Antifungal Cream: Types, Uses, and Side Effects

Antifungal creams are topical medications used to treat fungal skin infections such as athlete's foot, ringworm, and jock itch. Anyone can develop these fungal skin infections, and they are typically easy to treat with over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription-strength antifungal creams.

This article will explore the different antifungal creams and how they work to treat fungal infections.

Antifungal cream

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How It Works

Antifungal medications work by killing or stopping the spread of the fungus that causes fungal infections.

Topical Cream

Antifungal creams are topical creams applied directly to and absorbed by the skin rather than ingested.


There are four main classes of antifungal medications, each targeting a particular kind of fungus. The four classes are:

  • Azoles
  • Echinocandins
  • Flucytosine
  • Polyenes

These antifungal medications may be given in oral, gel, cream, or another form, depending on the fungus causing the infection. Below are some of the most common antifungal creams and what they are used to treat.


Clotrimazole is prescribed as a cream or a liquid and works by stopping the growth of fungus. It is usually applied twice daily to the skin to treat fungal infections like:

  • Athlete's foot
  • Jock itch
  • Ringworm


Miconazole is available in cream, ointment, spray, or powder form and is used to treat infections like:

  • Athlete's foot
  • Jock itch
  • Ringworm

Other forms of this medication, such as cream suppositories, treat conditions like vaginal yeast infections.


Ketoconazole is a fungal medication that stops the growth of fungus and is typically prescribed as a cream or shampoo. This type of antifungal cream is commonly used to treat:


Econazole is commonly prepared as a cream and is used to treat fungal infections like:

  • Athlete's foot
  • Jock itch
  • Ringworm


Antifungal creams are available by prescription or as over-the-counter medications. The section below will explore the most common fungal skin infections and the antifungal creams used to treat them.


Ringworm is a generic name for several types of tinea or fungal infections. It can occur on all different body parts, with a different name depending on the location of the infection.

Ringworm infections can be treated by applying an antifungal cream to the affected area for two to four weeks. Some common antifungal creams used for ringworm infections include:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Terbinafine
  • Ketoconazole

Jock Itch

Jock itch (tinea cruris) is a fungal infection of the groin, which can clear up with self-care by keeping the affected area warm and dry. OTC antifungal powders are a go-to treatment for these infections, and prescription-strength medications may be needed for more severe or persistent infections.

Athlete’s Foot

Athlete's foot, or tinea pedis, is a common fungal infection that usually develops between the toes. You can develop this fungal infection after being in damp areas or not keeping your feet clean and dry. It's typically treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams like Lotrimin®, one brand of clotrimazole.

Yeast Infection

Yeast infections are a type of fungal infection that can develop on the skin, mouth, or genitalia. Yeasts are a normal part of the body's flora (bacteria), but they can overpopulate in certain circumstances.

Yeast or fungal infections often take advantage of a process in your body that allows the fungus to take over other types of cells and organisms. Some examples are when blood sugar is too high (since yeast feeds on sugars) or when you take antibiotics.

Yeast infections are usually treated with creams, liquids, or powders, depending on where the infection is located. Some of these, like creams for vaginal yeast infections, are available OTC. Others, like the liquid antifungal used to treat oral thrush, may require a prescription.

How to Use

Most antifungal creams are applied twice daily for a few weeks, but this will vary depending on the specific type. Once the infection has begun to clear, you should continue using the cream for the recommended amount of time to ensure the fungal growth has stopped and prevent reinfection.

Side Effects

Topical antifungal creams don't usually cause severe side effects. Some people may experience:

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Burning
  • Peeling
  • Skin cracking

Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects. If you develop hives after using an antifungal cream, stop using the cream and call your healthcare provider, as hives can be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Many antifungal infections can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams. Still, you should talk to your healthcare provider before using an antifungal cream or if your fungal infection doesn't go away or worsens after starting treatment.


Antifungal creams are used to treat a variety of fungal infections. They work by attacking the fungi that cause fungal infections and are available over-the-counter or by prescription. Antifungal creams are topical medications that should only be applied on top of the skin. Fungal skin infections usually go away with treatment, and if yours persists, follow up with your healthcare provider for additional treatment options.

A Word From Verywell

Fungal infections are common, especially in areas like the foot and groin. To reduce your risk of developing a fungal infection, prevent moisture build-up by drying off thoroughly after a shower or an event that causes sweating, such as a workout. In most cases, you can treat these infections at home with an over-the-counter antifungal cream or powder. Talk to your healthcare provider if your infection doesn't improve or becomes worse while using antifungal cream.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the strongest antifungal cream?

    Many fungal creams come in both over-the-counter and prescription strengths. Prescription antifungals are the strongest antifungal creams. Your healthcare provider can help you determine the right formula to treat your infection.

  • What causes fungal infections?

    Fungi or yeasts can cause fungal infections in the environment or by those that live naturally on or in your body.

  • Are there home remedies to cure fungal infections naturally?

    Keeping the affected area clean and dry is the best way to treat a fungal infection outside of using creams or medications.

  • What does a fungal infection look like?

    The appearance of fungal infections can vary depending on the location. Nail fungus can cause discoloration, and skin infections usually have raised red patches.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antifungal resistance.

  2. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Using medication: topical medications.

  3. Van Daele R, Spriet I, Wauters J, at al. Antifungal drugs: what brings the futureMedical Mycology.2019;57(3):S328-S343. doi:10.1093/mmy/myz012

  4. MedlinePlus. Clotrimazole topical.

  5. MedlinePlus. Miconazole.

  6. MedlinePlus. Miconazole vaginal.

  7. MedlinePlus. Ketoconazole topical.

  8. MedlinePlus. Econazole topical.

  9. MedlinePlus. Ringworm.

  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment for ringworm.

  11. MedlinePlus. Jock itch.

  12. MedlinePlus. Athlete's foot.

  13. MedlinePlus. Candida infection of the skin.

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.