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It’s no secret that we’re all about natural remedies around here. Every mom should have a few tricks up her sleeve for remedying minor ailments at home without resorting to harmful chemicals. Here are five natural remedies for a pesky problem that has ailed many of us from time to time… icky, peeling athlete’s foot!
What Is Athlete’s Foot?
Athlete’s foot is the skin condition most often associated with stinky, sweaty feet and gym locker rooms. However, it doesn’t just affect athletes. From your husband to your kids to — yep, you — athlete’s foot can strike anyone.
How Does Athlete’s Foot Occur?
It may be surprising to learn that athlete’s foot isn’t just something that teenage boys catch. In fact, there is more to the root cause of athlete’s foot than infected showers or towels.
The body’s microbiome may actually have a lot to do with susceptibility to any infection, including athlete’s foot. Let’s first look at what really causes athlete’s foot.
What Leads to Athlete’s Foot
- Coming into contact with infected people or items, like towels, a shower floor, or a swimming pool
- Wearing tight, damp shoes
- Overall bodily microbiome imbalance
- Poor immune system function
So, while exposure to the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot (called tinea) promotes the spread of the infection, your own personal health may have a lot to do with how your body handles an exposure. When we have an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and fungi, we are more susceptible to infections of all kinds.
We have more bacterial cells than human cells, and it truly is all about the bacterial balance. I talk a lot about gut health and the importance of supporting the skin microbiome. The idea is that when your inner ecosystem is balanced, your whole body microbiome will be balanced, including the bacteria on and under the surface of your skin.
Symptoms of Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot can actually mimic bad eczema or dermatitis, so it can be hard to differentiate between the two. Symptoms include:
- Thick, red, scaly, or cracking skin
- Itchy rash
- Symptoms concentrated between the toes, where fungus is more likely to grow
- Discolored toenails
How to Avoid Athlete’s Foot in the First Place
The best remedy is often avoiding the problem in the first place. Here are some ways to reduce the chances of athlete’s foot:
- Wear foot coverings in wet public places, when possible.
- Dry feet well when getting out of water, whether at home or in public places.
- Wash towels if you suspect infection or if they’ve been used in a public place.
- Mind your microbiome by eating a healthy diet, supplementing probiotics, and avoiding good bacteria-killing products like antibacterial soaps. (Read about how to mind your gut and overall health here.)
Five Natural Remedies for Athlete’s Foot
In the unfortunate event of getting this dreaded fungal foot infection, there are some great natural remedies that may help get it under control:
1. Internal Probiotic Remedy
Gut health affects so many aspects of overall health! Ramp up probiotics, avoid sugar and excessively starchy foods, and focus on nourishing foods like bone broth and sauerkraut.
Those who frequently battle infections, whether athlete’s foot or the common cold, may have an underlying gut issue. Our immune systems are responsible for fighting off infections, and while the occasional cold or flu gives them the workout they need to stay strong, fungal infections are more a symptom of imbalance. When our guts are imbalanced, our immune systems become weakened, and we become susceptible to infections.
Candida is a type of fungal yeast and is often at the root of lots of health conditions like eczema, arthritis, and allergies. While it is a natural strain that is found in everyone’s guts, problems arise when it becomes overgrown due to lack of beneficial bacteria. Doing a diet like the GAPS diet can help to eliminate harmful fungi and bring the gut back into balance.
Likewise, tinea fungus (the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot) is normal to have on the skin. However if our skin bacteria is out of balance, then our skin is more susceptible to infections.
Not only is it necessary to bring the gut bacteria into balance, but it may also be beneficial to balance the bacteria (microbiome) on the skin. (To learn more about nurturing the skin’s microbiome, check out this podcast.)
2. Topical Probiotic Remedy
While oral probiotics are beneficial to your gut and overall health, in the event of an acute athlete’s foot infection, you may find topical application of probiotics helpful.
Let’s take the same idea as this recipe for my probiotic face mask and make it the base for a natural remedy for athlete’s foot.
- 1 TBSP plain organic yogurt (full fat preferred)
- 1 capsule of saccharomyces boulardii (a beneficial yeast that has been shown to battle pathogenic species of fungi)
Use a cotton ball to spread the mixture onto the infected areas and allow to sit for about half an hour. Increase or double the amounts if necessary.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar Remedy
The sour, tangy crunchy mama favorite that helps with everything from heartburn to dandruff can also be one of the best natural remedies for mild athlete’s foot.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV for those familiar with this crushed, fermented apple product) has been used since the times of Hippocrates, when it was prized for its medicinal properties. It’s known to be especially beneficial against yeast and fungus, and many people take it internally to keep candida in balance.
