Top Tips for Clipping to Prevent Ingrown Toenails

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You’ve been clipping your nails your whole life — do you really need expert advice on such a basic hygiene habit? Yes, if you want to avoid painful, infected ingrown toenails. Here’s how to clip correctly.

Clipping your toenails isn’t just about visual aesthetics; it’s about comfort, safety, and overall foot health — especially for runners and athletes. Do it wrong, and you could end up with ingrown toenails that wreck your stride, turning a relaxing run into a painful experience.

Whether you’re a marathoner, a teacher, or just someone who needs to stroll the aisles of the grocery store, you need to steer clear of foot problems like ingrown toenails. Fortunately, a few adjustments to your toenail clipping routine can reduce your risk of developing ingrown nails and keep your feet in top condition. 

Here are the top tips from Dr. Matthew Cerniglia, our experienced podiatrist at Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas in Fort Worth. 

Toenail anatomy

An ingrown toenail can occur when the leading edge of the nail grows into part of the toe, causing discomfort, redness, and swelling. 

To clip your nails correctly, you need to understand their anatomy. The various parts of a toenail are the nail plate (the visible part of the nail), the nail bed (the skin beneath the nail), the cuticle (the tissue that overlaps the nail plate at the base), and the nail matrix (where the nail grows from).

Ingrown toenails usually happen when you cut the nail plate too short or trim the sides with a rounded edge. These mistakes invite your skin to grow over the edge of your nail, leading to an ingrowth. 

The solution: Always cut straight across and leave a bit of white nail at the top.

Timing matters

The timing of your toenail clipping can impact its efficacy. When you snip, do it after a shower or a foot soak when your nails are softer and easier to trim. Hard nails tend to splinter, which can lead to uneven edges that may be more prone to turning into the toe.

It’s also worth noting that toenails grow at an average of about 1.62mm per month, so you don’t need to trim them too frequently. Once every couple of weeks is usually adequate to maintain their length.

Use the right tools

Invest in the correct tools for toenail clipping. Opt for stainless steel or another high-quality metal to ensure your clippers are sharp and won’t bend or break easily. Avoid tools that are prone to cracking or splitting the nails.

If you have thick nails, use toenail clippers designed explicitly for thicker nails. Regular nail clippers can crush the nail, which can make the nail grow more aggressively into the skin. 

Technique, not force

Clipping toenails is more about technique than raw strength. Applying too much force can damage your nail bed and lead to painful ingrown toenails. 

When cutting, use a gentle, even pressure. If you encounter resistance, stop and adjust your angle — chances are you’re trying to cut too much of the nail at once.

The safe length

Keeping your toenails at the right length can prevent ingrown toenails. The perfect length is just at the tip of your toe when looking at it straight-on.

You might feel tempted to cut your nails as short as possible to avoid hitting them or ramming them into the tip of your shoes, but leaving a little length is better than getting an ingrown toenail. 

Cutting corners

The most critical part is how you tackle the corners. Instead of rounding them, which can encourage the nail to grow into the skin, keep them straight. If your nails are naturally curved, you can slightly file the corners to match the curve of your toe, but don’t overdo it.

A common mistake is cutting the nails in a curve to match the shape of the toe, but that’s the perfect shape for ingrown nails. Instead of curves, create a small square edge.

Post-clipping care

After you’ve trimmed your toenails, moisturize the area around them to prevent the skin from becoming dry and tight, which can cause it to grow over the nail.

If you’re prone to ingrown nails or you’ve had one previously, Dr. Cerniglia might advise applying a thin layer of antibiotic cream under the toenail edge to prevent infection, especially if you break the skin.

Healthy feet, to the tip of your toes

Pay attention to any changes in your toenail growth or any pain. If you’re experiencing tenderness, redness, or swelling, you may be developing an ingrown nail. If you have diabetes, ingrown toenails and other foot problems can go from mild to severe quickly. 

For expert ingrown toenail and foot care, call Ankle and Foot Institute of Texas or request an appointment online.