How to Treat Athlete’s Foot With Essential Oils

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Many essential oils (EOs) have antifungal properties. Tinea pedis (athlete's foot) is a fungal condition often treated with antifungal medications, but some people use essential oils to treat it.

Athlete's foot often occurs after exposure to the fungus in the damp places where it lives, such as locker room floors, showers, and pools. When you have athlete's foot, your affected foot may be red, itchy, have blisters, and peel,

This article explains which essential oils could be options for treating athlete's foot, their benefits, side effects, and how to use them.

Essential lavender oil bottle with dropper and sprig of fresh lavender

Svitlana Romadina / Getty Images

The Best Essential Oils for Athlete’s Foot

Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription antifungal treatments for athlete's foot are standard care for the condition. Some home remedies, such as essential oils, may help with mild infections. Tea tree oil is frequently used for fungal infections, but several others may help, too.

Who Should Not Use EOs?

Just because essential oils are available OTC does not mean they are safe for everyone. For example, if you have scent-based allergies or sensitivities, you should be very careful with essential oils because their scent is concentrated and potent.

Also, if your athlete's foot is severe or chronic, essential oils may not help your condition, and you may benefit from a stronger treatment. Always consult a healthcare provider before using essential oils for athlete's foot.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is derived from the tea tree, native to Australia. People commonly use it for skin conditions, including athlete's foot.

In a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, researchers evaluated tea tree oil combined with ketoconazole (KTZ) antifungal medication.

They found that adding tea tree oil to KTZ increased the solubility of the drug (its ability to dissolve in water) and improved its ability to release and permeate the skin. In addition, tea tree oil increased KTZ's antifungal activity.

Other studies have found similar effects when tea tree oil is combined with other antifungal medications. A 2015 study found that the components of tea tree oil have high levels of antifungal activity.

Lemon Oil

Lemon oil is extracted from lemon skins and has antifungal properties. In a 2014 study in the Journal of Food Processing and Preservation, researchers evaluated the antifungal activity of lemon oil, among others. They found that lemon essential oil completely stopped mold growth at greater than 1.25 microliters per milliliter.

Another 2014 study evaluated lemon essential oil's effect on strains of strains of Candida (a fungus often associated with athlete's foot). Researchers found the antifungal potential of lemon oil against Candida yeast strains and found the oil an effective natural remedy for candidiasis.

Lavender Oil

The lavender plant is native to the Mediterranean region. Lavender oil is commonly used for relaxation and to relieve anxiety. However, some people also use it for skin conditions, like athlete's foot.

A 2019 review published in Molecules looked at essential oil's antifungal properties. Researchers found that lavender still had a significant antifungal effect after diluting the pure solution 40 times. They also found that a solution of 0.125% and 2% completely inhibited fungal growth.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil is derived from the perennial herb peppermint, native to Europe and North America. The oil and herb are mainly known for their digestive-calming properties, but they also contain antifungal properties.

A 2015 study evaluated the antifungal activity of peppermint oil. Researchers found that the mint oil killed Candida cells and concluded that mint essential oils are potential antifungal agents that warrant further research.

In another 2021 study, researchers tested peppermint oil on several types of fungus, including Botrytis cinereaMonilinia fructicolaPenicillium expansum, and Aspergillus niger. Again, researchers found that the oil had promising antifungal activity against all tested fungi.

Lemongrass Oil

Lemongrass is a perennial tropical grass. Its oil is extracted from the plant's fresh leaves. The oil is frequently used to treat inflammation and microbial infections. In addition, it is a common ingredient in mosquito repellants.

In a 2012 study, researchers evaluated the antifungal properties of lemongrass oil. They found that lemongrass oil had a promising antifungal effect on Candida dubliniensis (C. dubliniensis). Specifically, it killed more than 80% of C. dubliniensis in biofilm at 1.7 mg/ml concentrations and had a strong inhibitory effect on candida.

Eucalyptus Oil

Eucalyptus oil is derived from the tree of the same name. People primarily use the oil for respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis. But it also contains antifungal properties.

In 2015, a study in the Journal of Foot and Ankle Research evaluated eucalyptus as an antifungal treatment for nail fungus. Over four months, 22 participants with 70 infected nails used undiluted eucalyptus oil as a topical antifungal treatment.

