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For those of you unfamiliar with the condition, onycholysis is a separating of the nail from the nail bed. I noticed it first on the pinky nail of my right hand. I then started noticing it on several other fingers on my right hand.

Over time it spread to my left hand. It was rather unsightly and uncomfortable at times. Sometimes it hurt just a little but most times it was a weird feeling at the tips of my fingers. In addition to the weird feeling, my nails were just plain unsightly.

When I looked at my hands I often wondered, “Who did a switch-a-roo on my fingernails?” I couldn’t believe these hands and nails belonged to me!

Researching the Problem

I went online to find out what would cause this and how to resolve it. I’ve read that it could be caused by any of the following:

Nail affected with Onycholysis

Photo courtesy of Australian College of Dermatologists

  • a fungus
  • liver condition
  • thyroid disease
  • pregnancy
  • infection
  • not having enough oxygen in the blood
  • psoriasis

Treating the condition meant keeping the nails very short, which in my case meant my nails were clipped halfway down the nail bed. Keeping them dry (wear gloves when doing the dishes, etc) and keeping them clean. The next step would be to seek medical attention whereby the doctor could prescribe anti-fungal medication if required.

I also read that once the nail has detached from the nail bed it will not reattach (bummer). Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled with the information I found.

Treating Onycholysis Naturally

Not having most of the conditions that might cause onycholysis, I settled for either a bacterial or fungal infection as the cause. I deduced that I needed both an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial substance to kill both potential culprits. I settled on tea tree oil.

I filled ¾ of a 1-pint mason jar with water. To that water, I added several drops of tea tree oil. The container was just large enough for me to dunk the tips of all 5 fingers in the solution.

For those of you not familiar with tea tree oil, it smells like burnt tires. To cut back on the burnt tire smell, I added several drops of lavender. Both oils are anti-bacterial and anti-fungal (plus they have a bunch of other positive attributes).

Twice a day I would dip my fingers into the mixture. Some days I would forget, but most days I applied the mixture. I kept a weekly log of my treatment. Here’s my onycholysis log:

5/26/13: Start twice a day to see if it works. Initially put the oil on directly. Next I’ll soak in mixture with water.

6/2/13: Haven’t been diligent in soaking my nails. It’s hit or miss. Since I was working on the pool and gardening, I sporadically soaked my fingers. I’ve got to be more diligent. They still look horrible.

6/9/13: Still not diligent with soaking my fingers, but I think I see some sort of improvement. At least it seems to have stopped getting worse.

Today is 6/14/13 and I can honestly say I see marked improvements. There are signs of nail reattachment. The worst offender, my pinky, is starting to look normal again. I’ll continue to monitor my progress weekly, but wanted to share my early positive results.

Update: 8/2/13:  My nails have returned to normal.  The nail has reattached to the nail bed and I’m no longer ashamed of my hands.  As a matter of fact, I believe the regular application of the tea tree oil has done wonders for hangnails.  My hangnails have disappeared too.

Check out how I used Frankincense essential oil to cure my bout with pink eye.

About the author: Felicia has learned the hard way that health, whether good or bad, is a result of daily choices and habits. On this blog, Felicia shares what she’s learned and the healthier choices she now makes as a result of her new knowledge. She hopes to encourage others to experiment to find alternative solutions to nagging problems (she’s also is a bit of a tree hugger and likes to share ways to lighten the toxic burden on the environment).

in Essential Oils, Onycholysis, Tea Tree

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lara February 10, 2021, 11:49 pm

    I would like to keep my hands dry, I saw you wrote: “Keeping them dry (wear gloves when doing the dishes, etc)”.
    What type of gloves do you use? Do the gloves leave any residue on your hands?

    • Felicia February 17, 2021, 9:50 am

      Sorry for the late response. I used yellow rubber gloves when washing dishes. No residue.

  • Julianne B November 15, 2020, 5:51 pm

    Thanks so much for your advice! Just read your suggestion and wondered how often you changed the water/tea tree/lavender solution. Each day? Once a week? I’m going to try it. It’s happening on my thumb nail, most likely due to years of hang nails and picking them (aargh… I need to stop!). It’s a nervous habit . Thank you!

    • Felicia November 17, 2020, 12:54 pm

      Hi Julianne (sorry for the late response),

      I changed the water when it started to look a little dirty.

  • Vera swiz September 7, 2020, 5:05 am

    I had discovered my nails lifting around april period . I actually keep my nails long because I like it that way but it started spreading so I cut them off it’s gradually occurring it’s painless and the middle finger nail it started from doesn’t look nice at all I had been on several medications for it but isn’t working and the finger skin is looking brittle and dry . I’m confused I will appreciate if you can help me .

    • Felicia September 11, 2020, 9:12 am

      Hi Vera,
      I’ve shared all my knowledge about my condition in the post. I’m not sure what else I can add to help you. I used tea tree oil to help heal my nails. Give it a try. Maybe it could help you.

