Long runs and walks, balmy barefoot afternoons, swimming baths and paddling pools… blissful, eh? They’re also among the main ways to catch a fungal nail infection, which the British Association of Dermatologists says affects one in four people at any one time. So an effective fungal nail treatment is up there with insect repellent and sunblock as a product that could save your summer.
The best fungal nail treatments work by killing the normally harmless spores that multiply in dark, swampy places such as between your toes (where they cause athlete’s foot) and in the beds of your nails. The result can be as painful as it is unsightly, but effective treatment is easy to use at home and can make a difference within weeks, leaving you free to wear those open-toed sandals with pride.
Skip down the page to see which fungal nail treatments we recommend for clearing up infections fast, or read on for more tips about choosing the right treatment for you.
Best fungal nail treatment: At a glance
How to choose the best fungal nail treatment for you
Do I need a fungal nail treatment?
If you’ve noticed that one or more of your toenails (or, less commonly, a fingernail) has got thicker, slightly discoloured and yellow, and is perhaps getting brittle enough for bits to break off or even start separating from the nail bed, it’s pretty likely that you have a fungal nail infection (official name onychomycosis). You can treat it at home using one of the products we recommend below.
If you’re not sure, show the nail to your local pharmacist, who’ll be able to confirm that you’ve got a fungal infection and not some other less common nail problem.
What should I look for in a fungal nail treatment?
Amorolfine, ciclopirox and pentylene glycol are among the most-used active ingredients of anti-fungal nail treatments. They restore pH balance, kill fungal and bacterial infections, and allow the nail to grow healthily from its base.
Urea also blitzes fungus and can be aggressive enough to kill the infected nail tissue completely. Be careful not to get a strong urea-based treatment (such as Canespro) onto healthy skin.
If the nail has grown very thick, you might want to file the surface first to help the solution penetrate it and reach the infected skin below. A couple of our recommended products come with files included.
Some fungal nail treatments double up as nail polishes, so they cover up the problem while also treating it. You can also get nail treatment pens, which make anti-fungal treatments really easy and safe to apply.
The bigger the nail, the longer it’ll take to grow out, so big toenails take the longest. Expect to wait between four and 12 months for your brand new nail.
If this all fascinates you, check out the detailed comparison of chemical treatments for onychomycosis on the Foot Expert Podiatric Dermatology Blog.
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The best fungal nail treatments to buy
1. Excilor Nail Fungus Treatment: The best all-round fungal nail treatment
Price: £15 | Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy
Excilor’s Nail Fungus Treatment solution is the most highly-praised anti-fungal nail treatment among verified online buyers, who hail it as the one that works when others fail. It’s very easy to use, too: brush it onto your infected nail twice a day, then forget about it. It dries very fast and penetrates into the nail without the need for filing, so it’s a quick and mess-free process that soon becomes automatic, like cleaning your teeth.
Don’t expect overnight results, or even over-fortnight results (despite the claim on the box). It will support healthy regrowth of the nail, so you’ll see results when the nail starts to grow back. Meanwhile, Excilor keeps working on the micro-environment of your nail, making it hostile to fungal growth and preventing further infections.
Key specs – Size: 3.3ml; Format: Liquid; Active ingredients: Amorolfine, ciclopirox
2. Canespro Fungal Nail Treatment Set: The best fungal nail treatment for fast results and severe cases
Price: £29 | Buy now from Amazon
Unlike our other recommended treatments, which stop the infection and let your nail grow out, Canespro (from the makers of Canesten) lets you take a sledgehammer to the infected nail. Well, a scraper.
It is a bit of a faff, but very powerful. First, you have to clean and soften the affected foot (or hand) in warm water, dry it, apply the ointment and cover it all with a plaster. You do this once a day. After the first 24 hours, you can start scraping at the infected nail tissue, which will start to come away. After a couple of weeks of this fun, you’ll have removed the entire infected nail. Plasters and a scraper are included in the box.
