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Fungus Fighters

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Give toenail fungus the boot, naturally

It sounds a little like something out of a horror film. Toenail fungus, also known as onychomycosis, is caused by a group of fungus called dermatophytes. As these fungi grow, they feed on the keratin in the nail. This causes disfiguration and discoloration of the nails, and affected nails may become so thick and overgrown that it is painful to wear shoes. An infectionmay also be accompanied by an unpleasant odor, and can spread to other nails and even be passed on to others.

Topical prescription treatments are available, but come with risk of side effects including—but not limited to—irritation, itching, burning, blistering, swelling, and oozing at application site. Laser treatments are effective but pricey. Thankfully, it’s possible to foil the fungus with a few safe and inexpensive ingredients.

Tea Tree Oil 

Tea tree oil is a potent natural antiseptic and fungicide. To use, first make sure your toenails are clipped and feet are clean and dry. “When using topical essential oil on the nails, I suggest soaking the nails for 5–10 minutes in warm water with Epsom salts first, then applying the oil with a cotton swab and allowing it to dry on the nail,” says herbal healing expert Mary Bove, ND. Bove recommends continuing to use topical oils for a few weeks after the infection has cleared, as there may still be remnants of the fungus embedded deep within the nail or nail bed

Tea tree and thyme

Mix equal parts olive oil, thyme oil, and tea tree oil and apply this blend to the affected nail daily. Allow it to work for about 15 minutes, and then gently scrub nail with a toothbrush; this helps to slough off the uppermost layer of the nail, which generally contains the most fungus.

Tea tree and lavender

Lavender will help fight the infection and prevent skin irritation, as it has antiseptic properties. You can make your own anti-fungal oil by mixing equal amounts of tea tree oil, lavender oil, and olive oil. Dab on the surface of the nail as well as under the top edge of the toenail and surrounding area 2 or 3 times a day. Also apply nightly before bed, and put on a pair of clean, dry cotton socks; this will trap body heat and increase the effectiveness of the remedy.

Apple cider vinegar

Soak your toenails for 15–20 minutes in 1 part warm water and 1 part apple cider vinegar. Dry nails thoroughly with a clean towel. Apple cider vinegar is a mild acid and antifungal, and prevents toenail fungus from spreading. You can also make your own exfoliating paste out of ground rice flour and apple cider vinegar.

Oregano oil

Mix a few drops of oregano essential oil with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Apply this mixture on the affected area daily for a few weeks. “Both tea tree oil and oregano oil have been shown to have antifungal activity,” says Bove.


Taking probiotic supplements, although not a cure, can assist the body in fighting the fungus. Additionally, olive leaf extract is an excellent internal anti-fungal.

Don’t Let Fungus Take a Foothold

  • Avoid wearing socks and shoes for prolonged periods, as this creates the perfect environment for fungal growth—a moist and warm habitat.
  • Don’t share footwear or towels.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in public pools, baths, or gyms, and dry feet thoroughly after bathing or exercise.
  • Wear cotton socks to absorb sweat and moisture.

Good Buys

Gaia Herbs: Certified Organic Olive Leaf

North American Herb & Spice: Oreganol p73 Oil of Oregano

NOW Essentials Oils: 100% Pure Tea Tree