7 Best Essential Oils for Athlete's Foot | Pain Care

7 Best Essential Oils for Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s foot is a type of skin infection and considered as a varied form of ringworm infection. Clinically, Athlete’s foot is termed as tinea pedis, and as the name indicates, this infection mainly develops in the foot.

Before we discuss the prospective essential oil therapies to treat Athlete’s foot, it is necessary to know about this infection.

Why is skin prone to infection?

Skin acts as an external barrier against harmful environmental factors, including microorganisms. Skin is also a favourable surface where microbes can grow easily and maintain its natural microflora.

The skin has its own defensive mechanism, as it contains favourable microflora, acidic medium, keratinocytes, proper nutrients, metabolic products.

However, any alteration of this defensive mechanism can increase the susceptibility of the skin towards external infecting microorganism and get infected easily. [1]

Why is tinea pedis generally termed as Athlete’s foot?

Tinea pedis mostly occurs in athlete’s feet, as most of the time athletes wear tight socks and closed shoes while performing vigorous exercises.

This trigger affluent sweat and sebaceous secretion that cannot be dried properly due to the closed environment. [2]In addition, nylon socks often blocks evaporation process.

Altogether this warm, moist medium is favourable for microbial growth infections. [3] Although, it can develop in any individual, who is not taking care of foot hygiene.

What organisms responsible for developing Athlete’s foot?

Both bacteria and fungus can cause Athlete’s foot infection. Candida species of fungi is one of the causative organism; [4] Other microorganisms are Staphylococci (bacteria), Microsporum canis, Trichophyton rubrum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Epidermophyton floccosum are different varieties of ringworm responsible for Athlete’s foot infection. [2]

Signs and symptoms of Athlete’s foot

The most common symptoms of Athlete’s foot are itching, blisters, and cracking. However, these symptoms do not occur abruptly, but gradual progression with germination of attacking microorganisms is observed.

Athlete’s foot needs initial treatment measure to control its severity. However, it does not provide any fatal outcome, but in severe condition Athlete’s foot affected individual has compromised the quality of life, as the infection restrict movements of the patient.  [2]

How can essential oils help on athlete’s foot?

Essential oils are naturally plant-made liquid with unique odour depending upon the origin of plant source. These oils have concentrated saturated or unsaturated solution of phytochemicals. Essential oils can acts as anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious, antimicrobial, antiseptic, astringent, fungicidal effects properties due to the presence of certain phytochemicals. [5]

It has been tested that topical application of essential oil acts as a broad-spectrum antibacterial-antifungal agent and effective to treat Athlete’s foot. The antibacterial potency of Essential oils has the ability to inhibit the aerobic bacterial growth, whereas yeast-mold-fungi growths are inhibited due to their antifungal activity.

The concentration of active phytochemicals in essential oils are so high that their onset of action occurs immediately and restriction of microbial growth is significant within few hours of application.[2]  Different research data showed that skin infections treated with essential oils can also restrict the recurrence. [1]

List of top 7 essential oils that can be used to combat an Athlete’s foot.

We will now discuss seven essentials oils which are used to treat and prevent Athlete’s foot infection.

  • Tea tree oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Clove Oil
  • Oregano Essential Oil
  • Eucalyptus oil

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is one of the experts recommended a home remedy to treat athlete’s foot. [6] The antifungal activity is tested through comprehensive investigation.

Tea Tree Oil


The study report showed that Tea tree oil has antifungal activity against Candida strain. The potent antifungal mechanism of action of tea tree oil involves cellular lysis, which can be achieved by diminished membrane integrity followed by ions leakage and inhibition of respiration.

Tea tree oil can able to damage the functioning of the fungal membrane.  [7] The antifungal activity of tea tree oil is mainly due to the presence of certain phytochemicals, such as terpinen-4-ol, α- linalool, α-pinene,  β-pinene and terpineol in this oil. [8]

Peppermint oil

Peppermint oil is extracted from leaves of Mentha piperita L. by steam distillation method. Carvone, menthone, and menthol are three main phytochemical presents in this essential oil.

