What home remedies work well for toenail fungus?
Toenail fungus is common, but it can be difficult to treat, particularly if it is severe and affects most nails. Whatever treatment is used, the nails should be trimmed and preferably debrided (most of the damaged nail removed) before applying the treatment. Change socks daily and wear shoes that are well ventilated and allow your feet to breathe. Research has shown that the following home remedies can be effective for toenail fungus, and in some cases, more effective than medicinal products brought on prescription or over the counter:
- Vicks Vaporub
- Snake root extract (Ageratina pichinchensis)
- Tea Tree oil (Malaleuca alternifolia)
- Oregano oil
- Ozonized sunflower oil.
Other natural remedies that may work but have no trials to support their use as a treatment for toenail fungus include:
- Listerine mouthwash
- Olive leaf extract
- Apple cider vinegar
- Baking soda.
83% (15 out of 18) of people who applied Vicks Vaporub once daily to their fungal toenails for 48 weeks showed a positive treatment effect with 27.8% reporting a mycological and clinical cure, and 55.6% having partial clearance. Only 3% of participants had no change. All 18 people rated their satisfaction with the nail appearance at the end of treatment as satisfied or very satisfied. The active ingredients of Vicks Vaporub include thymol, menthol, camphor, and oil of Eucalyptus have been shown to be effective at killing fungi in laboratory studies.
Verdict: Vicks Vaporub had a cure rate of 27.8% in this study of 18 people with toenail fungus, but almost all reported some improvement. At a cost of $24 to $36 for 48 weeks supply, Vicks vaporub is worthwhile considering when compared with the prescription topical antifungal treatment ciclopirox which has a similar cure rate (34%) but costs $780 to $900 for a course.
Snake root extract (Ageratina pichinchensis)
Snake root extract has long been used in Mexican traditional medicine has a treatment for fungal skin infections. A study that compared a topical solution of Snake root extract to 8% ciclopirox for toenail fungus in 96 people reported Snake root extract was therapeutically effective in 71.1% and a mycological cure was experienced by 59.1%, compared with 80.9% reporting therapeutic effectiveness with ciclopirox and 63.8% a mycological cure. There were no severe side effects reported with either treatment.
Verdict: Snake root extract applied every third day for the first month, twice a week for the second month, and once a week for the third month, was only slightly less effective than the prescription topical antifungal treatment ciclopirox at treating and curing toenail fungus.
Tea Tree oil (Malaleuca alternifolia)
100% Tea tree oil applied directly to infected toenails twice a day was comparable to treatment with 1% clotimazole solution twice daily with 60% in the tea tree oil group reporting full or partial resolution and 18% reporting mycological cure after 6 months compared with 61% and 11% respectively in the clotrimazole group.
Another study found a combination antifungal (butenafine2%) and teat tree oil 5% cream had an 80% cure rate compared with a 0% cure rate for those using tea tree alone
Verdict: Tea tree oil provided just as good an improvement in nail appearance as clotrimazole 1% after 6 months of use, but the use of tea tree oil in combination with an antifungal agent appears much more effective.
Oregano oil contains thymol which research has reported has excellent antifungal and antibacterial activity. Although trials investigating the use of oregano oil for nail fungus are lacking, one trial that used a combination topical treatment containing essentials oils of oregano, lime, and tea tree reported a complete mycological cure of 78.5% after 12 months of once daily application.
Verdict: Oregano oil has antifungal properties and may be effective at treating nail fungus, but clinical trials are lacking although a combination topical treatment that combined oregano oil with lime and tea tree oils reported a 78.5% cure rate after 12 months of application.
Ozonized sunflower oil and other ozonated oils
Ozonized sunflower oil combines sunflower oil and ozone and is made by treating the sunflower oil with ozone which leads to an ozone reservoir that slowly releases into the skin or nail area. Ozone is one of the best bacteriacidal, antifungal, and antiviral agents known and represents a promising and needed alternative to current antimicrobials, because it is cheap to make and can avoid resistance. A laboratory study showed ozonized sunflower oil (Bioperoxoil) inhibited the growth of 5 different strains of fungi, although this was less than with conventional agents such as fluoconazole or itraconazole. Another study that compared ozonized sunflower oil (Oleozon) twice a day for three months to ketoconazole 2% cream, found 90.5% were cured and 9.5% reported an improvement in their nail fungus with Oleozon compared to only 13.5% cured with ketoconazole and 27.5% improved. 59% remained the same.
Verdict: Ozonized oils including ozonized sunflower oil are promising antifungal agents that appear significantly more effective than conventional agents when used to treat toenail fungus.
Listerine original mouthwash contains ingredients such as thymol, menthol, and eucalyptol, that have antifungal and antibacterial properties and there has been a trend for Listerine footbaths to treat athletes foot and other fungal feet infections, such as fungal toenails.
Verdict: Soaking feet in a Listerine foot bath for 20 to 30 minutes softens the nail plate which can allow natural antifungal ingredients contained in Listerine such as thymol and eucalyptol to penetrate the nail and kill the fungus, but no trials supporting its use have been found.
Olive leaf extract
Olive leaf extract contains oleuropein which has been found to have antifungal and antibacterial properties, and some studies have been shown it to be effective against the yeast Candida albicans. There is some suggestion it may be effective against nail fungus if taken orally (by mouth), but no quality trials could be found.
Verdict: Olive leaf extract is possibly effective for treating toenail fungus but no trials supporting its use have been found.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can lower the pH of the skin which can decrease levels of unwanted fungi on the skin and treat fungal nail and foot infections. Some experts advise adding two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a footbath of lukewarm water and soaking in it for 20 minutes. It may be less irritating than Listerine foot soaks.
Verdict: Apple cider vinegar may possibly be effective for treating toenail fungus but no trials supporting its use have been found.
Garlic has strong antifungal properties and is one of the oldest home remedies for treating toe nial fungus, with most people chopping up a clove of garlic and applying it to the infected nail for 20 to 30 minutes once a day. But garlic can be irritating to the skin, and the smell can put a lot of people off.
Verdict: Garlic is a well-known remedy for toenail fungus but there are no clinical trials that support its use and it can be irritating to the skin and have an unappealing smell.
Baking soda made into a paste and applied to the infected nail for 15 minutes, three to four times a day removes excess moisture from the nail which can reduce fungal growth but is unlikely to completely eliminate the fungus.
Verdict: Baking soda can help dry up excess moisture from the feet but is unlikely to eliminate toe nail fungus and there are no clinical trials that support its use.
- Soak—So Does it Work? BYRDIE Sep 5, 2021. https://www.byrdie.com/listerine-foot-soak-5075083
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- Guerrer LV, Cunha KC, Nogueira MC, Cardoso CC, Soares MM, Almeida MT. "In vitro" antifungal activity of ozonized sunflower oil on yeasts from onychomycosis. Braz J Microbiol. 2012;43(4):1315-1318. doi:10.1590/S1517-838220120004000011
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