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The Best Creams for Athlete’s Foot, According to Dermatologists

The potential pitfalls of too much gym time are plentiful — hernias, HGH use, a superficially deeper tone of voice — but few are as common and easy to treat as athlete’s foot. The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates as much as 15% of the population develops the itchy, scaly rash at some point, and men are more likely to be affected due to, perhaps, less diligence washing their socks after each trip to the gym. 

The moist confines of a tight athletic sock are fertile ground for fungus, and though athlete’s foot can look like a friction injury, it’s actually part of the jock itch and ringworm family tree. Symptoms include burning, flaking, and needing to shove a rash-covered foot into a pair of Oxfords for 9 hours a day thanks to pervasive itching. 

Basic hygiene (not sharing towels, wearing flip flops in the locker room shower) is key to avoiding an athlete’s foot flare-up. Thankfully, there are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) remedies to help ease discomfort.

What the Experts Say

Ignoring a suspected athlete’s foot infection or switching running shoes won’t do the trick. Treating it early is key to preventing it from becoming a larger problem. 

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“Athlete’s foot can spread,” said Ohio-based dermatologist Brian Moore. “It can create symptoms like itching or larger red rashes over the body. And then sometimes you can get other secondary infections like bacterial infections on top of them.” 

Treatment for athlete’s foot comes in various forms, such as creams, sprays, or powders. While creams tend to be the most soothing because they often contain moisturizers to help the surface of the skin repair, Moore said it’s important to look at the ingredients. “When selecting an over-the-counter fungal infection treatment, people should look for products that contain active ingredients like miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine, or tolnaftate.” 

The one downside to creams is that unlike powders and sprays, non-contact application isn’t a possibility. Thorough handwashing is of the utmost importance immediately following application to reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other parts of the body and other people. 

OTC athlete’s foot creams are inexpensive and easy to get, but if they don’t abate symptoms within a few days, call the dermatologist. 

“Sometimes, things that look like fungal infection are actually indicators of other problems like eczema or psoriasis,” New Jersey-based dermatologist Jason Miller said.

Any anti-fungal treatment is more effective when used alongside preventative measures, too. 

“Keep the skin clean and dry, especially in areas prone to sweating; wear sandals or other protective footwear in public showers, locker rooms, and pool areas; and avoid prolonged exposure to moist environments, such as hot tubs or wet clothes,” Miller said. 

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Lotrimin works quickly and efficiently, relieving most symptoms after seven days. Its formula has been clinically proven to cure most fungal infections through the use of butenafine hydrochloride, an active ingredient that helps kill the fungus that causes athlete’s foot. This means quicker relief from immediate symptoms, but also a more involved use process than other remedies. The brand recommends washing and drying the affected area thoroughly and applying a layer of the cream twice a day. 

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Key Ingredients: Clotrimazole, which is clinically proven to control the natural fungus that causes athlete’s foot, jock itch, and ringworm.

How It Works: This is a less intense version of their 7-day treatment and is formulated to be used once daily for four weeks. 

There’s More: Lotramin’s clotrimazole variety of cream is an easy-to-apply odorless, greaseless, non-staining cream. The .42oz tube is small and perfect for stashing in the gym bag or a pocket.

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Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid

How It Works:  Salicylic acid is an anti-fungal agent that works by breaking down layers of thick skin to reduce irritation. 

There’s More: This deep moisturizing cream is paraben-free, non-irritating, soothing, and safe for sensitive skin. It’s made with a mix of both herbs and clinical ingredients for relieving itching, irritation, redness, and scaling, in addition to fighting off infection.

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Key Ingredients: Miconazole Nitrate

How It Works: This cream’s thick consistency provides fast-acting relief and repels moisture to prevent worsened irritation.

There’s More: Sweaty workouts don’t phase this cream, and it’s packaged diminutively enough to tuck discreetly into a gym bag. It’s a thicker, heavier cream, so those with sensitive skin may want to opt for a lighter option that’s more easily absorbed.

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Key Ingredients: Tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender oils

How It Works: Guys who prefer all-natural treatments are probably familiar with tea tree oil as it’s commonly used for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. 

There’s More: Unlike the medicated creams, this balm can be used preventatively to keep skin clean and healthy, but the caveat is it’s unlikely to be as effective for moderate to serious cases of athlete’s foot as other products.

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