Athlete’s foot is a common skin problem on the feet caused by a fungus. Though it is rarely serious, its symptoms can be bothersome.
Athlete’s foot has some things in common with other fungal infections you’ve probably had at some point in the past. These include toenail or fingernail fungus, jock itch, candida or other yeast infections, oral thrush, ringworm, and even meningitis. What causes the growth of foot fungus, or fungal infections on the body? Sweaty or dirty feet and working out in shared spaces are two causes. Wearing thick, sturdy shoes that block air from reaching the toes is another cause. Research shows that men are more likely than women to develop athlete’s foot on one or both feet.
Home Remedies for Athlete’s Foot
Wash, Dry & Protect Your Feet
Practicing good hygiene and protecting your feet from cracks or flaking can help prevent a fungal infection. It’s important to keep your feet dry since moisture can set the scene for the growth of bacteria or fungus. However, over-dryness is also a problem.
Every time you leave a damp environment, wash and dry your feet carefully. If your feet have come into contact with a shared surface, then it’s very important to dry them. Here are tips to help prevent spreading fungus and bacteria this way:
- Use a clean towel or hair dryer to soak up moisture from your feet before you put on clean socks and shoes.
- Do not share razors, towels, shoes or socks with other people, especially if they’ve had an infection recently.
- Wear clean, dry socks. Make sure to wash them in warm water with natural laundry detergent to kill harmful bacteria.
- Let air reach your feet when you’re home and don’t need to wear shoes. This is especially a good idea if you spend most of your day wearing waterproof boots or shoes.
- Avoid wearing shoes that are too tight and cramp your toes.
- Treat any cuts or scrapes on your feet/toes carefully by cleaning and protecting them with a bandage.
- If you’ve had athlete’s foot several times in the past, take extra care by alternating the shoes you wear. Try not to wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row and always wear clean socks.
- When showering in a public place, wear flip flops. Do the same when walking around a public pool, gym, bathroom or changing room (try not to go barefoot).
Baking soda is an item most people have readily available. It may also be an effective way to cure athlete’s foot.
A study in Mycopathologia found that sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, does have antifungal abilities when used on the skin.
To make a foot soak, mix about a half cup of baking soda in a large bucket or basin of warm water. Soak feet for 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day. When done, dry the feet thoroughly but do not rinse.
Homemade Antifungal Cream or Powder
It’s common to get a prescription or over-the-counter treatment for athlete’s foot from a doctor. There are also homemade and natural antifungal cream remedies that seem to be just as effective. Homemade treatments for athlete’s foot, or similar fungal infections, are made with concentrated active ingredients found in some essential oils.
Researchers have found that antimicrobial properties of certain plants can be used effectively to fight fungus, bacteria and other microbes. Some of these plants are oregano, tea tree, dill, clove, cinnamon, frankincense and olive leaf. They have a low risk for the kinds of side effects that are associated with certain prescription drug ingredients. Amazingly, many natural antifungal cures have been used since ancient times. For example, in China herbs and plant compounds are key ingredients in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I recommend using at least two powerful essential oils to help get rid of the fungus. Here are details on using these essential oils to fight fungal infections on your skin:
Oregano Oil: Some have found that oregano essential oil can be just as helpful in reducing infections as antifungal treatments, or even antibiotics. Research suggests that oil of oregano can not only kill fungus. It can also cut down mold and wipe out common causes of digestive and immune system problems, like candida overgrowth. Some studies found that therapeutic grade oregano oil contains up to 71 percent of the antiseptic compounds known as phenols. These include thymol and carvacrol. They are the two main active ingredients in killing fungus on contact. Carvacrol seems to be especially helpful for controlling the growth of harmful microbes in the body.
Tea Tree Oil: A native oil to Australia, tea tree oil contains a powerful compound called melaleuca. A large body of research published over many decades suggests that there are many uses of tea tree oil. Some of these include using it as a natural antifungal agent; using it to help clear acne; treating slow-healing wounds and many more.
Use these two oils on your toes daily. I recommend three drops of oil of oregano plus two drops of tea tree. Mix these with a small amount of a carrier oil, such as coconut oil. Place your oils into your container (use glass when possible to prevent chemical leaching or a BPA-free powder bottle). Stir with a spoon or clean makeup brush. Apply the formula directly on the toes, about 3-4 times a day ideally. You’ll get the best results if you buy a high-quality, therapeutic grade essential oil.