  • Melanie Lane August 6, 2020, 12:33 pm

    I spent 3 years searching the internet for an answer to my lifting nails. I went from doctor to doctor hoping each one would have the magic cure. Little did I know the cure was up the street at our local nail salon. I went in desperate one day to see if they would put on acrylic nails because they were embarrassing and catching on everything. They assured me they could fix my nails and they did. They cut off all 10 nails down to the point they were lifting. I put on acrylic nails with gel nail polish to protect from water. 5 months later my nails are fixed. I hope this helps!!!

  • Lana July 31, 2020, 2:40 pm

    Hi Felicia,
    You have no idea how hopeful your post and responses to each comment have made me. I’ve read every response and I can fairly say you have been more helpful than the doctors I have seen. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing and responding to everyone.

    I have had nail lifting since i was prescribed birth control three years ago, which I read could cause onychlyosis in some people.I don’t have any of the underlying illnesses that I read could cause it and I have never gotten my nails done at a salon, but I loved painting them, they were a big source of my confidence as sad as that sounds… So thanks again for giving me hope.

    However after stopping the pill i have had waves of my nails getting better or worse. Nothing has helped. And I noticed after I shower everyday they get a tiny bit worse. So I was wondering while you were dipping your nails in the solution of TTO did you cover your nails at all when you showered, or when you worked with water or even when you washed your hands or did you go about your day as usual? Did you limit water exposure at all?

    Also did you use the organic tea tree and lavender oils from Rocky mountain or the normal ones?

    Thanks again,

    • Felicia August 1, 2020, 9:24 am

      Hi Lana,

      I hope the tea tree oil will help. I believe it should.

      When I first started using the tea tree oil for my nails, I tried to remember to use gloves when washing dishes (I didn’t always remember). That was the only time I tried to shield my nails. As far as showering goes, I didn’t cover my nails.

      Back when I started with Rocky Mountain oils, they didn’t have a choice between organic and non-organic. Their oils worked well for me, so I continue to purchase the non-organic oils. I did say I was going to try their organic oils, but the non-organic has worked so well for me I figured, why fix what isn’t broken. :)

      If you remember, please check back in a few weeks. I’d be interested to hear about your progress.

  • Stacey July 1, 2020, 6:32 pm

    Got the oils today to soak my finger! Wish me luck lol

    • Felicia July 1, 2020, 9:21 pm

      Good luck! Check back in a couple of weeks to let us know how it’s going.

  • Dolores June 24, 2020, 12:57 am

    Two of my toe nails have lifted, I prefer to use tea tree oil neat under on on the nails ( I don’t mind the smell ) is this o.k. and how often should I use it, is once a day too much?? I have been a type 1 insulin injecting diabetic for 54 years, 5 injections a day. Thank you

    • Felicia June 24, 2020, 6:51 pm

      Hi Dolores,

      I’d use it more than once a day. However, having said that, maybe you should start out once a day to see if you react, then increase the application. I don’t think it should affect your diabetes, but only you will know for sure.

      For me, I was able to dip my fingers in a tea tree/water solution. Maybe you could try putting several drops of tea tree oil in water in a small spray bottle. This way you can apply it without having to soak your feet in water each time.

  • Siva June 6, 2020, 6:34 am

    After checking with various hospitals and dermatologists ,i am really tired and didn’t find a minor improvement to my nails .They almost said it is not curable .So I gave up the idea of going to hospital .
    My nails in all fingers (both left and right hand ) got separated from skin/nail bed and it turned to yellow since my age of 15 (Now i am 23 ).My nails completely look yellowish in right hand .My left hand nails are quite good as it is less exposed to water and it will be dry .

    Today just i was suddenly concerned about my nails and surfing in google .And google landed me to this awesome post with lot of success stories of using Tea tree oil .

    Right today , i am ordering online and will experiment this .Will post update about my progress .

    Fingers Crossed !

    • Felicia June 24, 2020, 6:48 pm

      Hi Siva!

      I’m crossing my fingers for you too! Please come back in a few weeks to let me know how it’s going.

  • Geri Weber June 3, 2020, 11:10 am

    Did u re-use the same mixture everyday or did make a new one everytime? Also, is nailpolish allowed?? Thanks for ur advice, i cant wait to try this!!

    • Felicia June 24, 2020, 6:44 pm

      Hi Geri,

      Sorry for the late response. I used the same mixture every day until the water started to look dirty, then I changed it.

      As far as nail polish goes, I don’t wear nail polish so you’ll have to experiment to see if it works with or without it.

  • Sal May 15, 2020, 10:38 am

    tried the tea tree oil, also vinegar, and various other home remedies, but these alone did not work; I got a doctor’s prescription for Terbinifine (generic Lamisil) for finger nail fungus, had to have liver function blood test first, then took for 90 days. Cleared up. I had previously used same Terbinifine for toe nail fungus and worked. But must have liver function blood test and have doctor monitor. good luck.

