While we might all be curious about the best plunger or probiotic tampon or cold-sore remedy, it can be difficult to discuss these more personal items. That’s why we’re tackling Things We Don’t Talk About, a series in which we track down the best hygiene-, sex-, and bodily function–related things we all need but might be too embarrassed to ask about. In this installment, we consult experts on the best remedies for athlete’s foot.
So called because it often affects those who wear sweaty, smelly shoes for long hours, athlete’s foot is a fungal infection that develops on the skin between toes (and looks and feels itchy and even slimy). While it isn’t difficult to treat, it definitely isn’t pleasant. People who get athlete’s foot also tend to frequent the warm, moist places where the contagious fungus abounds — like locker and shower rooms or pools — which is why Florida-based dermatologist Todd Minars suggests drying the toe webs thoroughly post-shower and not walking barefoot in those shared spaces. But if you have gotten it already and want to get rid of it fast, we talked to four dermatologists, two podiatrists, and a naturopathic physician for recommendations on how to treat athlete’s foot at home.
Across the board, Lamisil was recommended by almost all the experts I spoke to as the best topical product for treating athlete’s foot. Available in cream and gel form, it’s a powerful, broad-spectrum antifungal that Maral K. Skelsey — the director of the Dermatologic Surgery Center of Washington — says is helpful because it does double duty in killing fungus and stopping its growth. “It is well-absorbed into the outer layer of the skin, which is where athlete’s foot lives. A cream formulation is good for someone with dry skin, whereas the gel or spray is preferable for anyone whose feet perspire a lot.”
Anything containing the antifungal miconazole can be helpful, too, like Lotrimin’s popular foot products, which come in both spray and powder form. Dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse of the Dermatology Institute & Skin Care Center says miconazole is most effective at killing both yeast and fungus, and can be used twice a day for two to three weeks for the best results.
Zeasorb antifungal powder was another popular recommendation, since experts tell me that its drier, powdery finish is ideal for treating athlete’s foot, rather than something that will make your feet wetter and swampier. Skelsey suggests applying this between your toes and right inside your shoes for the best results.
Podiatrist Dana Canuso likes something similar — the antifungal Tinactin powder — which she says will dry out the fungus that often lives in sweaty shoes and can be used everyday. Shainhouse also suggested it, and says it works on most foot fungus.
Dermatologist Paul Dean of Grossmont Dermatology Medical Clinic says even an at-home baking-soda mixture will work because baking soda has been shown to have antifungal properties. He recommends soaking your feet in warm water in a large bucket or basin mixed with about a half-cup of baking soda, for about 15 minutes twice a day.
It seems unconventional, but Skelsey even recommends Vicks VapoRub — yes, the cough suppressant — because she says it has a mild antifungal effect and can also allow antifungals to be better absorbed into the skin.
And because athlete’s foot is often linked to toenail fungus — podiatrist Paul I. Belitz explains that bacteria, fungus, and viral pathogens from one part of the foot can easily contaminate and reinfect another area if left untreated — it’s helpful to use a two-pronged approach that will treat toe fungus, as well. He says that anyone who isn’t willing to see a specialist should at least try something like Gold Mountain Beauty’s Total Foot Care line — which sells a fungal nail eliminator — especially if you’re diabetic and more prone to serious foot problems.
Minars says he doesn’t typically recommend household items for dealing with a fungal skin problem like this that can involve bacteria, but he does find white vinegar helpful because it kills gram-negative bacteria. “You could do a 1:1 white-vinegar-to-water solution and use it to soak your feet and then dry them thoroughly.” The drying thoroughly part is key: Canuso says that soaking your feet might help the fungus temporarily, but can risk keeping the area moist (and make things worse).
Another rinse solution Minars recommends is Domeboro, which is used to calm skin irritations and rashes, so it will be useful for curbing the itch.
For a more natural option, Canuso and Katie Stage — a naturopathic physician at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Medical Center — both like tea-tree oil because it has some antifungal and antiseptic properties. Stage says she sees limited results with its use alone, which is why she suggests trying a few drops of the stuff after applying something to dry the feet first, such as arrowroot powder, and combining it with other essential oils (a mix of oregano, thyme, and lavender).
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