Athlete's foot, or 'tinea pedis' as it's medically known, is a contagious fungal infection of the foot that causes nasty symptoms like scaling, flaking and itching between the toes.
The culprit? Fungi called 'dermatophytes.' These mold-like organisms thrive in warm, moist environments such as inside your running socks, and when they invade the superficial layer of the skin, they cause skin cells to over-reproduce, resulting in thickened scaly skin. As the fungi spread, so does the infection.
The conventional answer to athlete's foot is usually antifungal creams, sprays or tablets, but many of these are linked to unpleasant side-effects such as skin irritation, gastrointestinal problems and even liver damage.1
Happily, in many cases, natural remedies can work just as well as—if not better than—drugs at fighting the fungi that cause athlete's foot. Here are the best ones to try.
Tea tree oil, a potent natural antifungal, is a simple and effective athlete's foot remedy—a good one to try first. In one trial, a 50 percent tea tree oil solution cured nearly two-thirds of patients after a month; less than a third were cured in the placebo group.2 Other antifungal essential oils include oregano, thyme, cinnamon bark, lemongrass, clove and lavender.3
What to do:
•As some people are sensitive to certain essential oils, always do a skin-patch test before using any oil for the first time.
•Add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice to a carrier oil like olive oil or unrefined coconut oil and apply to the affected area twice a day.
•You could also pour the mixture onto a cotton ball and tape it to your foot overnight.
•Alternatively, add a few drops of different essential oils to a hot foot bath with some added salt (which can enhance fungicidal activity) and soak your feet in it for 20 minutes a day.
•Ideally, continue the treatment for two to three months, even if you notice improvement sooner, to ensure the fungus doesn't return.
Did you know?
Despite its name, athlete's foot can affect anyone. It's thought that up to 15 percent of the population has it, especially men and older people.1
A compound found in garlic known as ajoene has antifungal properties and is more powerful in treating athlete's foot than terbinafine cream, a popular antifungal medication (better known as Lamisil). One hundred percent of patients rubbing on a 1 percent ajoene cream twice a day were completely free of athlete's foot after two months, versus 94 percent in the terbinafine group.4 Ajoene creams are not widely available, but you could try using crushed garlic cloves instead.
What to do:
•Apply a warm, moist compress to affected areas, as heat attracts the fungus to the skin surface, making any
treatment more effective.
•Place a well-mashed clove of garlic between two pieces of gauze, cut to fit over the affected area, tape the open sides and then tape the whole patch to the affected area.
•Replace with a fresh mashed-up garlic clove and clean gauze every three to five hours. Continue to do this until the infection clears and for a while afterward to stop it
from coming back.
•Alternatively, soak your feet in a solution of hot water and crushed garlic for 30 minutes daily, or apply minced garlic in olive oil with a cotton ball directly to the affected areas.
A number of herbs have been traditionally used in Mexico to fight fungal skin infections such as athlete's foot. Solanum chrysotrichum (sosa, or giant devil's fig) and Ageratina pichinchensis (snakeroot) have both proven effective in clinical trials.5 They may be hard to track down, though, so consider contacting a qualified medical herbalist for a prescription.
Vegetable oils exposed to ozone gas could help combat athlete's foot. In one study, ozonated sunflower oil (Oleozon) was just as effective as the topical antifungal ketoconazole, but only the Oleozon-treated group remained fungus-free six months later.6 Various ozonated oils are available online from brands such as Ozonated Oils (www.ozonatedoils.com) and Pur03 (www.puro3.com). Both are available via Good Health Naturally (www.goodhealthnaturally.com or www.goodhealthusa.com). Apply to the affected area twice daily.
Preventing athlete's foot: top tips for runners
• Dry your feet thoroughly after washing, especially between the toes, and always wash and dry your feet after a run.
• Wear moisture-wicking socks made of breathable materials when running, and wash them after each use.
• Sprinkle naturally antifungal foot powder into shoes and socks before and after a run. Try NutriBiotic Body & Foot Powder or Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Foot Powder, both available from various sites online.
• Invest in some Boot Bananas (www.bootbananas.com), banana-shaped shoe deodorizers made with antifungal essential oils and moisture-absorbing bamboo, charcoal, baking soda and zeolite.
• Make sure running shoes are completely dry before running in them again. Consider alternating between pairs of shoes so they have enough time to dry out.
• Never share your shoes, socks or towels with others, and wear flip-flops or shower shoes when using communal showers, pools, fitness centers and other public areas.
• Let air get to your feet as much as possible when you're at home.