To use ACV to remedy athlete’s foot, make sure you’ve got a good, high-quality, unpasteurized version (the ones still containing the “mother” are better, and you can even make your own!). Of course, you can also buy in stores or online through Amazon. I also love and use this brand.
In a foot bath container, mix together:
- 2 cups of water
- 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
Soak your feet for around half an hour. You can also apply plain ACV directly to the infection with a cotton ball. Apple cider vinegar will likely sting, so be aware and dilute more if necessary.
4. Essential Oil Remedies
There are a few essential oils that can be used to battle fungal infections, and skin conditions are one of my favorite uses of essential oils.
Anti-fungal essential oils include:
- tea tree
There are several ways you can use essential oils as natural remedies for athlete’s foot.
How to make your own salve:
Use this simple recipe for homemade healing salve to create your own anti-fungal salve by adding anti-fungal essential oils.
Important Note: Apply neat or diluted. Whether or not you use essential oils directly on the skin or dilute them is a personal and sometimes hotly debated choice. Because essential oils are highly concentrated, it is generally not suggested to use them directly on the skin.
However, some essential oils may be ok to apply neat, or directly on the skin, including lavender. The biggest concern in this case is applying the oil to broken skin, which would be painful and could cause further irritation. You can always check with a certified aromatherapist if you’re interested in using essential oils undiluted.
Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is 3-5 drops of essential oils per teaspoon of oil. Coconut oil is an excellent choice because it is also anti-fungal. Just combine any of the above anti-fungal essential oils with some coconut oil and apply to the infected areas.
Make an anti-fungal spray:
Combine anti-fungal essential oils with witch hazel to create a cleansing, healing astringent. Combine oils of choice in a spray bottle with witch hazel, keeping in mind dilution ratios, spritz on clean, dry feet, and then allow to dry. You could also kill two birds with one stone and add a little ACV to the spray.
Try neem oil
A 2011 study found neem extracts to be effective at killing off different forms of candida, fungi, and mold, which are possible root causes of Athlete’s foot. However, this study was done in Petri dishes, not on animals or humans. Since I already use neem oil as an essential oil carrier oil, I’m comfortable adding some to this remedy.
5. Remedies for Footwear and Towels
It turns out sticking your sneakers in the freezer for about 24 hours may kill the fungus and prevent it from growing further. Additionally, you could use an anti-fungal essential oil spray like the one suggested above to spritz your sneakers and kill the fungus.
In addition to disinfecting your shoes, it is also a good idea to toss or disinfect any socks worn while infected, plus disinfect towels used.
To disinfect towels, wash on the hottest setting on the washing machine. Add anti-fungal essential oils, vinegar, or hydrogen peroxide to kill germs. In cases of persistent or recurrent athlete’s foot infections, consider throwing away items that may have come in contact with the fungus.
You Can Remedy Athlete’s Foot Naturally!
Most minor infections can be remedied at home without using harmful or toxic over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Athlete’s foot is no exception, and with these natural remedies for athlete’s foot, you’ll be fungus-free in no time!
This article was medically reviewed by Cynthia Thurlow, NP, the CEO and founder of the Everyday Wellness Project, nurse practitioner, international speaker, and globally recognized expert in intermittent fasting and nutritional health. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you tried any of these natural remedies for athlete’s foot? Which has worked?
Discussion (57 Comments)
I had a tiny spot between two toes. I poured some castor oil over some chopped garlic and let it infuse for a day, then strained out the garlic and made a salve with beeswax to firm it up. I applied it one time and my feet have never itched since. I originally made this salve to help a horse with his itchy breakouts and spots where he was rubbing. Other oils may work just fine as well.
I have had amazing success using magnesium gel, after 20 years of struggling to cure athlete’s foot which I picked up while living in Asia. I had tried everything for years, and nothing had lasting results. Magnesium gel caused all the blisters to dry up, then all the red itchy skin flaked off, my toes turned pink again instead of yellowish. It was a process that took a few months, but the results were dramatic. I simply rubbed some on my toes after my shower and carry on with my day. Simple and convenient. Now I have nice feet and no more itching and peeling.