  • Katie April 9, 2020, 2:35 am

    Hi Felicia! I have had onycholysis for a couple years. My nail becomes a little smaller every day. I believe it only got this way because there would be dead skin peeling from under the nail and I would have an urge to pick it a lot. All my fingers are perfectly fine except for my right middle finger. I was given a “Clobestasol Propionate Ointment” but it’s done nothing. Would tea tree oil work for trauma or just for fungi? Even when I do grow it out, there will be a point when the white part breaks. I just hope I can fix it before it gets too small and permanently damaged. Thanks!

    • Felicia April 9, 2020, 9:51 am

      Hi Katie,

      I’m not sure if tea tree oil will work for trauma, but you could always try it. Experimentation is the best way to find the answer.

      Give it a try. I’d be interested to know the outcome of your experiment.

  • Lisa February 13, 2020, 11:25 am

    It’s still pretty stinky even in the solar oil, but it’s more bearable. I wanted to avoid using water at first because I read that water can seep under your nails and make onycholysis worse, but at this point I’m pretty desperate. It’s also possible I haven’t been using the mixture with the tea tree oil for long enough. It’s barely been two months, and the whiteness covers practically my entire nail.

    • Felicia February 13, 2020, 11:48 am

      The reason I put the tea tree oil in water was so it would seep under my nail to get to the source of the problem. Maybe the oil your using isn’t getting to where it needs to go.

  • Lisa February 11, 2020, 8:36 pm

    Hi Felicia,

    I found this post several months ago while trying to figure out how to get rid of my onycholysis, but I haven’t had as much success as the other people who commented here. I’ve been dealing with this in my left pinky and ring fingernails for over six months now. At first, I thought it would grow back on its own.

    When that didn’t happen, I ordered CND Solar Oil, which I learned about from some other forum I found in my research. The oil looks like a regular nail polish bottle, and I brushed it on the inside and outside of the two nails for roughly four months or so.

    When that didn’t work, I used some of my holiday money to order tea tree oil per your suggestion. Instead of swirling it in water, though, I used the eye dropper to mix it with the solar oil and continued painting it on twice a day for the last two months. I’m still not noticing any improvement. :( Do you think it makes a difference to mix it in water and dip your fingers in like you did instead of brushing it all over and dripping some of it inside the nails like I am? I just can’t figure it out.

    I know some people would tell me to see a doctor about this, but honestly, I don’t see a point because I know it isn’t infected. I found some really ugly photos of onycholysis online where the nails turned green or started crumbling, and mine look nothing like that. They’re thick, supple, and healthy. They’re just white about two thirds of the way down, and I can see there’s a separation if I look at them from the proper angle.

    Some people on here have mentioned wearing nail polish or tips, and I use nail wraps from http://www.espionagecosmetics.com to cover the ugly whiteness. I’ve been wearing them the entire time I’ve had onycholysis. I don’t know if something in the adhesive is causing it, but I seriously doubt it because they’re basically just stickers that go over my nails. I love them so much, and I really don’t want to stop wearing them.

    I’ve been photographing my nails every month since September, and sometimes it looks like the white part is shrinking, but I always see a darker reddish part under it where the normal pink color of my nail is supposed to be that later turns white again, so I’m trapped in a never-ending cycle of the same parts of both nails repeated separating. I tried making them shorter and using my fingertips to type with this fingers instead of the nails (which is what I used to do before I started noticing this problem), but it’s already been over six months and even that isn’t helping!

    Gah! This is just so frustrating!

    • Felicia February 12, 2020, 7:24 am


      I’m sorry to hear about your onycholysis journey. In reading your comment I see you did quite a bit to correct the condition. Have you tried using the tea tree oil in the same manner in which I did? Did you try soaking your fingers in tea tree oil without using CND Solar Oil?

      I can’t say for sure it will work for you, but I’ve found from years of experience, sometimes the simplest remedy is what it takes. You’ve been going through this for several months. Why not try a few weeks of plain tea tree oil in water as mentioned in my post to see if you notice an improvement. At this point, you don’t have anything to lose.

      • Lisa February 13, 2020, 10:21 am

        Hi Felicia,

        I haven’t tried that yet but I’d be willing to give it a shot. I thought mixing it with the Solar Oil would help because that stuff is also recommended for nails, and it contains jojoba oil, which I read was a good thinner for tea tree oil. I tried using the tea tree oil by itself for a few days, but I just couldn’t get past the awful smell and had to mix it with something!

        • Felicia February 13, 2020, 10:37 am

          I hear ya. Tea tree oil isn’t the most pleasant smell in my opinion. However, when I used it for my nails, I put it in a very small mason jar of about 4 oz. I filled it with water and placed only a few drops of tea tree oil in it. When it wasn’t in use, I covered it. You only need a few seconds of exposure each time.

          I would dip my fingers in, wiggle them a bit, take them out and cover the jar. You could either let your fingers air dry or wipe them dry. Afterward, if the smell is too much for you, use one of your favorite lotions on your hands to mask the smell. My goal was to get results so I was able to endure the smell for the small amount of time I was exposed to it.

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