excuse to grow again and it only takes one live spore to generate a colony. Although I’ve discontinued the Tea Tree oil, I’m still being anal about putting on rubber gloves if I’m working with water. I’ll keep this up until the tip has grown out and everything finally looks normal again.

If you’re sensitive to straight Tea Tree (some are), dilute it. If you can’t handle it even in a diluted form, other antifungal essential oils that may be used are: Garlic, Thyme, Calendula, Clove and Cinnamon. These will need to be diluted with a carrier oil, first: 10 drops essential oil to 1 fluid ounce carrier oil. I’d suggest using Coconut oil because it, too, is slightly antifungal. Whatever you use, keep up your treatment for at least a week after your nail looks OK. You can’t see fungus spores.

My doctor said an old folks’ remedy for nail fungus is to smear your nail with Vicks Vaporub® before bed, covering your nail with a cotton glove. If it were made with all pure essential oils & petroleum jelly, I’d buy this: camphor will kill just about anything. However, I looked at the ingredient list: the camphor they use now is synthetic. I doubt it would work but you could certainly try.

It goes without saying: ladies, no nail treatments. No fake nails, no varnish, nothing.

If all else fails, go to your doctor and have him/her remove the nail completely. Then treat with the antifungal oil for a week or two to kill any remaining fungus. Be prepared: nails take about six months to grow out so your finger/toe is going to look really ugly for awhile.

Two months later: See above statement about it only taking one spore to generate a colony of fungi. I put on fake nails for only two days for my son’s wedding and at the same time, got lazy about getting my finger wet. I’m back to square one. This time, I’m going to keep up the Tea Tree Oil treatments for a month after everything looks OK to ensure it’s finally healed!