You may not wake up every day thinking about how to avoid a fungal nail infection, but it might not be a bad idea. Why? For starters, the fungi that cause fungal nail infections, dermatophytes, are everywhere in the environment. Dermatophytes especially favor dark, damp environments, and feed on keratin, a protein found in hair and nails.
Another reason to avoid a fungal nail infections is that nail fungus is particularly hard to treat. The infection digs in deeply into the nail, so it can take considerable time and effort to combat the fungus and keep it from multiplying.
Those, along with the fact that nail fungus is pretty unsightly to look at, are pretty darn good reasons to take precautions against nail fungus. In order to do that, follow these 10 laws to decrease your chances of infection:
1) Maintain healthy foot hygiene
Maintaining healthy hygiene is the first line of defense against fungal nail infections. Especially for those who frequent public pools or are active in athletics, scrubbing down feet and toes on a regular basis will help kill infection causing microbes before they really get going.
2) Don’t walk barefoot in public places
Public showers are the most notorious environment for contracting nail fungus -- and why wouldn’t they be? With consistently damp conditions and a continuous array of unprotected feet to infect, it’s practically heaven for nail fungus causing dermatophytes. If using a public shower is a must, always wear sandals to protect from infection. In general, if other people's feet are coming in contact with a surface, take precautions against walking on those surfaces.
3) Keep nails short and well maintained
Poorly cut nails are a potential hotbed for fungal activity. Nails that are cut too short can expose the nail bed to fungi, where an infection can take root. Nails that are too long can collect fungi and other microbes under the nail, causing increased chance of infection.
The proper toenail cut is straight across, and not rounding the corners. This cut also decreases the likelihood of ingrown toenails and other ailments.
4) Keep feet dry
Nail fungus has a hard time taking root on dry skin and nails, so making sure that feet are dried off after showering or other activities, especially before putting socks or shoes on, will decrease the opportunities for infection. For an even better method, use foot powder after working out and showering to take care of any extra moisture.
5) Wear sweat absorbent, breathable socks
It’s a fact: Feet get sweaty. Whether it’s from vigorous exercise or just tight fitting, uncomfortable shoes, socks can easily get damp and create an environment ripe for breeding nail fungus. In these situations, it’s best to wear socks that minimize the risk of infection by absorbing moisture and allowing feet to breathe.
Synthetic socks generally are the worst for keeping feet cool and dry. Cotton is better, but feet often remain wet. One of the best options are “wicking socks,” which are designed to move moisture away from the feet so it can evaporate while keeping the feet dry.
6) Choose breathable footwear that fits
Wearing footwear that fits is important in reducing the risk of nail fungus. When footwear is too small, the nail can become damaged from impacting the end of the shoe. This can cause cuts around the nail that can easily become infected, while also increasing the likelihood of an ingrown toenail.
7) Don’t share shoes, socks or nail clippers
Sounds obvious, right? But many people do it, and they put themselves at risk for nail fungus. Anything that comes in direct contact with the toes can harbor and transmit nail fungus, especially shoes and socks, which can harbor fungi for weeks. The safest bet is to try to avoid borrowing these items unless absolutely necessary.
8) Disinfect on a regular basis
Getting in the habit of disinfecting footwear can prevent fungi from taking hold and killing whatever bacteria has accumulated. The inside of shoes becomes filthy over time, and shoes that are regularly worn barefoot are especially susceptible to fungi. Products like 10-Seconds Deodorant & Disinfectant do the job quickly and efficiently, or you can regularly dust using an anti-fungal powder inside your footwear, as the American College of Foot & Ankle Orthopedics & Medicine recommends.
9) Only visit reputable nail salons
Take caution if you get your nails done, as nail salons are known for transmitting fungal nail infections. Infections commonly spread through instruments and foot baths, because not all nail salons meet cleanliness standards of the law. According to Robert Spalding, a Tennessee podiatrist and author of “Death by Pedicure,” about 75% of nail salons in the U.S. don’t follow proper state protocol for disinfection.
Check to see that a nail salon adequately sterilizes and disinfects instruments before use. According to Spalding, this means more than just rinsing with liquid disinfectants, and that salons should use an "autoclave" -- a machine used in medical environments for disinfecting equipment. An even better alternative is to just bring your own instruments.
10) Wear fresh socks at bowling alleys and shoe stores
Bowling alley’s are supposed to disinfect shoes after every use, but how confident are you that that’s the case? Even at shoe stores, how do you know who’s tried on those shoes before you? As a best practice, whenever you’re putting your feet where someone else's may have been, throw on a pair of fresh socks and keep your feet from making direct contact. Afterward, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure to take a shower and give your feet a good scrub to kill off any bacteria that could be lingering.
When it comes to preventing nail fungus, never assume a surface is as clean as you expect. Follow the 10 Laws of Preventing Nail Fungus and you'll limit your exposure to nail fungus causing microbes, decrease your chances of contracting a fungal nail infection, and end with healthy, happy toes!