Fungal Skin Infections: Types, Treatment, and Prevention

There are many types of fungi, but there are only a few that cause infections in humans. A small number of those cause skin infections.

This article will focus on fungal skin infections, including information on symptoms, treatment, and prevention of fungal skin infections.

Woman with itchy hand due to a fungal infection.

Nitcharee Sukhontapirom / Getty Images

What Is a Fungal Skin Infection?

A fungal skin infection is caused by certain types of fungi that can get on the skin and multiply.

General Symptoms

While symptoms will vary depending on the type of problem, general symptoms of a fungal skin infection include:

  • An itchy rash
  • Red skin
  • Scaly skin in the affected area

Why Skin Is Vulnerable to Fungus

Many fungi grow best in warm, moist environments. This is why fungal skin infections may develop in areas of skin that can harbor moisture, like:

  • In between toes
  • Nails
  • The groin

Common Fungal Skin Infections

Common fungal skin infections are usually not serious but do require treatment from a healthcare provider or over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Ringworm of the Body (Tinea Corporis)

Ringworm, also called tinea corporis, is a fungal skin infection that causes a ring-shaped rash. There is no actual worm involved with ringworm.

Ringworm is also known as dermatophytosis. Other terms often relate to where on the body ringworm develops. Ringworm on the feet is called athlete's foot, for instance.

Ringworm can spread:

  • From person to person
  • From animal to person, including pets like dogs and cats
  • From fungi living in moist areas like public locker rooms

Symptoms of ringworm include:

  • An itchy rash shaped like a ring
  • Red skin, may also appear brown or gray
  • Cracked skin
  • Loss of hair if ringworm is on the scalp or in a beard

Treatment of ringworm will vary depending on the specific type of infection. For example, OTC creams or powders can treat athlete's foot. For ringworm on the scalp, oral antifungal medications are used for one to three months. These medicines include Diflucan (fluconazole) and Sporanox (itraconazole).

Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)

Athlete's foot, also called tinea pedis, is caused by a fungus that often occurs in the space between the toes.

You can get athlete's foot from damp surfaces in:

  • Locker rooms
  • Public showers
  • Swimming pools

Types of athlete's foot include:

  • Chronic interdigital, which occurs in the webbed space between the fourth and fifth toes
  • Moccasin, which causes scaly skin on the soles of your feet and sometimes the hands
  • Acute vesicular, which is uncommon and starts with a chronic infection between the toes that may affect the soles of your feet or other areas of the body

Symptoms of athlete's foot usually occur between the toes. Symptoms include:

  • Burning of the skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Itchy skin
  • Peeling skin
  • Redness
  • Scaly skin

Treatment for athlete's foot most commonly includes OTC antifungal powders or sprays. A more severe case may need prescription cream or oral pills.

Jock Itch (Tinea Cruris)

Jock itch is another type of fungal skin infection that takes advantage of warm, moist environments. Jock itch (also called tinea cruris) will occur in places like the:

  • Buttocks
  • Genitals
  • Inner thighs

Jock itch is common in athletes because of the tight-fitting clothing commonly worn for sports. Despite its name, jock itch can occur in both males and females, although it's more common in males.

Jock itch symptoms include:

  • An uncomfortable itchy rash
  • A rash that is raised and scaly
  • Oozing of fluid from the rash
  • Skin redness

Treatment for jock itch includes nonprescription antifungal creams and powders. If symptoms continue after OTC treatment, see a healthcare provider.

Ringworm of the Scalp (Tinea Capitis)

As the name implies, ringworm of the scalp is a type of fungal infection affecting the scalp, the skin covering the head. Sometimes, it affects the entire scalp. Other times, it affects only part of it.

Symptoms of ringworm of the scalp (also called tinea capitis) include:

  • Hair that has broken off, causing bald spots and sometimes long-term hair loss and scars
  • Itchiness
  • Low-grade fever
  • Skin areas on the scalp that are red or swollen
  • Sores filled with pus
  • Enlarged lymph nodes on the neck

Ringworm of any type can spread quickly from person to person or from pets (especially cats) to people. Some factors that increase the risk of ringworm of the scalp include:

  • Minor skin or scalp injuries
  • Sweating for a long time, which creates wet skin on the scalp
  • Using or touching items like combs or hats that also have been used by someone with ringworm

Treatment for ringworm of the scalp is a prescription medication used for one to two months. Your healthcare provider also may recommend:

  • Using a medicated shampoo with ketoconazole or selenium sulfide, which may slow the infection
  • Having other family members and pets examined and treated for ringworm of the scalp

Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a yeast infection caused by yeast that live on the skin. While yeast is one type of fungus, tinea versicolor is technically a yeast infection rather than fungal infection. Although it is not harmful, many people who get it do not like the way it looks on their skin.

Symptoms of tinea versicolor are:

  • The white, pink, or reddish brown patches on the skin usually do not itch or hurt.
  • The patches are a little scaly.
  • The patches become worse with exposure to heat, when using steroids, or if you have a weaker immune system.

Tinea versicolor is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin. It is not entirely clear what causes the yeast overgrowth, but it appears to be more common in:

  • Younger people, while older people usually get it only if they live in a subtropical or tropical climate
  • People with oily skin
  • People with a weakened immune system

The most common treatment for tinea versicolor is an antifungal shampoo, soap, or cream that has selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, or pyrithione zinc. If it covers a large area of the body or returns after being treated, antifungal pills may be used. There also are medicated cleansers that can be used once or twice a month if you tend to have tinea versicolor that recurs.