Other Natural Antifungal Agents
I also recommend trying dill essential oil, frankincense, bentonite clay, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and olive leaf extract for fungus growth on the toenails or other areas on the feet. Use caution if your athlete’s foot symptoms are very painful, you have ulcers or you’re bleeding. It might be best to use the ingredients below for prevention. Get your doctor’s opinion if you’re treating an active case of fungus.
Olive leaf benefits include its powerful antimicrobial action, which helps to get rid of yeast and fungus.
Use ingredients such as bentonite clay mixed with cinnamon and cayenne powders to make a moisture-absorbing anti-inflammatory mixture. Clay is great at absorbing toxins and microorganisms from your body. If your feet have been exposed to any type of bad bacteria, the clay helps pull out those toxins. However, if you have open cuts or cracks in your skin, avoid applying clay.
Cinnamon and cayenne powder (different than cayenne pepper, which is used for cooking) are helpful because of their warming properties. Avoid these if your athlete’s foot symptoms are painful or the feet are swollen (heat may make this worse). Cayenne has an active component called capsaicin. Capsaicin helps get rid of and prevent fungus. Cinnamon oil is known to help with infections. It especially helps with candida yeast infections, which can help the fungus grow between the toes.
Clove oil also has anti-inflammatory properties. It can prevent or kill mold and fungus. Frankincense oil and dill oil also work well with clove oil, or the other ingredients noted above, to reduce swelling and pain. The essential oil extracted from the seeds of dill (Anethum graveolens L.) has been shown to help get rid of fungus-causing bacteria. Frankincense has many immune-boosting effects.
Some also find relief when soaking their feet in water mixed with apple cider vinegar. Other remedies, which have mixed results, include adding sea salt or steeped black tea bags to the water.
To make a homemade antifungal powder, combine, stir and sprinkle the powder onto your feet. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after, and be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. You may want to apply the powder before putting on your socks. Apply this mixture twice daily for one to two weeks, monitoring progress and looking out for any potential side effects.
Improve Immune Function Through Your Diet & Lifestyle
A weakened immune system corresponds with a higher risk for fungal infections, as well as numerous other “common” illnesses. Factors that can weaken your body’s ability to control the growth of fungus or other microbes include
- A poor diet
- A sedentary lifestyle
- High amounts of stress
- Toxicity due to things like smoking, drug use or exposure to chemicals and pollution
- Having a health condition like an autoimmune disorder, diabetes or those that lower blood flow
- Using antibiotics or hormone replacement drugs often, which can throw off the delicate balance of bacteria living in your gut
- Here are some tips for improving the overall strength of your immune system:
- Add probiotic foods to your diet— such as yogurt, cultured veggies,
andkombucha. These can help restore the population of “good bacteria” living in your microbiome, which play a key role in immunity.
- Eat garlic. Many studies show garlic benefits include natural antifungal properties that have been used for thousands of years. Certain studies have found that garlic can be even more effective against athlete’s foot than prescription medicines like Lamisil!
If home remedies do not work or the problem has been going on for more than 2 weeks, a doctor or podiatrist may need to help.
A doctor may prescribe antifungal creams or medicines if the infection does not respond to at-home treatments.
It is important for people to treat a persistent case of athlete’s foot because the fungus can spread to the nails, other body parts, and other people.
There are ways to protect the feet from fungi and avoid getting athlete’s foot. It is also good to practice these tips to avoid getting a repeat infection or spreading it to others.
To keep feet fungus-free, people should follow these guidelines:
- Keep nails clipped short. Nails can more readily pick up bacteria and fungi if they are long.
- Never walk barefoot in public places. Wear sandals or waterproof shoes in public pools, showers, locker rooms, bathrooms, and other areas that get wet.
- Wash feet at least once a day and dry thoroughly.
- If a family member has athlete’s foot, disinfect the bathtub or shower after each use until it is gone.
- Do not share towels, shoes, socks, or other items that touch the feet.
- Alternate shoes daily to give each pair time to dry completely.
- Wear lightweight shoes and change socks frequently to keep feet dry. Avoid warm, heavy footwear if possible.