Generally, if you’re physically able to care for your toenails and you have no underlying medical problems – such as diabetic neuropathy, or limited mobility or eyesight – you can consider cutting your own nails. If trimming your nails is awkward for you, a few steps may make wielding a toenail clipper easier. I tell my patients to take a bath or shower – or soak their feet in warm water – prior to cutting their toenails. The water helps soften thick nails, making them easier to cut. It’s also useful to regularly moisturize the skin around your toenails. I recommend rubbing a thick emollient cream on the area, then putting on a pair of cotton socks and letting the moisturizer do its work while you sleep.
When cutting nails, take care not to cut too far down. Overaggressive trimming and cutting the toenails too short can lead to ingrown toenails. Leave a very small bit (1 millimeter or 1/32 inch) of the nail past the nail bed when trimming. You also want to avoid a rounded cut. It’s best to cut the nails fairly straight across, ensuring that the corners of the nail do not cut into the skin folds of the toe.
For those who can’t – or would rather not – cut their own toenails, a podiatrist can provide both foot and toenail care. But a pedicure at a podiatrist’s office might not be covered by insurance unless it’s deemed medically necessary and/or you have an underlying condition that requires a profession to tend to your feet.
If you are generally in good health, regular pedicures at a nail salon may be an option – and allow you avoid the cost of uncovered services at a podiatrist’s office. But make sure the place is clean, and ask how they are sanitizing their instruments (or bring your own).
While thick or discolored toenails might not mean something is seriously amiss, anything that’s painful or new – or that has you concerned – should be brought to the attention of a podiatrist. I can test for toenail fungus and advise you on topical or oral treatments when necessary, treat ingrown nails, and assess damage from trauma to a nail. Don’t dismiss signs of potential problems. Your toenails could be signaling anything from a local infection to a systemic disease.