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How Does Listerine Treat Fungus?

Updated November 21, 2016

Listerine, the powerful mouthwash used to "kill the germs that cause bad breath." is currently gaining popularity as an alternative treatment for nail fungus. People are brushing undiluted Listerine on top of their nails, or soaking in basins of Listerine mixed with water in hopes of getting rid of fungus for good.

Named for Joseph Lister, the father of modern antiseptics, Listerine was the first mouthwash to be marketed commercially. The alcohol based formula’s active ingredients are menthol, eucalyptol, methyl salicylate, and thymol. Thymol is an antiseptic which is known to kill both bacteria and fungi. The inclusion of this ingredient gives Listerine its antifungal power.

What is Nail Fungus?

Onychomycosis is a fungal infection of the nail. It is caused by the growth of dermatophytic fungi and non-dermatophytic mould beneath the nail bed. It can affect fingers or toes, although it is more common in toes. While the condition isn’t painful, it does cause toenails to look thickened, yellow or cloudy. This condition commonly occurs due to the wearing of wet or sweaty socks, or because damage has occurred to the nail, allowing the fungus to get beneath it. There is a genetic predisposition to nail fungus. Odds are, if both of your parents have it, you’ll have it, too.

How Does Listerine Treat Fungus?

The Thymol found in the Listerine formula stops the growth of fungus. One popular treatment method is soaking the infected nail in 100 per cent Listerine or a mixture of Listerine and vinegar for 30 minutes a day. However, since Listerine is an alcohol-based solution, it can be quite painful if you have any cracks on your feet. Diluting the Listerine by making a solution that is 50 per cent water can lessen this effect.

Like hair, nails are dead material. It is not possible to ‘cure’ a toenail. The only way to get rid of nail fungus is to gradually clip away the infected nail while protecting the growth of the healthy new nail. Do not expect to see immediate results. Growing a new nail takes months. Even using prescription nail medications it can take a year or more to see the results.

Does It Really Work?

There’s no guarantee that treating nail fungus with Listerine will work for you. But many of the FDA-approved treatments offered by the established medical community will not work for you either. Nothing is 100 per cent effective for everyone. Currently, there are no peer-reviewed scientific studies on the effectiveness of Listerine in treating nail fungus. If you have the time and the inclination to give it a try, it is much more affordable than prescription medications, and causes no harm to your liver.

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About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.