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Many women can’t resist treating themselves to a holiday themed toenail design. While it might look festive, something may be lurking beneath. I am often asked, “does nail polish cause a nail fungus?” Using toenail polish in and of itself does not cause the problem, however it doesn’t help either. Fungus is a naturally found on your skin and nails, especially on the foot, but doesn’t usually cause a concern. Fungus is an opportunist and given the right set of circumstances will cause an infection in the nail. Fungus thrives in dark, moist environments and can be made worse in some nail salons after the feet have been soaking and the nail is treated aggressively and then polish is applied, trapping moisture in the nail.

Most nail polishes contain damaging chemicals, such as formaldehyde and toluene and nail polish remover contains acetone. All of these damage the toenails and cause the white streaking that many women experience when removing their polish. This damage weakens the toenails and makes them more susceptible to developing a fungus.

Many over-the-counter medications and preparations are available, as well as popular home remedies, which rarely cure the nail fungus. There are several topical and oral medications as well as laser treatment to address toenail fungus. Choosing the correct treatment option depends on a combination of medical and personal issues. I will discuss these with a patient and together we can select the most appropriate method for eliminating toenail fungus

Here are several things to consider in an attempt to prevent toenail fungus.

Wash your hands and feet regularly and keep your nails short and dry. Wash your hands and feet with soap and water, rinse, and dry thoroughly, including between the toes. Trim nails straight across and file down thickened areas.

Wear socks that absorb sweat. Fabrics effective at wicking away moisture include wool, nylon and polypropylene. Change your socks often, especially if you have sweaty feet.

Choose shoes that reduce humidity. It also helps to occasionally take off your shoes or wear open-toe footwear.

Discard old shoes. If possible, avoid wearing old shoes, which can harbor fungi and cause a re-infection. Or treat them with disinfectants or antifungal powders.

Use an antifungal spray or powder. Spray or sprinkle your feet and the insides of your shoes.

Don’t trim or pick at the skin around your nails. This may give fungus access to your skin and nails.

Don’t go barefoot in public places. Wear sandals or shoes around pools, showers, and locker rooms.

Choose a reputable nail salon. Make sure the place you go for a manicure or pedicure sterilizes its instruments properly. Instruments should be autoclaved or steam sterilized. Better yet, bring your own and disinfect them after use.

Give up nail polish and artificial nails. Although it may be tempting to hide nail fungal infections under a coat of pretty pink polish, this can trap unwanted moisture and worsen the infection. If you are going to an event or on vacation and “must” have your nails polished, consider removing it once the event is over. This will allow the nails to “breath” and any fungus to be treated.

Wash your hands after touching an infected nail. Nail fungus can spread from nail to nail.