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How To Lighten Dark Toenails

by Gabbi

There are various factors that could cause toenails to darken, and this can range from health-related conditions to cosmetically caused discoloration.

Whatever the reason, you wouldn’t want to have darkened, discolored toenails, and you would be looking for a way to lighten them up so you can wear cute shoes all summer long.

How do you lighten dark toenails? How you lighten dark toenails will depend on the cause of the discoloration. Dark toenails from fungi require a special antifungal cream, whereas dark toenails from constant use of nail polish can be lightened with white vinegar or lemon juice!

To help you remove the dark color from your toenails, we have gone through some of the leading causes of dark toenails, and the best way to lighten them again. We have also included how to avoid dark toenails in the first place!

The Causes Of Dark Toenails

To understand the best way to lighten dark toenails, you would first have to know what is causing the darker color.

Here are some of the main reasons for darkened toenails:

Nail Polish

Using dark nail polish on your toenails can lead to them darkening over time. The dark pigments in the nail polish can seep down into your nails, and cause the nails to appear darker than what they are naturally.

This happens if you use darker colors often and if you do not remove them for a long time. Your nails won’t necessarily turn the color of the nail polish, but they will just appear darker and even discolored.


Bruising is a common cause of darker toenails and can turn toenails a range of colors, from blue to purple to black.

When the nail is injured, the small blood vessels bleed underneath it, staining the nail a darker color. You might have stubbed your toe or kicked it against a chair, and the subungual hematoma eventually develops.

This usually results in a healthy nail growing to replace the damaged one, and the damaged one will fall off after a while.

The Wrong Shoes

Wearing the wrong shoes, which are either too small or not properly shaped for your foot, can cause grooved lines and discoloration after some time. This is especially true if you run or exercise in the incorrect shoes, and pressure is placed on your toenails.


Nail fungus is common and can turn toenails brown, yellow, thick, and brittle. The fungus can infect one or more toenails, and when infected, they thrive in the warm and moist environment of your nails when wearing shoes.

Often, nail fungus begins as a foot fungus, such as Athlete’s foot, and if not treated in time, it spreads into the nail bed where it infects the nail too.


Sometimes, your genetics might be to blame for discolored nails. This could be caused by genetic skin conditions such as psoriasis, which can cause psoriatic nails. Psoriatic nails appear discolored, thickened, and brittle.

How To Lighten Dark Toenails

Thankfully, there are various ways that you can lighten dark toenails, depending on the cause. Keep in mind that if the cause of the darker toenails is from a medical condition, then you will need to seek advice from a doctor.

Here are some ways that you can lighten darker toenails at home:

Toenail Products

If the darkening of your toenails is caused by a fungus, then the best option would be to use an antifungal toenail product.

The antifungal treatment will get rid of the fungal infection, and this will mean that your toenails will return back to their normal color and thickness once again.

Sometimes, the darker color on toenails can stay once the fungus has been removed, but you can always use one of the below methods to lighten the toenails in this case. It is important to first remove the fungus before attempting to lighten the toenail.

A good option is the Kerasal Nail Renewal Treatment, which will restore the appearance of discolored or damaged nails. It gives visible results in just a few days and uses urea and hydrating propylene glycol to penetrate the nail bed and kill off the fungus.

This is an all-in-one product that will remove the fungus and the discoloration.

If the cause of your toenail discoloration is not due to fungus, but rather a condition such as psoriatic nails, then you could use a toenail whitener.

A product such as Eveline Cosmetics 3-in-1 Instantly Whiter Nail Whitener will eliminate discoloration of nails, it will remove and prevent yellowing, and it will act as a protective base coat that strengthens nails too.

Lemon Juice And Baking Soda

Lemon juice and baking soda are a combination that can help to tackle just about every problem, and they can be used to lighten dark toenails too!

Whether the dark color on your toenails is from using dark nail polish, or from a darker color left after a fungal infection, lemon and baking soda offer a more natural lightening process.

To use this method, mix a teaspoon of lemon juice into some baking soda until it forms a paste. Using a cotton swab, apply the paste onto the darkened nail and leave it to sit for up to 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, wash the mixture away by rinsing it under warm water and washing it with gentle soap if necessary.

Depending on how dark your toenails are and the cause, the color might be removed after one wash, or it could take a few tries to lighten your nails completely.

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can be used to lighten toenails, and it is also effective at controlling a fungal infection too.

The best way to use hydrogen peroxide to lighten your toenails is to use a clean cotton swab to apply the chemical to the affected toenail. Try to only get it onto your toenail and not on your skin if possible.

You can leave the hydrogen peroxide on your toes, as it does not need to be washed away.

Another way to use hydrogen peroxide is to add some into a foot soak, and allow your feet to soak in the solution for a few minutes. Mix around ⅛ cups of hydrogen peroxide to 4 cups of cool water, and leave your feet to soak for between 10-20 minutes.

Once you have left your feet to soak for up to 20 minutes, rinse them with warm water and some mild soap, and pat dry.

You might need to apply some moisturizer onto your feet following this treatment, as the hydrogen peroxide might dry your skin out.

