The Gross Truths You Need to Know About Nail Fungus

When it comes to nails, we love talking about all the fun stuff: cute nail art, pretty polish, and the cool new sheet masks that we’re dying to try. What we’re not so eager to discuss? A pesky little problem that’s surprisingly common, if not a wee bit embarrassing: nail fungus.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 50% of all nail disorders are fungal nail infections, making them something you should definitely be aware of. Here’s what you need to know to keep your fingers and toes in tip-top shape. And, feel free to share this with your friends.

  1. Fungus thrives on moisture.
    As with many types of icky bodily issues, humid spots are prime real estate for fungus to flourish, making your sweaty socks and shoes the perfect spots for it to grow. To help prevent fungus, always wash and dry your feet thoroughly to keep them clean — and don’t just assume standing in the shower will do it. “Make sure you actually use soap on your feet,” says dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara. “A lot of people don’t, but you actually have to scrub them with a non-soap cleanser to get rid of bacteria.”

If you’re on the sweaty side, you should change your socks more often in order to prevent your feet from staying damp all day — and keep a little talcum powder handy.

2. It could be lurking beneath your nail polish.

If you tend to keep your fingers and toes primped and polished at all times, perhaps it’s time to give ’em a break for a day or two. Not only is it important to let your nails rest every once in a while, a fungal infection could be concealed by your polish. You won’t have any idea if your nails are yellowing if they’re always painted in glitter, after all, which brings us to our next point…

3. You should be aware of the signs.

Knowing the symptoms of a fungal infection is the first step to combatting it. If your nail is thickening, crumbling, yellow, or even lifting from its bed like it’s going to fall off, don’t just ignore it — go see a doctor before it gets even worse.

4. Treatment can take a while.

“Since the infection occurs under the nail plate or in the nail bed, successful treatment will take several months or more,” explains Dr. Phoebe Rich of Oregon Health & Science University, adding that a prescription oral medication such as Lamisil could help more serious cases, while new or mild ones could potentially be fixed by a topical medication.

5. It can be passed between people.

Unfortunately, fungus isn’t a solo thing. “Fungus is contagious and can spread from one nail to another — and even from nails to skin,” she explains. “These infections aren’t dangerous, but they can be painful and unsightly.” Always wear flip-flops when using a public shower, locker room, or pool to help keep yourself safe.