Try a different kind of tea. When the British explorer James Cook first arrived in Australia in 1777, he found the native aborigines treating skin infections with the crushed leaves of the tea tree. Almost two centuries later, scientists discovered that the oil released by crushing the leaves has powerful antifungal and antiseptic properties. It’s even effective against the most stubborn fungal infection, the kind that thickens and discolors toenails.
To heal any kind of fungal infection, apply 100 percent tea tree oil twice a day to the affected skin, advises Andrew T. Weil, M.D., director of the program in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. You can buy tea tree oil in most health food stores. But never ingest the oil: Swallowing as little as a few teaspoons can prove fatal.
Chase the fungi with garlic. According to James A. Duke, Ph.D., garlic is packed with antifungal compounds. Many studies have demonstrated that the herb can fight athlete’s foot and other fungal infections. In one study, Indian researchers found garlic to be as effective as a pharmaceutical product called ketoconazole in killing the fungi that cause athlete’s foot.
To treat athlete’s foot, Dr. Duke recommends making a garlic footbath by crushing several cloves and stirring them into warm water with a little rubbing alcohol. Or if you have more time, add the crushed cloves to a bottle of olive oil and allow the mixture to steep for a few days. Then use a cotton ball to dab the oil onto your feet and between your toes, once or twice a day.
Be forewarned: Both of these remedies can leave your feet smelling garlicky. “Try these treatments when you’re at home and not expecting company,” Dr. Duke advises. Also, keep in mind that you may have to wait 3 to 6 months before seeing any improvement in your symptoms.
Get chummy with ginger. While ginger has been touted for an array of ailments, its antifungal properties have gotten little notice. Yet a chemical analysis by Dr. Duke found that the herb contains 23 different antifungal compounds. Among these is caprylic acid, which is exceptionally potent.
To use ginger as a treatment for fungal skin infections, Dr. Duke suggests adding 1 ounce of chopped gingerroot to 1 cup of boiled water. After the water has cooled a bit, dip a cotton ball or clean cloth into the liquid and dab the affected skin.
Beat the infection with licorice. Practitioners of Chinese medicine routinely prescribe licorice for fungal skin infections. As it turns out, licorice has quite a few compounds with antifungal properties.
Dr. Duke suggests placing 6 heaping teaspoons of powdered dried licorice root in 1 cup of boiled water. Let steep for 20 minutes, then strain out the herb and let theliquid cool. Dampen a cotton ball or clean cloth with the liquid and apply it to your skin.
Soothe your skin with an antifungal cream. Wander down the aisles of almost any drugstore, and you’re bound to encounter an impressive array of antifungal creams. These products have a number of different active ingredients, including clotrimazole, miconazole nitrate, terbinafine, tolnaftate, undecylenic acid, or zinc undecylenate. All of these ingredients have been proven effective. But for you, one may work better than another.
Dr. Simons’s advice: Experiment. “If one cream doesn’t provide sufficient relief, try another;” she says. “Or try rotating or combining them.” In general, the instructions for these products suggest application once or twice daily over the course of 4 weeks. Continue applying the cream for the recommended duration, even if your symptoms begin to clear up sooner (as they usually do). Extended treatment helps prevent a recurrence of the infection.
If you’re treating athlete’s foot, be sure to apply the cream all over your feet. Even though certain parts of your feet don’t itch or burn, they may still be infected.
Some fungal skin infections are so stubborn that even over-the-counter antifungal creams can’t make them go away. If your
symptoms persist for more than a month despite home treatment, your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength antifungal cream. Some of these, however, have potentially serious side effects.