White Vinegar

White vinegar, like lemon juice and baking soda, is a household ingredient that can be used for many purposes, and one of those includes lightening toenails.

The best way to use white vinegar to lighten dark toenails is to use it as a foot soak. Mix a ratio of white vinegar and warm water 1:1, and leave your toes to soak in the solution for up to 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse your feet with some warm water and pat dry.

This might take a few tries, but it will definitely help to lighten dark toenails.

Whitening Toothpaste

Whitening toothpaste can be a quick fix for yellow toenails or toenails that have darkened from dark nail polish.

You simply need some whitening toothpaste and an old toothbrush or nail brush. Place some of the toothpaste onto your toenails and use the brush to gently scrub it in. Once you have gently scrubbed the toothpaste into the affected nails, leave it to sit for 10 minutes.

After you have left the toothpaste to sit for 10 minutes, rinse it off with some warm water and mild soap.

Denture Cleaners

Denture cleaner is another unexpected toiletry that you can use to lighten nails that have darkened from nail polish or which have a yellow tinge to them.

Using a denture cleaner to lighten toenails is easy enough. You need to drop one tablet of denture cleaner into a small tub filled with warm water and mix it until it dissolves fully.

Leave your toes to soak in the mixture for up to 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse your toes with some warm water and mild soap. This could take a few attempts to fully lighten your dark toenails, but it will work.

How To Prevent Dark Toenails

There are some things you can do to prevent dark toenails from happening in the first place or to lessen the appearance.

Here are some of the things you can do to prevent your toenails from becoming a darker color, or from becoming discolored:

Use A Nail Polish Base Coat

The best way to prevent dark nail polish from staining your toenails is to use a clear base coat underneath the nail polish, as a barrier between the dark pigments and your nail. 

You simply have to apply the barrier base coat to your nails before the nail polish, allowing it to dry before painting the darker polish on. It is a good idea to use a base coat every time you paint your nails, even if you are using light nail polish.

When using dark nail polish, you should remove it from your toenails before 2 weeks, just so that it does not sit on the nails for too long and potentially stain them.

Wear The Correct Shoes

Choosing shoes that are the correct size, width, and shape for your feet is so important. Not only does it help your feet feel more comfortable and offer better support, but it will put less pressure on your nails and therefore not cause discoloration or bruising.

There are shoes suited for those with narrow feet and those with wide feet, and with all types of different needs, so make sure you choose the shoe that is perfect for your feet and toes.

Wear The Right Socks

Wearing the right socks, and clean socks, goes a long way in helping prevent fungal infection on your toes.

If your feet sweat often, look for moisture-wicking socks, that will keep moisture and sweat away from your toes, making it more difficult for a fungal infection to happen.

You should also avoid wearing socks for more than a day, and avoid wearing closed shoes without socks, as this increases moisture on your feet.

Keep Feet Dry

Moisture-wicking socks, and actually wearing socks, will help to keep your feet dry when wearing shoes, but you also need to keep your feet dry when you aren’t wearing shoes too.

When you shower, swim, or come into contact with water, make sure to dry your feet off properly, and between your toes, to prevent any bacterial growth.

There are some great powders you can use on your feet to absorb excess moisture and to give your feet a pleasant smell too. There are also treated powders that inhibit bacterial growth, further reducing the chances of discoloration.

Consider A New Nail Salon

If you have pedicures done at your local nail salon, and notice that your toenails are a darker color underneath the treatment, then it could be that the nail salon does not have very sanitary practices or that it does not use clean tools.

A good nail salon will sanitize all tools and other items between each and every customer. This prevents the transfer of bacteria. When this is not done properly, it could lead to fungal infections underneath the nail bed.

If this happens after a pedicure, it might be time to look for a new nail salon with good reviews from past customers and treat the infection before it gets worse.

Treat Other Issues

Other issues that might be causing discoloration, such as psoriasis or nutrient deficiencies, need to be treated too. If there are no over-the-counter treatments available, or if they are not working, you should speak to your doctor about how to resolve the issue.

The doctor will be able to give you the right medications and treatments needed to solve the problem, and hopefully lighten the dark toenails.

How To Lighten Dark Toenails

Dark toenails can happen for a variety of reasons, whether it is from a fungal infection or staining from dark nail polish.

There are various methods you can use to lighten dark toenails, to hopefully get them back to their clear, normal color once again!

Take a read through the above methods on how to lighten dark toenails, and find the solution that will suit your problem best. Take note as well of the various things you can do to prevent dark toenails in the first place.

Keep in mind that some causes of dark toenails should be treated by a medical professional, so if you are ever unsure, you should visit your doctor for advice.

Related Questions

Here are some more questions and answers on the subject:

Does Vicks VapoRub get rid of yellow nails?

Vicks VapoRub can help to remove the yellowing of nails. It can also help control fungal infections and prevent fungal infections from taking place.

You can apply a small amount of Vicks to your nails daily to remove a yellow color, and to reduce the chances of bacterial infection.

Does aging cause yellow toenails?

Aging is a cause of yellow and thick toenails. The growth rate of nails slows down as you age, and therefore the nail cells start to pile up, as they are not shed as quickly, and this causes the thickening of the toenails and even fingernails.

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