A 20-minute laser made my feet look ten years younger
Nailed it: Leah Hardy is dreaming of a flip-flop summer after laser treatment
I’m not always immaculately groomed, though I do always sport glossily painted toenails. But it’s not as glamorous as it sounds: the polish disguises the ugly yellow discoloration on my big toenails, caused by a fungal infection I’ve had for years.
One in ten of us suffers the condition at some point, with a million people in the UK having infected nails at any one time. Until recently, treatment has been time-consuming, taking up to a year, and is either ineffective or potentially dangerous. But now, a revolutionary laser therapy claims to restore ugly nails to pink and pearly health in one or two 20-minute sessions.
A key problem is that infections – easy to catch – are difficult to cure. The condition, called onychomycosis, is mostly caused by a tiny organism, trichophyton rubrum, similar to the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. Junaid Ahmed, senior podiatrist at London’s Feet For Life, which has just taken delivery of one of the new lasers, says: ‘Fungal spores thrive in warm, moist conditions, such as at swimming pools or in our shoes.
‘Injury is a common trigger. You might stub your foot and spores invade the area. Other triggers include untreated athlete’s foot and ingrowing nails.’
Ahmed says 40 per cent of patients have fungal nail infections and many have never found a treatment that works. ‘Lacquers and lotions are useless,’ he says. ‘There are oral anti-fungal drugs, but these have to be taken for up to a year and can have serious side effects, such as stomach pains and nausea. The medication can also, in rare cases, cause jaundice, heart disease or liver failure.’
So lasers are hailed as a real breakthrough. Safe, and side-effect-free, they work by applying intense heat to vapourise the fungus. With a treatment time of less than half an hour, they seem the perfect solution. And for a cost of about 800, you might expect a perfect result. However, the new lasers do have drawbacks.
Forty per cent of patients have fungal nail infections and many have never found a treatment that works.
None claims a complete cure rate. While clinics report good results, an independent trial for Cutera’s Laser GenesisPlus system revealed only 68 per cent of toenails treated showed a significant improvement after three months.
Ivan Bristow, podiatrist and lecturer at the University of Southampton, adds: ‘If the infection reaches to the bottom of the toe, the fungus may lurk under the skin where the laser cannot reach. It’s early days for this treatment, and I would like to see more independent research.’
Inspecting my toes, Junaid Ahmed pronounces my onychomycosis mild. But he will treat all my nails, not just the obviously infected ones, to destroy any lurking spores. The hand-held laser shoots pinpricks of light energy into the nail to destroy the fungus. Each big toe requires 400 shots, the smaller toes 100 each.
Junaid Ahmed carries out the laser treatment on Leah”s feet
At first I don’t feel anything but as the treatment progresses, I feel a sensation of warmth. At times I see the tiniest wisp of smoke – apparently the spores being vapourised – and feel a sharp burning pain. I’m wimpily relieved when it’s over. A single treatment is usually enough to kill the fungus, but Ahmed includes a second session after three months to ensure the infection is cleared. My nails look the same after treatment but the yellow patches should grow out with the nail.
But Bristow warns: ‘People forget toes age like the rest of our body and even healthy nails become yellower and ridged. And if you’ve had an infection for years, you may never get your youthfully perfect toenails back.’
But Ahmed believes my feet will look ten years younger and peachy in 12 weeks. I skip out into wintry sunshine, dreaming of a flip-flop summer so I can flaunt them.