Athlete's foot (also known as tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection involving the skin of the feet. The fungus thrives in warm, damp environments, such as the floors of locker rooms, health clubs, showers, and around swimming pools and can be spread by stepping on surfaces that are contaminated with the fungus.
Symptoms of Athlete's Foot
Itching, burning or stinging between the toes or on the soles of the feet
Scales, cracks, cuts, peeling skin, or blisters between the toes or on the soles of the feet
Dry skin on the sides or bottoms of the feet
If the infection spreads to the toenails, it can cause thick, crumbly, discolored, or separated toenails.
Here are several home remedies that are sometimes said to help athlete's foot:
Tea Tree Oil
Said to have antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, tea tree oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) is an essential oil that has a long history of use in Australia as a topical remedy for skin conditions.
Topical tea tree oil may be as effective as tolnaftate (a topical antifungal medication), according to a study published in The Australasian Journal of Dermatology. The study compared 10 percent tea tree oil cream, 1 percent tolnaftate cream, and a placebo cream in 104 people with athlete's foot.1
Those using the tea tree oil and tolnaftate had an improvement in scaling, inflammation, itching, and burning compared to those using the placebo cream, however, only those using the tolnaftate cream eradicated the fungi effectively.
In another study published in the Australian Journal of Dermatology, researchers compared the effectiveness and safety of a 25 percent tea tree oil solution, a 50 percent tea tree oil solution, and a placebo solution in 158 people with athlete's foot. The solution was applied twice daily to the affected areas for four weeks.2
There was a marked improvement in 68 percent of people using the 50 percent tea tree oil solution and in 72 percent of people using the 25 percent tea tree oil solution, compared to 39 percent in the placebo group. The fungi were eradicated in 64 percent of participants using the 50 percent tea tree oil, compared to 31 percent using the placebo. Four people using tea tree oil developed moderate to severe contact dermatitis that improved when the tea tree oil was discontinued.
Sosa (Solanum chrysotrichum) is an herb used in Mexico as a remedy for athlete's foot and related fungal skin infections. One of the only clinical trials testing the effects of the herb is a small, older study published in Planta Medica in 2003. For the study, people with athlete's foot applied either sosa or ketoconazole (a prescription antifungal cream) to the skin for four weeks. At the study's end, the therapeutic success was 74.5 percent with the sosa and 69.4 percent with the ketoconazole.3
Soaking your feet in a vinegar solution may help to ease the athlete's foot as the acetic acid has antifungal properties. Typically, people use 1 cup of vinegar mixed with 2 cups of water.
These are some tips on how to prevent reinfection:
Keep your feet clean and completely dry, especially in between your toes.
Wear cotton socks. Be sure to wear a fresh pair each day.
Avoid tight, closed-toe shoes. Moisture and heat promote the growth of the athlete's foot fungus.
Wear sandals in locker and shower rooms and other public places.
Wash socks in the hot water setting of the washing machine. Don't share socks or shoes with someone who has an athlete's foot.
While it may be tempting to try a natural approach, there has been very little research done on tea tree oil and other remedies for athlete's foot. Using natural remedies (and delaying standard care) may not eradicate the fungus.
If you think you may have athlete's foot, it's important to consult your doctor. If you have diabetes or a weakened immune system (or have a swelling in the foot or leg, fever, cracks in the skin, ulcers, or pus in the blisters), you should see your doctor right away. There is a greater risk of secondary bacterial infections and serious complications.