Ringworm Treatment Options

OTC ringworm treatments may help, but some cases require prescription medication

Most of the time, ringworm treatment involves an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription cream, ointment, or other topical medication that's applied directly to the rash.

In some cases a systemic drug (one that is taken by mouth) is necessary. There also are natural treatments that have shown promise in treating certain types of ringworm.

This article will explain the various types of medications used to treat ringworm (tinea). It will also provide a list of home remedies that can help ease symptoms and prevent it from spreading to other people.

Ringworm treatment usually depends on the part of the body that has it.

Ringworm that appears on the feet (tinea pedis, or athlete's foot) may need to be managed differently than ringworm that affects the scalp (tinea capitis), for example.

Tips for Treating Ringworm
 Verywell / Maritsa Patrinos

How to Treat Ringworm at Home

The only way to cure ringworm is with antifungal medication. However, there are things you can do to relieve symptoms until the medication starts to work.

Do everything you can to prevent the fungus from spreading to other body parts or to another person or pet. Ringworm can be transmitted between dogs and cats and humans.

Follow these key tips to manage ringworm:

  • To relieve itching, apply a cool compress to the uncomfortable area for 20 to 30 minutes at a time as needed. 
  • Fungi love warmth and moisture, so keep areas affected by ringworm clean and dry. After washing, use a separate towel to dry the infected body part. 
  • As much as possible, don't wear clothing or footwear that can cause you to sweat.
  • Always shower after you work out to wash away perspiration and dry off thoroughly.
  • Change all of your clothes every day.
  • Wash everything you wear or touch in hot water before wearing or using it again. This applies to clothing, towels, and compresses. 
  • Don't cover ringworm with a bandage or other dressing.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching an area affected by ringworm. 
  • Throw away any disposable items that might have been infected.
  • Disinfect items you want or need to keep. You can use an ultraviolet (UV) shoe sanitizer or ozone cabinet for clothes or shoes. Both of these can be purchased online. 
  • To prevent the spread of scalp ringworm, never wear someone else's hat or cap. If your child has ringworm, make sure they don't share sports headgear, such as batting helmets, with teammates. 
  • If you have ringworm of the scalp, use a shampoo with selenium sulfide, such as Selsun Blue. This may make it less contagious.

Ringworm is highly contagious, therefore it is very important to do everything you can to prevent it from spreading to another person. Dogs and cats can also get (and spread) ringworm.

Over-the-Counter Ringworm Treatment

For most cases that affect the skin, the first ringworm treatment option is a non-prescription antifungal medicine.

These come as creams, ointments, powders, or sprays and usually work quickly. They're available in drugstores, the pharmacy section of supermarkets, big-box stores, and online.

Antifungal medications that treat ringworm on the skin include: 

  • Lotrimin cream, Cruex spray powder, Mycelex, Pedesil (clotrimazole)
  • Desenex topical powder, Fungoid cream, Micatin cream, Lotrimin AF athlete's foot spray or powder, Lotrimin AF Jock Itch spray powder (miconazole)
  • Lamisil (terbinafine)
  • Xolegel (ketoconazole)

You'll probably notice that the scaly rash disappears before the general redness of your skin goes away. Most of the time ringworm on the skin will clear in a couple of weeks.

Continue to treat the area for as long as directed, even if you think your ringworm is cured. This will help prevent the infection from coming back.

Ringworm on the scalp must be treated with an oral medication, but often it can help speed up healing to also use a shampoo that contains a fungus-fighting ingredient.

If you're prescribed a prescription drug to treat ringworm of the scalp, your healthcare provider may suggest you also use an OTC shampoo that contains ketoconazole, such as Nizoral. This product usually can be used every three or four days, just as you would a regular shampoo, for up to eight weeks.

Prescription Medications

There are a few situations and types of fungal infections that require a prescription antifungal medication to treat ringworm. These include ringworm on the skin that doesn't go away after OTC medication, ringworm on the scalp (tinea capitas), or ringworm of the beard (tinea barbae).

Ringworm That Doesn’t Respond to OTC Treatment


If ringworm on the skin doesn't go away after using a topical medication for the full amount of time directed, a stronger prescription medication may do the trick. 

For infections that get worse or don't go away, there are prescription topical products that can treat ringworm, such as:

  • Loprox cream (ciclopirox)
  • Spectazole cream (econazole nitrate)
  • Oxistat cream or lotion (oxiconazole nitrate)

Ringworm on the Scalp or Beard

Fungal infections on the scalp must be treated with a prescription antifungal. Examples include Grifulvin V or Gris-PEG (griseofulvin), Onmel or Sporanox (itraconazole), terbinafine, and Diflucan (fluconazole). Sometimes a healthcare provider will prescribe prescription-strength ketoconazole shampoo to treat stubborn ringworm on the scalp.

Ringworm Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman

Natural Remedies to Treat Ringworm

OTC and prescription medications are tried-and-true ringworm treatment options. However, some preliminary research suggests there may be natural remedies that work for some people.

Note that the options below haven't been tested enough to be recommended. However, if you're interested in an alternative to drugs for treating a ringworm infection, ask your healthcare provider to see if they might be an option.

Tea Tree Oil

Some preliminary research has found that Melaleuca alternifolia, an essential oil known as tea tree oil that's widely used in aromatherapy, may help cure ringworm affecting the feet. A 2002 study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology compared solutions containing either 25% tea tree oil or 50% tea tree oil with a placebo (an inactive substance) to treat athlete's foot. Subjects applied one of the three options to areas affected with a fungal infection twice a day for four weeks.