It’s not a subtle approach (and you’ll need to take care not to get the ointment on healthy skin), but if you want to get rid of the infection fast then this is the best choice. Check out the official instruction video on YouTube.
Key specs – Size: 10g; Format: Ointment; Active ingredient: Urea 40%
3. Scholl Fungal Nail Treatment: The best fungal nail treatment for thickened nails
Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon
One of the symptoms of a fungal nail infection is a thicker nail, which isn’t exactly helpful because it makes it harder for a treatment to penetrate and reach the infection underneath. So foot experts Scholl help things along by including five disposable files in the box. For the first few weeks of treatment, you file the surface of the infected nail before brushing on the liquid. After four weeks, ditch the files and apply the solution once a week until the nail has grown out. It’s a little more fiddly than Excilor, but it’s good value and boasts many happy customers.
Key specs – Size: 3.8ml; Format: Liquid; Active ingredient: Amorolfine
4. Superdrug Fungal Nail Treatment Pen: The best-value and easiest fungal nail treatment to use
Price: £15 | Buy now from Superdrug
Superdrug’s fungal nail treatment pen uses the same active ingredient as Canespro but in a smaller dose so it’s less aggressive yet still very effective. The pen applicator makes the urea-based solution really easy to apply to the infected nail without getting onto healthy skin, and it’s pretty good at penetrating the nail, although you may need to file thickened toenails first.
Key specs – Size: 4ml; Format: Liquid via pen applicator; Active ingredient: Urea
Buy now from Superdrug
5. Imperial Feet: The best natural fungal nail treatment
Price: £25 | Buy now from Amazon
The bottle with built-in dropper is much bigger than the likes of Excilor (which are all around 3.5ml), but that’s partly because the Imperial Feet solution itself is much milder, relying on natural anti-fungal ingredients including tea tree oil to clear up the infection. As much as we welcome natural ingredients, this treatment will struggle to penetrate an infected nail, so it’s best kept for clearing up milder infections and preventing recurrence.
Key specs – Size: 75ml; Format: Liquid; Active ingredient: Tea tree oil
6. Boots Fungal Nail Treatment Solution: The best fungal nail treatment to try if Excilor doesn’t work
Price: £18.50 | Buy now from Boots
Boots’ own anti-fungal nail treatment is easy to use as Excilor: simply brush it on twice a day for four weeks, by which time you should be able to see the new nail growing out, clean and healthy. It relies on the antimicrobial chemical pentylene glycol, rather than the more commonly used antifungal amorolfine, so you may actually find it works better for you, depending on the type of infection you have.
Key specs – Size: 4ml; Format: Liquid; Active ingredient: Pentylene glycol
7. Nailner Active Cover Nail Fungus Treatment: The best fungal nail treatment for disguising discoloured nails
Price: £22.50 | Buy now from Boots
Nailner’s treat-and-cover polish doesn’t contain any anti-fungal ingredients at all, but it uses citric acid and ethyl lactate to create a gently caustic environment for the infection. Meanwhile, on top, the thick peelable nude-coloured polish provides a handy disguise. So it’s the opposite approach from Canespro: slow, but it’ll keep your toe looking presentable while it gets to work on the infection underneath.
Key specs – Size: 30ml; Format: Liquid; Active ingredient: Citric acid, ethyl lactate (no anti-fungals)
8. Dr Organic Tea Tree Nail Solution: Best natural organic nail treatment
Price: £6 | Buy now from Holland & Barrett
You may expect less power from an all-natural, organic alternative to pharmacy-grade treatments, but this certified vegan solution from Dr Organic proves just as effective at healing damaged nails. And it’s not short of powerful ingredients either: it contains undecylenic acid, an effective anti-fungal ingredient, as well as tea tree oil, a well-known natural antiseptic which helps to restore and regenerate the nail, and also gives the solution a lovely cooling feel when you brush it on. For best results, file the nail every few days so the active ingredients can penetrate.
Key specs – Size: 10ml; Format: Brush-on solution; Active ingredient: Tea tree oil, undecylenic acid