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Are Your Trimmers Causing Ingrown Toenails?

Do these clippers look like the ones you are using to trim your toenails?

Traditional Toenail Clippers

Toenail Trimmers

“Well yeah,” you say.  “They’re TOENAIL clippers!”

You’re right, these are toenail clippers but using them to trim your toenails could cause or worsen ingrown nails.  Look closely at the clippers above and you’ll notice that both have a curved cutting surface practically guaranteeing that your nail edges will be trimmed at an angle.  Experts advise trimming nails straight across and for good reason.

When it comes to trimming your toenails, there is often more than meets the eye.  What you see may be a smoothly and neatly trimmed nail gently cut back at the edges.  However, it’s what you don’t see that frequently causes ingrown nails.  For many people, the side of the nail either grows downward into the nail crease or skin may grow up and over the edge of the nail.  When that is the case, it is likely that improper trimming will create a toenail spicule – a sharp, pointed piece of nail that then punctures the skin as the nail grows.

Diagram of Nail Spicule, a Common Cause of Ingrown Toenail

Ingrown Toenail Caused By Improper Trimming

Ideally, in addition to trimming toenails straight across, you should also trim them no shorter than the end of the toe.  For some people, however, this isn’t comfortable.  If you are going to trim the nail shorter, the right trimmer combined with the right technique can make a world of difference.

First, the trimmer…there are a few good options.  There are traditional toenail trimmers of both varieties shown above that have a straight cutting edge.  Another great option is cuticle nippers.  These have a shorter, pointed cutting area and are easier for getting into tough to reach places.  Additionally, the handle to blade position keeps hands out of the way so you can more easily see what you’re cutting.  Whichever style of clippers you choose, the investment in quality is worth it.  A quality pair of clippers (usually $10-$20) will cut cleanly through the nail in the first attempt which is important in producing a smooth, straight nail end.

Next, soften the nails.  Some sources say that soaking the feet prior to trimming isn’t necessary but we beg to differ.  Have you ever made that first cut into your nail and the piece of nail flies across the bathroom?  Did you have control over how the rest of the nail piece broke off?  Of course not.  Nails that have been soaked are softer and less likely to break at undesired angles when trimmed.  (Trimming after a shower is usually sufficient for this purpose.)

Finally, when trimming, firmly pull back any overlapping skin until you can see the edge of the nail.  Use the point of the trimmers to make sure no slivers or sharp corners remain that could poke into the skin and cause irritation.  If needed, a special ingrown toenail file may be used to smooth the corner of the nail.  You should be able to run your file or fingernail slightly under the side of the nail and around to the front edge without encountering any resistance or rough patches.