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Apple Cider Vinegar For Toenail Fungus — Does It Work? What The Research Says

November 3, 2020

Toenail and foot maintenance doesn't have to come at a high cost. In fact, some of the best hygiene remedies are common kitchen staples. One, we wager you've heard plenty about before: apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is made from apple juice and is fermented to hard apple cider. It's then fermented a second time to become apple cider vinegar. In large volumes, it is known to contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, organic acids (acetic acid and citric acid), and plenty of other good-for-you compounds.

ACV is a true multifunctional tonic that is used in DIY cleaners, toners, bath soaks, hair rinses, you name it. And here's just another reason to stock up on a bottle: It may help ease and remedy symptoms of athlete's foot.  

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Here's what you need to know. 

Apple cider vinegar for toenail fungus: Does it work?

There are trillions of microbes that live on our skin—collectively called the skin microbiome—and for the most part, they help our skin thrive. However, sometimes organisms may get out of balance, and that's when infections or various other skin conditions can appear. "From what we can tell, a healthy skin microbiome protects against infection in much the same way a good gut microbiome does: by crowding out overgrowth of pathogenic organisms," writes physician Kara Fitzgerald, N.D., This is what happens with certain strains of fungus. 

Fungal overgrowth is actually the cause of tinea pedis, or what's commonly called athlete's foot. It's caused by the overgrowth of fungus like Candida albicans, trichophyton, epidermophyton, and microsporum. In the case of athlete's foot, these fungi thrive in wet, warm conditions—like your feet after being tucked into socks and shoes all day or after a workout. 

But as functional medicine practitioner Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, explains, "Apple cider vinegar has also been shown1 to have antiviral, anti-yeast and antifungal benefits, all helpful in supporting your microbiome balance." And numerous studies and research have pointed to ACV's antifungal abilities2 in general—while there is less research about athlete's foot specifically. However, in a 2018 study, scientists found that the vinegar can inhibit the growth of C. albicans3 in a petri dish3. It works by destroying the fungus's cell structure, along with specific enzymes the fungus needs to survive. 

Signs of toenail fungus.

So how do you know you have a fungal infection? Well, you'll likely start noticing some changes in the way your toes and feet look, feel, and smell4. Here are the most common signs of athlete's foot:

  • Yellowing of the nails
  • Buildup of debris under the nail bed
  • Cracked, dry skin
  • Thickening of the nail
  • Nail splitting 
  • Changing nail shape (like bent edges or bumps)
  • Odor similar to cheese
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How to use ACV to treat toenail fungus.

The best and most effective way to use apple cider vinegar to treat fungal overgrowth is through ACV foot soaks. And they are shockingly easy to do at home—follow the instructions below about once a week, but you can do it daily if you choose: 

  1. Find an organic apple cider vinegar that contains "the mother," as that's what holds all the nutrients.
  2. Fill your tub, sink, or basin with two parts warm water per one part apple cider vinegar. (This is a similar ratio for making an acne-clearing apple cider vinegar face toner.) 
  3. Then soak your feet for 10 to 20 minutes, rinse with water, and seal in the water with a high-quality moisturizer
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How to prevent toenail fungus

Once you've had a chance to treat the infection, you may be wondering how to make sure you don't get it again. (Fair! Athlete's foot is annoying, to say the least—and at its worst, painful!) And really the best way to deal with toenail fungus is to make sure you are following proper foot hygiene. Be mindful to wash your feet after workouts, tend to your toenails regularly with proper trimming and cuticle care, switch out of damp shoes and socks, and keep your microbiome balanced by hydrating with natural lotions and creams. 

The takeaway. 

Fungal foot infections are common, usually not that serious, and totally treatable—however, they are certainly frustrating for those who might get them frequently. First and foremost, follow proper foot hygiene by washing your feet, especially after workouts, limiting time spent in damp socks and shoes, and maintaining nail health. If you do find yourself with an infection, consider an apple cider vinegar foot soak for its antifungal properties. There isn't tons of peer-reviewed research on the DIY remedy at the moment, but what we have seen is promising. 

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.