At the end of the study, nearly three-quarters of the people who used the 25% solution had a significant improvement in their infection. More than half who used the 50% solution improved, while only 39% of the placebo group saw an improvement. 

Garlic Extract

Ajoene, which is a natural compound extracted from garlic, has also shown promise in the treatment of ringworm. A 1999 study found that a gel containing ajoene helped treat tinea cruris (jock itch) and tinea corporis (ringworm on the skin).

Similarly, in a small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2000, ajoene was more effective than terbinafine (which is the active ingredient in Lamisil) in treating athlete's foot. For the study, researchers divided 70 subjects into three groups. One group used a topical medication containing 0.6% ajoene, the second group used 1% ajoene, and the third group used 1% terbinafine. 

Summary

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin and scalp. Most of the time, ringworm can be treated with OTC topical medications that are applied directly to the affected areas. Sometimes, however, a prescription medication may be necessary to clear up the infection.

Ringworm is highly contagious and can be spread between people and animals, so it's important to take measures to keep your skin and clothing clean.

A Word From Verywell

With proper treatment, a ringworm infection should clear up completely within a few weeks. Even if it seems to go away within a few days, always continue ringworm treatment for as long as your healthcare provider recommends.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes ringworm?

    Ringworm is caused by one of three types of fungus, or dermatophyte—Trichophyton, Microsporum, or Epidermophyton. These organisms thrive on dead keratin, a protein on the top layer of skin and in the hair and nails. Ringworm is highly contagious and often occurs when someone touches another person or an animal that has the infection.

  • What are the best over-the-counter medications for ringworm?

    The medications you can buy without a prescription to treat ringworm are called antifungals. They come in different formulations, but all work by killing the spores that allow fungi to reproduce. The best one for you will depend in large part on where the ringworm rash is located. If it's between your toes, for example, it may be easiest to use an antifungal spray or powder. If you have ringworm on your scalp, an OTC product will not be an option; you will need to take a prescription oral medication.

  • When will my ringworm symptoms go away once I start treatment?

    That depends on the body part that's affected, the severity of the infection, and the type of medication you're on, among other factors. Some people notice their ringworm starts to improve after just a few days. It's more likely it will take two to four weeks for your symptoms to disappear completely if you're using a topical medication. Even if your symptoms are gone soon after you start treatment, it's important to continue using medication for as long as your healthcare provider prescribes. If you're using an OTC product, follow the recommendations on the label.

  • What can I do to make ringworm heal faster?

    Medications for ringworm are highly effective, but you can help them along by taking certain measures:

    • Keep the affected area clean, dry, and covered.
    • Wash your hands immediately after touching a ringworm rash.
    • Put on fresh clothing every day.
    • Wash all items you take off before wearing them again. Wash towels before using them again.
    • If you get sweaty, take a shower or bath; use a fresh towel to dry yourself completely.
  • Will ringworm go away without treatment?

    It's possible, but it would likely take months for that to happen. The fungi that cause ringworm can live for up to nearly two years if they're in the warm, moist environment where they thrive. Untreated ringworm can cause skin to become cracked and open to bacterial infection, so it's best to treat it. Also if you wait too long to treat ringworm, it can spread and become much harder to manage.

  • Why does my skin still itch even though the ringworm rash is gone?

    Even after the rash disappears, some ringworm symptoms such as itching and redness may linger as your skin continues to heal. If after two weeks of treating your ringworm you still have symptoms that bother you, see a healthcare provider. Do not use a steroid to ease the itch: These medications weaken the immune system and could make a fungal infection worse rather than help heal it.To treat itching caused by ringworm, you can apply a cool, wet washcloth to the area for 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Will my ringworm be contagious once I start treating it?

    Yes, but not for long. After 48 hours of treatment, ringworm usually is no longer easily spread. Note, however, if you have a pet with ringworm, they're likely to stay contagious for up to three weeks once you start treating them. This is important to know since ringworm can sometimes be passed from animals to humans.

15 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. Fungal diseases: ringworm.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Ringworm: diagnosis and treatment.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Ringworm: diagnosis, treatment, and outcome.

  4. University of Michigan. Ringworm of the scalp or beard.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fungal diseases: treatment for ringworm.

  6. Satchell AC, Saurajen A, Bell C, Barnetson RS. Treatment of interdigital tinea pedis with 25% and 50% tea tree oil solution: a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study. Australas J Dermatol. 2002;43(3):175-8.

  7. Ledezma E, Marcano K, Jorquera A, et al. Efficacy of ajoene in the treatment of tinea pedis: a double-blind and comparative study with terbinafine. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000;43(5 Pt 1):829-32. doi:10.1067/mjd.2000.107243

  8. Nenoff P, Handrick W, Krüger C, et al. Dermatomycoses due to pets and farm animals : neglected infections? Hautarzt. 2012;63(11):848-58. doi:10.1007/s00105-012-2379-y

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

  10. The Center for Food Security & Pubic Health. Iowa State University. Dermatophytosis.

  11. Michigan Medicine. University of Michigan. Ringworm of the skin.

  12. American Academy of Dermatology. Ringworm: 12 tips for getting the best results from treatment.

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Medications that weaken your immune system and fungal infections.

  14. Seattle Children's Hospital. Ringworm.

  15. Ward E. VCA Hospitals. Ringworm in dogs.

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.