17 Facts About Toenails That Make You Go "Oooh" And "Ew"

    Warning: gross GIFs ahead.

    We spoke to the Institute for Preventive Foothealth (IPFH) and asked its executive director Robert Thompson and research director Rick Mende for some essential information on our toenails. Enjoy!

    1. Toenails are basically human claws.

    Some mammals have hooves or claws; we have toenails. It's believed that way back when our feet were used for more than just mobility-related activities, our toenails would help us pick things up (the way our fingernails still do today).

    2. Some research suggests toenails help us to balance.

    3. Fungi and bacteria lurk between our toenails and the skin beneath them.

    There are 125,000 sweat glands in each foot, which means we're basically wrapping our feet in very moist, warm enclosures every day. This makes it a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria – which can result in infections and, at a minimum, smelly feet.

    4. Other crap like dead skin cells, dirt, debris, and any lotions you use end up there too.

    5. You might think your toenails look super clean but they are not (sorry!).

    6. Toenails are made of the same dead skin tissue as fingernails but are two to three times thicker.


    Toenails are quite thick due to friction and fungus. In general they also get quite the rough ride having to put up with woolly socks, tight shoes, and being stepped on.

    7. Ever get a pesky hangnail? They are essentially bits of the nail cuticle that become dry and brittle and separate from the skin.

    8. Then there are those evil bastards: ingrown toenails.

    9. You CAN fix them, though.

    10. Onychomycosis is the most common fungal nail infection, and the older you are, the more likely you are to get it.

    11. Also, men are more likely to get fungal nail infections.


    Nail fungus tends to affect men more often than women. There are other risk factors of course: wearing shoes and socks that are too tight, walking barefoot around damp places like swimming pools and gyms, a weakened immune system, and diabetes to name a few.

    12. The most common reason a toenail falls off is due to a certain contagious fungal infection.


    This fungal infection is caused by various types of dermatophytes, which are fungi that feed upon the keratin found in the skin and nails. Dermatophytes can also affect the skin, resulting in athlete’s foot.

    13. The second-most common reason a toenail falls off is injury.

    14. Once the nail comes off it will usually regrow within three to six months.

    15. There's also a condition called yellow toenail syndrome.

    The cause of this is unknown but a genetic predisposition is suspected. People with weak lymphatic systems (like bronchiectasis, sinusitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer) are more likely to develop this syndrome.

    16. Sometimes, toenails turn black.

    17. And lastly, toenail polish CAN discolour your toenail.


    Technically covering your toenails in polish is fine; the nail is “dead” so it doesn’t need to breathe. However, the nail absorbs moisture and so it can pick up some of the chemicals used in nail polish. This might dry out the nail and cause it to become stained (usually a shade of yellow or blue) if the polish is left on too long. One way to prevent this discolouration is to use a base coat on the nails to seal them before applying the polish.

    Maggy Van Eijk is the UK social media editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.

    Contact Maggy van Eijk at maggy.vaneijk@buzzfeed.com.

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