Over-the-Counter Antifungals for Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot can usually be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Lamisil, Lotrimin, and Tinactin are some foot fungus treatments you may already be familiar with, but there are several other options at your local drugstore.

Most over-the-counter athlete's foot medications are usually able to resolve this common fungal infection in a few weeks. If itching, burning, and cracked and scaly skin between your toes persists, you may need a prescription instead.

This article provides an in-depth look at antifungal ingredients found in popular OTC athlete's foot treatments. It also explains how to use these topical treatments and when to see a doctor for athlete's foot.

Terbinafine

Active ingredient: Terbinafine

Common brand names: Lamisil AT, Lamisil Once. Generics are available. Lamisil comes in a spray and powder spray, in addition to the cream form.

How it works: The most effective of all OTC treatments, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, terbinafine is an antifungal product that kills the fungus and keeps it from coming back by inhibiting an enzyme it requires to grow.

How and when to use: Applying original Lamisil cream once a day for one week heals up to 97% of all cases, according to the Academy. A single application of the newer, film-forming Lamisil Once effectively treats athlete's foot.

Important information: In very rare cases, adverse effects may include blistering, itching, redness, or irritation.

Because terbinafine works twice as fast as other foot fungus treatments, you'll probably need only one tube instead of two or more, so you might save money. The film-forming, one-time-use variety costs more.

Clotrimazole

Active ingredient: Clotrimazole

Common brand names: Lotrimin, Mycelex. Generics are available. Lotrimin also comes in a spray and powder spray, in addition to the cream form.

How it works: Clotrimazole is an enzyme-inhibiting product that gets rid of fungus and prevents it from growing back.

How and when to use: Apply a small amount of clotrimazole twice a day for two to four weeks.

Important information: Avoid using other topical creams or lotions with clotrimazole, as they might reduce the drug's effectiveness. Call your healthcare provider if you experience severe blistering or other signs of further irritation or if your athlete's foot doesn't clear up in four weeks.

Tolnaftate

Active ingredients: Tolnaftate

Common brand names: Tinactin, Desenex spray, Absorbine, Blis-To-Sol, Ting. Generics are available.

How it works: Tolnaftate inhibits an enzyme to stop the growth of fungus and prevent its recurrence.

How and when to use: Apply gel, cream, lotion or spray two times daily for two to six weeks.

Important information: Call your healthcare provider in the unlikely event that the use of tolnaftate results in severe blistering, itching, redness, peeling, drying, or irritation.

Miconazole

Active ingredient: Miconazole

Common brand names: Micatin. Generics are available.

How it works: Miconazole halts and prevents fungal growth by inhibiting an enzyme.

How and when to use: Apply the cream, lotion, spray or powder twice a day for four weeks.

Important information: See a healthcare provider if irritation or blisters develop.

Undecylenic Acid

Active ingredient: Undecylenic acid

Common brand names: Blis-To-Sol liquid, Cruex

How it works: Undecylenic acid is an antifungal fatty acid that kills fungus and stops it from growing on the skin.

How and when to use: Use undecylenic acid two times a day for four weeks.

Important information: Irritation and other possible adverse effects are rare. Your visible symptoms may disappear before the condition is actually cured.

Continue to use your antifungal medication for the recommended time period, even if your fungus appears to be cured.

How to Use Topical Antifungal Medications

The following tips can help you get a safe and effective application of your athlete's foot medication:

  • Clean and dry the affected skin, especially between toes, before applying antifungal products. One good way to dry the webbing between your toes is by using lamb's wool, which can be purchased at any drug store.
  • Wash your hands before and after using these medicines to keep the infection from spreading to your fingers and fingernails. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes until your hands are clean.
  • Cover the area with loose gauze after application. Avoid tight-fitting bandages to allow air circulation.

As you go on with your day:

  • Go barefoot when possible.
  • Wear 100% cotton socks when you must.
  • If you have to wear shoes, choose loose-fitting options, sandals, or flip-flops. Well-ventilated options and those made of a natural material like leather are best.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Over-the-counter topical antifungal medications are a good option for mild cases of athlete's foot. But if your athlete's foot doesn't get better after about four weeks, it's time to see a healthcare provider.

You may need prescription topical antifungal medications, which are stronger and more effective than anything available OTC.

Furthermore, your healthcare provider may prescribe you an antifungal that you take by mouth.

Notably, oral antifungal medications need to be taken for several months and can cause liver damage. Your healthcare provider may need to follow your liver enzymes, and people with liver damage shouldn't take the drug.

Finally, bacterial infections could result from itching and scratching. If this occurs, you may require prescription antibiotics in addition to antifungal medication.

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

  2. Gupta AK, Daigle D, Paquet M, et al. Topical treatments for athlete's footCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;2018(1):CD010863. Published 2018 Jan 24. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010863.pub2

  3. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis).

  4. Crowley PD, Gallagher HC. Clotrimazole as a pharmaceutical: past, present and future. J Appl Microbiol. 2014;117(3):611-7. doi:10.1111/jam.12554

  5. Jimenez-garcia L, Celis-aguilar E, Díaz-pavón G, et al. Efficacy of topical clotrimazole vs. topical tolnaftate in the treatment of otomycosis. A randomized controlled clinical trial. Braz J Otorhinolaryngol. 2019. doi:10.1016/j.bjorl.2018.12.007

  6. Piérard GE, Hermanns-lê T, Delvenne P, Piérard-franchimont C. Miconazole, a pharmacological barrier to skin fungal infections. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2012;13(8):1187-94. doi:10.1517/14656566.2012.687047

  7. Shi D, Zhao Y, Yan H, et al. Antifungal effects of undecylenic acid on the biofilm formation of Candida albicans. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2016;54(5):343-53. doi:10.5414/CP202460

  8. American Podiatric Medical Association. Athlete's Foot.

  9. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Fungus infections: preventing recurrence.

Additional Reading
  • "Athlete's Foot." nlm.nih.gov. National Institutes of Health.

  • "Clotrimazole Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. University of California San Diego.

  • "Miconazole Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. University of California San Diego.

  • "New Antifungal Agents Additions to the Existing Armamentarium." Cleveland Clinic.

  • "Terbinafine." myhealth.ucsd.edu. University of California San Diego.

  • "Tolnaftate Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. University of California San Diego.

  • "Undecylenic Acid Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. University of California San Diego.

  • Bedinghaus, Joan M., et al. "Over-the-Counter Foot Remedies." aafp.org. American Academy of Family Physicians.

  • MedlinePlus. Athlete's Foot.

  • Schmid-Wendtner, M.H., et al. "Terbinafin-Topika: Ultimative Verkürzung der Therapiedauer bei Tinea pedis ." Der Hautarzt.