Can Nail Fungus Spread Through Nail Polish?

Dec 4, 2022

If you’ve noticed some discoloration or disfiguration of your toenails, you might be tempted to cover it up with bright red nail polish so nobody will notice. We hate to break it to you, but that’s not a great idea. The reasons are that nail fungus grows in moist, dark environments, and can spread through nail polish. Read on to get answers to the most common questions, concerns, and myths surrounding fungal nails.

What is Nail Fungus?

Nail fungus is essentially the growth of fungal bacteria in the crevices of your nails (often on and beneath toenails). Toenail fungus is very common because fungus thrives in moist and dark environments, just like the inside of your shoes and socks.

The fungus that causes nail fungus also grows very rapidly in the places people walk barefoot the most, such as public pools, locker rooms, showers, and even the bathrooms in your own house. So people pick up the fungus in one of these areas, and then it gets into their shoes and socks.

Nail fungus can show up in several ways, including:

  • Thick nails
  • Whitish to brown discoloration
  • Brittle, crumbly, ragged
  • Distorted in shape
  • Dark color caused by debris building up under the nail
  • Smelling slightly foul

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to keep your nail care tools and polish bottles to yourself by not sharing them with others. You also need to make sure to thoroughly clean those tools and get treatment as soon as you can before the fungus has a chance to spread to other parts of your body.

Cleaning toenails with nail fungus

Can Nail Fungus Spread?

The short answer to this is, yes. Nail fungus can spread to other nails, to the skin between your toes, and even to your groin and/or scalp! In fact, the same fungus that has caused your nail fungus can cause athlete’s foot in your feet. That’s why it’s important to keep tabs on symptoms and seek treatment as soon as you notice anything off.

So Can Nail Fungus Really Spread Through Nail Polish?

There is no short answer here. It’s kind of a yes, but not in the way you’d expect.

It’s highly unlikely that fungus will directly spread from nail to nail via nail polish application because a bottle of polish isn’t the most conducive environment for fungal growth due to all the chemicals present. However, while the risk is low, it’s not zero either, so we would not recommend sharing nail polish! And due to that, if you get your nails done in a nail salon, we would always recommend bringing your own nail polish in so that you know that only you have used it before.

Getting back to the main question, the bigger concern is that wearing nail polish at all can make you more susceptible to fungal infection. It can do this by making your nails more brittle, crumbly, and less breathable.

Our main suggestion is then that you use nail polish in moderation and avoid sharing polish with anyone else. Our golden rule is one week on, one week off, at the absolute most. Any more, and you’re basically preparing breeding grounds for nail fungi.

If you want to be extra safe, you can get separate bottles for your infected and non-infected toes.

What About Other Nail Care Tools?

Nail care tools can definitely spread nail fungus, which is why salons are required to sterilize their tools between clients, just like in the healthcare world. Nail and skin care tools like toenail clippers, nail files, and the like should never be shared from person-to-person.

We also recommend you use separate clippers for toenails and fingernails, and clean and sterilize your tools after use. This way you for sure will not spread any toenail fungus to the nails on your hands.

Bonus tip: although it’s tempting to try to deal with a fungal toenail by attempting to trim it as short as possible, this is usually counterproductive. Cutting your nail too short usually means more trauma to the nail bed and a greater opportunity for further infection through an ingrown toenail.

Should You Go to the Nail Salon at All?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to be 100 percent guaranteed that you’ll be protected from contracting or spreading nail fungus if you go out for a pedicure. Fungi like to hide in foot baths, jets, and tools that haven’t been completely cleaned.

If you do want to take your toenails to the salon, whether you have an ongoing fungal toenail infection or not, following these tips can help make you safer:

  • Make sure the salon and all technicians are fully licensed.
  • Choose salons that fully sterilize all tools using either an autoclave or UV light between guests. Tools or products (such as polish) that can’t be sterilized should be single-use only.
  • If possible, choose a salon that uses pipeless foot baths, as fungi can linger in pipes even if the basin is thoroughly sterilized between patients.
  • Try to schedule an appointment earlier in the day, as there’s less opportunity for baths or tools to be contaminated by other guests.

What Should You Do if You Have Nail Fungus?

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, it would be worth a visit to our offices where one of our podiatrists can evaluate your feet and toenails, and then give you the best treatment options to choose from.

The treatment options we offer at Patel Podiatry include:

  • Medications
  • Oral anti-fungal drugs
  • Medicated nail polish or nail cream
  • Laser therapy for nail fungus

We do find that a combination of the above treatments does provide faster and more effective healing from toenail fungus.

Let Us Help You Get Rid of Nail Fungus!

Need some help eradicating your nail fungus? You don’t have to do this alone. Let us help you get rid of nail fungus! Contact us today to book an appointment with Patel Podiatry. Request an appointment with Dr. Patel or Dr. Harpaz, just give us a call at (203) 876-7736 and check out our website to learn more about how we treat fungal toenails at our office.