4 Great Essential Oils For Fungal Skin Infections

peppermint leaves growing out of a tea pot

Ringworm, a fungal infection, is being passed around in the jiu jitsu class I do. Though my first response is “eeeeeew,” the fact is that spread of skin infections is not so unusual in a full contact sport. Fungal infections on the skin and under the nails can be really annoying: Ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch, and such. They’re caused by one of several types of fungus, including Trichophyton, Epidermophyton, Microsporum, and the more famous Candida.  All it takes is some fungal spores and a damp, warm spot to grow and voilà—you’ve got yourself a new fungal pet. In fact, fungal infections can happen anywhere…fingers, face, back, belly, legs, and even in hair follicles. Infection may present as redness or other skin discoloration, flaky or crusty skin, blisters, itching and/or burning.

Over-the-Counter & Prescription Drugs

Fungal infections are generally harder to treat with medications than are bacterial infections. This is because fungal cells are more closely related to our own cells than are bacteria. That means that the drugs used to kill fungi may have toxicity for us as well. Anti-fungal topical medications like clotrimazole can irritate the skin and medicines commonly used orally, like fluconazol or griseofluvine, can have dangerous side effects.

So when you notice the first signs of infection, get out your oils and get on it. Maybe you’ll avoid some of the nastier drugs. While fungal infections can take a long time to resolve and require patience to deal with, remember that if the spot you’re working with keeps growing, that’s a good sign to visit a clinic.

Essential Oils for Skin & Nail Infections

Everyone knows about tea tree oil, but there are lots of other great oils that are just as or more effective than tea tree and smell better, too!  And all are also anti-bacterial.

Lemon Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)

This eucalyptus species has a pleasant, lemony scent due to its citronellal content. The scent is much less harsh and the oil is safer in children than the other eucalyptus species, which should be avoided in young ones. Lemon eucalyptus is one of the stronger anti-fungal essential oils, but is less likely to burn the skin than other strong anti-fungals such as thyme, oregano, or cinnamon. As a somewhat energizing oil, this is a good one to use during the day.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Peppermint was among the strongest oils when tested against several common fungal species that cause skin infections.  Peppermint, like eucalyptus, is a more stimulating oil and is good for daytime treatments rather than right before bed. Due to its menthol and menthone content, peppermint shouldn’t be used for infants or young children due to possible effects on breathing.

Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)

This is sometimes referred to as “Rose Geranium” because of its rose-like scent. The oil comes from the leaves of a plant that looks like garden geranium but actually is a different plant.  Geranium is a relaxing oil and would be a good one to use in the evening, say, for a foot soak—though it’s not overtly sedating, so it would also be fine for daytime treatments if the scent of lemon eucalyptus or peppermint doesn’t do it for you.

Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martinii)

This is another strong anti-fungal oil. It’s related to lemongrass, but doesn’t irritate the skin the way that lemongrass can.  Palmarosa is active against a variety of fungi and smells lovely while at it.  It can act quickly against athlete’s foot, with noticeable effects within 24 hours.

I like apple cider vinegar (ACV)-based sprays, especially since ACV itself is anti-fungal. For a spray, use 15-20 drops of essential oil per ounce of vinegar.  For nail fungus, a soak is better, though the spray can be used in between soaking. Nail fungus is very difficult to deal with because the nail forms a protective barrier for the fungus. Soaks are also great for athlete’s foot. Mix apple cider vinegar and water one-to-one. Warm it and add some salt, which improves effectiveness.  Soak 15 minutes 1-2 times a day. For one of the soaks, stir in 6-8 drops of essential oil. 

Be patient…as mentioned, fungal infections can be stubborn. Also, change up the oils you use to give your liver a break from dealing with the same oil day in and day out.  A side note that is important:  Fungal spores can hang out in clothing, on bed sheets, on towels, and such for a long time.  Wash your stuff on the hot setting on your washer, or if hand washing, pour on water that’s at least 140°F. If the clothing can go through a dryer, dry on the hottest setting.  For clothing that won’t withstand heat like that, there are UV-light generating devices you can use! Or you can try a spray of essential oils (in something other than apple cider vinegar) before washing.

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i like your article. recently my dog picked up some weird fungus that i at first thought was related to worms. the vet had no idea and he had no worms but he had these weird 'hairs' that actually were his real hairs but with a white stuff inside that would squirt water if you cut them. also they would leak an oily substance that would harden. i spent a lot of time cutting them off at first when the vets i saw wouldn't help. i was really worried however because he has an empty eye socket and the hairs had invaded there as well. now i think it was a hair follicle fungus (i guess duh) and the only thing that really helped was to soak him (eye socket included) with VCO and then use a natural anti fungal shampoo and let it sit and finally douse him with ACV. he was so patient! it appears to be finally gone! the cold is helping with this i know. i also got it in a wound i have and i think it is finally gone also. this has been a really hard thing to deal with. esp since the vet and a dr i saw for my wound both refused to even admit that such a thing was going on. thank you for your article. i also use essential oils but not so much on my dog. funny, my cats also had it but having such thick fur it was harder to see and evidently harder for it to survive. i never needed to treat the cats. and i would find these weird feather like things on the floor and on my dogs bedding. they were like the hairs when i would cut them... they would turn onto these feather like hairs... or micro hairs, a lot of hairs stuck together... ? i wish i had a microscope

Hi Dianna! I'm so sorry to hear about your (very patient!) pup. I'm glad you got it sorted out. You do have to proceed with caution using essential oils with dogs. They're pretty sensitive, so the same cautions you'd use for a person would apply...for example, making sure to dilute the oil before using topically. Make sure to dilute the ACV with some water if you have to do another dousing, and fingers crossed that the problem doesn't come back.

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