Nails with superficial infections cleared the infection within four months 86% of the time, while more severe infections cleared at a lower rate.

Another 2017 study looked at the antifungal activity of eucalyptus on several species of Fusarium common in soil and which can cause fungal infections in the nails and skin. Researchers found that eucalyptus has antifungal properties and could be an alternative to plant fungicides.

Geranium Oil

Geranium oil is from a plant native to Southern Africa. The root of the plant is distilled into the oil, which is typically used for respiratory symptoms. However, it is also used as an antifungal.

In a 2014 study in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin, researchers evaluated the antimicrobial activity of geranium oil on bacteria and fungi (Candida albicans). The EO was active against all bacteria and completely inhibited the fungus's development.

How to Use Essential Oils to Treat Athlete’s Foot

Essential oils are highly concentrated. Therefore, you should never apply an EO without first diluting it. Generally, you can follow these steps when using EOs, topically:

First, dilute the oil in a carrier oil (a vegetable oil used as a base) or water at a concentration of no more than 3% to 5%.

Next, you can apply it by different means:

  • Apply by saturating a compress in the diluted EO concentration and then placing it on the affected area.
  • Use a foot bath that contains drops of the essential oil in water.
  • Rub the diluted concentration directly into the affected skin (do not exceed 1% concentration for this type of application for adults, 0.5% for toddlers, or 0.25% for infants).

You may want to patch test the diluted oil before applying it all over your foot to ensure you don't have a skin reaction. With a patch test, you apply it to a small area and observe it for 24 to 72 hours to see if it produces a reaction.

And always check with a healthcare provider before using essential oils to treat athlete's foot. They may advise against it in your specific situation, or they may have special instructions for use.

As with any treatment for athlete's foot, you should keep your feet dry and clean and take steps to prevent infecting others. For example, keep your feet covered and away from communal spaces, like showers, locker rooms, and pools, while you have an infection. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching your feet, socks, or shoes.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If at-home treatment doesn't improve or resolve your symptoms within two weeks, you should consult a podiatrist or primary healthcare provider for further evaluation and stronger medicine.

Other Benefits of Essential Oils

In addition to antifungal properties, EOs have other potential benefits, including:

  • Low cost
  • Available OTC
  • May promote relaxation and stress reduction
  • Improve mood
  • Help with congestion
  • Heal skin wounds and infections

Side Effects

While essential oils have many benefits, they still carry some risks. These risks include:

When misused, EOs can damage skin and other organs. So, take proper precautions, like diluting the oil carefully, applying it as directed, and talking to a healthcare provider to ensure that none of your medications could interact with the oil.

Essential Oils, Children, and Pregnancy

Be very careful with essential oils and children. Store them where children cannot reach them—ingesting as little as 1 teaspoon can be fatal. Do not use it on children without guidance from a healthcare provider, as EOs must be more heavily diluted when using them on kids.

In addition, use only under the guidance of a healthcare provider while pregnant.


Some people use essential oils, like tea tree, lemon, lavender, peppermint, lemongrass, eucalyptus, and geranium, to treat athlete's foot. Research is limited, but some evidence supports these EOs as an alternative or complementary antifungal treatment.

You must dilute EOs in carrier oil or water before applying. Some people enjoy EOs in a foot bath, while others apply the diluted oil directly to the affected skin or on a compress. EOs can be toxic when used improperly or cause allergic reactions or contact sensitivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the strongest antifungal essential oil?

    The essential oil most commonly used for athlete's foot is tea tree oil. Research has found that tea tree oil's antifungal properties work when used with antifungal medicine and on its own.

  • How fast does tea tree oil work on athlete's foot?

    Older studies have found that tea tree oil may take a few months to work on athlete's foot. For example, a 1999 study found that it took 16 weeks to cure the condition.

  • Can you put tea tree oil directly on athlete's foot?

    You can put tea tree oil directly on athlete's foot, but you must dilute it first. Essential oils are too concentrated to use without diluting. So instead, place a small amount of oil in carrier oil or water (around 1%) and then apply.

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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.
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By Kathi Valeii
As a freelance writer, Kathi has experience writing both reported features and essays for national publications on the topics of healthcare, advocacy, and education. The bulk of her work centers on parenting, education, health, and social justice.