Cutaneous Candidiasis

Cutaneous candidiasis is a yeast infection of the skin that is caused by candida fungi. Candida is one type of fungi. This type of fungi likes to grow in warm, moist areas of the skin. There are places where candida infections that can occur on the skin, including:

  • Around the buttocks in infants (diaper rash)
  • On nails
  • On the corners of the mouth
  • In the lining of the mouth

Cutaneous candidiasis is caused by an overgrowth of yeast. Risk factors that can contribute to candida infection include:

  • Having obesity
  • Having diabetes
  • Using antibiotics, steroids, or chemotherapy drugs to help fight cancer

The most common symptom of cutaneous candidiasis is an itchy rash that grows on skinfolds, genitals, or other skin areas.

Treatment will vary somewhat depending on where the cutaneous candidiasis appears. Antifungal skin creams and powders are commonly used, although oral antifungal medicine is an option for more severe cases. It also helps to keep the skin dry and to use drying powders.

Onychomycosis (Tinea Unguium)

Onychomycosis is another name for a fungal nail infection. It is more common on toenails, although fingernails also can be affected. Another name for this is tinea unguium.

Having wet nails for extended periods of time, including due to sweating, can raise the chance of developing a fungal nail infection. It is also possible to get a fungal nail infection if you are barefoot and walking in an area (such as a pool or locker room) where someone else with the infection was walking.

A fungal nail infection can easily spread from one nail to the others.

Symptoms of a fungal nail infection include:

  • Nails that are white, brown, or yellow
  • Nails that are loose and thin. It is also possible that the affected nails will thicken.
  • Nails that crumble or split off

For a mild case, your healthcare provider may start your treatment with medication applied directly to your nails. For more severe cases, prescription antifungal pills are usually the most effective treatment. In a severe case, health providers may remove the nail.

Treating a fungal nail infection can take from four to six months for fingernails and 12 to 18 months for toenails.

Risk Factors for Fungal Skin Rashes

Although risk factors for fungal skin rashes will vary somewhat depending on the type of infection, there are some common risk factors:

  • Having diabetes
  • Having excess weight
  • Having skin that is moist
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Sweating frequently

Treatment for Fungal Skin Infections

The most common treatment for fungal skin infections is an antifungal medicine. The specific type of medicine will depend on the type of infection you have. Some of these medicines require a prescription. Antifungal medicines come in many forms, including:

  • Creams
  • Pills
  • Powders
  • Sprays

Preventing Fungal Skin Rashes

Although not all fungal skin rashes are preventable, there are some things you can do to lower your chances of getting them.

Caring for Athletic Clothing and Equipment

  • Do not share your towels, personal hygiene items, or clothing with others.
  • If you play sports, wash and dry your uniform after every practice or game.
  • Bring a towel to use when sharing gym equipment. Wipe down the equipment after you use it.
  • Change your socks regularly.

Preventing Infection at Home

  • Do not share towels with others.
  • Clean your towels frequently.
  • Do not share personal hygiene items, like soaps and razors, with others.

Preventing Infection at the Gym and in Public

  • Wear flip-flops or other waterproof shoes when walking around a public shower or pool area.
  • Wear loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothing for workouts, which helps to absorb moisture.
  • Keep any skin cuts or wounds covered.
  • Do not share towels or workout mats.
  • Wipe down the equipment after using it.

Summary

A small number of fungi can cause fungal skin infections. There are several types of fungal skin infections, including athlete's foot, ringworm, jock itch, and others. Although symptoms will vary, a rash and scaly skin are two common symptoms.

Treatment will vary depending on the type of infection. Antifungal medications are the treatment most commonly used. Antifungal medications come in many different forms, including creams, pills, and sprays. Ways to help avoid a fungal skin infection include keeping your skin clean and dry and wearing protective footwear in public facilities like locker rooms and around pools.

A Word From Verywell

Though an inconvenience and an annoyance, fungal skin infections are very common and treatable. If you have symptoms of a fungal skin infection, it's best to seek treatment early on to avoid it from spreading further. If OTC treatments do not help or you are not sure what type of skin infection you have, seek further treatment from a healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best medicine for a skin fungal infection?

    The best medicine for a fungal skin infection is an antifungal medication that treats the specific fungus you have. There are many different types and forms of medicine, such as creams, lotions, and pills. Prescription medications are generally stronger.

  • How do you know if a skin infection is due to a fungus?

    A red and itchy rash is a common sign of a fungal skin infection. However, there are other things that can cause a skin infection, including bacteria. It is best to check with a health provider if you are not sure if your skin infection is fungal.

  • How long does it take for a fungal skin infection to clear up?

    This will depend on the type of fungal skin infection you have. A yeast infection will generally get better in about a week. Other infections, like ringworm, will improve after a couple of weeks. A nail fungus infection may take several months or longer to heal.

20 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.
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  2. American Academy of Dermatology. How to prevent common skin infections at the gym.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ringworm.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How ringworm spreads.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of ringworm infection.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. Ringworm: Signs and symptoms.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment & outcomes.

  8. MyHealth.Alberta.Ca. Athlete's foot.

  9. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Athlete's foot.

  10. APMA. Athlete's foot.

  11. American Academy of Dermatology. 8 reasons your groin itches and how to find relief.

  12. American Academy of Family Physicians. What is jock itch?

  13. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Ringworm of the scalp.

  14. Hopkins Medicine. Tinea versicolor.

  15. American Academy of Dermatology. Tinea versicolor: Who gets and causes.

  16. American Academy of Dermatology. Tinea versicolor: Diagnosis and treatment.

  17. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Candida infection of the skin.

  18. American Academy of Dermatology. Nail fungus: Overview.

  19. American Academy of Dermatology. Nail fungus: Signs and symptoms.

  20. American Academy of Dermatology. Nail fungus: Diagnosis and treatment.

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.