Tell me more about this magnesium stuff!!
Really? Where do you buy? Any special name or brand? 2 days & gone, sounds fabulous to me! I’d like to try it! TY!!
Old fashioned lye soap, just wash your feet with it for a few days and it’s gone.
I’ve made my own essential oil spray and it worked great! Your diaper rash cream also works wonders on my feet, so much better than the medicated stuff (got the idea after reading one of the comments). They look so much better and healthier. I also do tea tree foot baths.
I love Wellness Mama, it’s my go-to for daily life. Do you have a suggestion to stop the spread of the fungus from shower/tile floors, would you recommend the witch hazel/eo spray or something else? Thanks so much!
Buying a shoe dryer and drying out this shoes between uses really helps with foot odor.
Not exactly about athlete’s foot, but feet in general. I know someone with terrible foot odor. He wears real leather work boots with charcoal inserts (and flip flops after work to “air out” his feet . Any other ideas? Could some of these athlete’s foot suggestions work for him? Thanks for any help.
I heard that you should alternate shoes every day to give the ones you wore a chance to air out. I’ve kept several pairs from developing a smell for years by not wearing any pair more than one full day without a full day to dry out. Once the stink is in the shoes, I’m not sure it’s possible to get rid of it. Get two new pairs and start from there.
When my sons were traveling overseas and had to limit their shoe numbers it was advised that they actually take 3 pairs of shoes to rotate daily so one pair could have 2 days to dry out completely. Also spraying the show with and essential oil inside helped, like Rosemary, or melaleuca, some thing anti fungal. I don’t actually think they had a spray bottle but early dropped a single drop into the toe of each shoe when they took them off. Then put them in a good place to dry, not in a cold damp entry way. A little sunlight on the drying shoes never hurts. They never had foot or oder problems even in typhoon weather. He might try a little drop of essential oil on his inserts since he has them, but get more work boots and wear socks that breathe or all cotton/natural fibers as well. Make sure his shoes fit properly with the sock and his feet don’t sweat but have enough room for a little circulation. He might try a little peppermint oil on his feet to help keep them cooler. He may need to dilute but I have never needed to dilute on oils on my feet but use your best judgement.
I would add Living Clay or Calcium Bentonite to this list… Powder, poultices…
Can you write a post on toenail fungus? I have battled it for over 10 years and tried everything! From homeopathic remedies to prescription to laser treatment to no avail!
Lamisil tablets cured mine. Your doctor will do a liver blood test first. 3 months and it’s gone. I had it for over 10 years and just couldn’t take it anymore.
The Healthy Home Economist recently wrote a post on this. She actually recommended petroleum jelly. only on the nail and only externally. I was surprised cause it’s a petroleum product and that’s to her MO. But i have heard it works really well. 2x a day, morning and night for a few months and it’s gone. Of course you realize that fungus any where but especially in the toenail is a gut issue so doing some cleanses, especially a candid, one will keep fungus away. But you gotta kill or suffocate the creatures in the toe nail. I know creepy eh?
Is there any possibility that it might not be fungal? I thought I had a fungal infection in two of my toenails for years and it turned out it was actually psoriasis. I started using a mild steroid cream from my doctor and it has improved tremendously in only a few weeks. If anyone else in your family has psoriasis then it is far more likely. Otherwise, good luck finding a solution if it is fungal! 🙂
I also had toenail fungus and I used colloidal silver on it. File down the nail a bit and drop some on it weekly. You have to wait until the infected nail grows out. Mine took about 3 months, but my nails are pretty again.
Lemongrass essential oils mixed with aloe veral gel is highly effective against athletes foot, assuming it is just externa fungus infection.
I thought I had recurring athlete’s foot. It stopped responding to tea-tree oil and witch hazel. I got desperate and got anti-fungals from my doctor. No matter how much I cleaned and dried, it kept coming back. I went to a dermatologist and it turned out I had eczema. He pointed out that fungus will grow from the toes outward. If your rash persists elsewhere on the foot and is not connected to the toes, then it’s likely not athletes foot.
Now I just use coconut oil when I’m starting to break out. It goes away pretty quickly.
Thank you for this helpful information! I’m going to try coconut oil, mine has the same pattern, not from toes.