Peppermint Essential Oil

These phytochemicals have a wide range of anti-microbial activity. Peppermint oil can break the cell membrane integrity of the Candida species by modulating PM-ATPase and decrease ergosterol content. [9] Staphylococ bacteria is also a causative organism for developing Athlete’s foot infection.

Research study evidence showed that Peppermint oil has high antibacterial activity against S. aureus and other bacteria. The secondary metabolites of peppermint oil contain monoterpenes and oxygenated terpenes, which has the potentiality to damage cell membrane of the microbes.  [3]

In addition, Peppermint oil is a rich source of tannins and flavanoids. These two phytochemicals have antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and also accelerates the healing process. [10] Therefore, Peppermint oil is a very good option to treat Athlete’s foot infection.

Lemongrass oil

Lemongrass oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory property. This oil is also used in Athlete’s foot infection due to its antiseptic effect.

Lemon Grass

Lemongrass oil can potentially inhibit a variety of Candida species. This oil is especially recommended for fungal infection developed in the skin, as lemongrass oil can control the mycelial growth of candida yeast. Geranial and neral are two phytochemicals oxygenated monoterpenes present in lemongrass oil which provide this antifungal effect.

In addition, the microscopic investigation showed that topical application of Lemongrass oil can reduce inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect of lemongrass oil is exerted by the reduction of the synthesis of pro-inflammatory cytokines and inhibition of interleukins release due to the presence of different bioactive ingredients like carvone, citral, geranial, and neral. [11]

Lavender oil

The essential oil extracted from Lavandula angustifolia herb has antifungal activity due to the presence of two phytochemicals, namely linalool and linalyl acetate. Fungi-static (inhibits the fungal growth) and fungicidal (kill the fungi) are both antifungal effects that are present in lavender oil against Candida species. [12]

Lavender Flowers

The Journal of Medical Microbiology had published an article in which lavender oil has been considered as a potent antifungal agent that acts against a wide variety of fungal infections developed in the skin, including Athlete’s foot. Experts believe that lavender oil is one of the cost-effective antifungal agents. [13]

A study result also reported that the lavender oil has higher antifungal activity against C. albicans than clotrimazole.  Scientists from the University of Coimbra in Portugal demonstrated how lavender oil can damage fungal cell membrane and exhibit antifungal activity. [14]

Clove Oil

Clove is an essential oil that also has antifungal activity and can treat Athlete’s foot. [15] Eugenol is one of the primary ingredients of this oil that provides a wide antifungal activity and treats dermatophytic infections. [16]


This essential oil has multiple mechanisms including inhibition of germination of the fungal spores and impedes mycelial growth. Therefore, clove oil has both fungistatic activity and fungicidal activity.

In the fungistatic activity, clove oil application on the infected area leads to inhibition of germination of the fungal spores; whereas clove oil application on the infection leads to complete stoppage of mycelial growth.

The onset of fungistatic or fungicidal activity depends upon the concentration, administration method, and formulation of the clove oil.  The antifungal activity of clove oil is effective to act against Candida species and other dermatophytes. [15]

Oregano Essential Oil

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine had published an article where researchers had showed that Oregano Essential Oil has the ability to treat Athlete’s foot. Animal test report also showed that origanum oil can inhibit both the reproduction and the mycelial growth of Candida species. [17]

Oregano Spices

Another published article in Science-based Medicine reported that Oreganol P73 present in Oregano Essential Oil mainly provide broad-spectrum antimicrobial property and can kill a variety of germs including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.

Study result also showed that topical application of the oregano essential oil is absorbed sufficiently through the skin and provide the effective result to treat skin infection. [18] One more research study has shown that combination of oregano essential oil and peppermint oil can accelerate the cutaneous lesion healing process. [19]

Eucalyptus oil

The eucalyptus oil also possesses antifungal activity against Candida and a wide antimicrobial activity to inhibit the growth of Staphylococcus bacteria.

There is no particular active constituent of Eucalyptus oil which is effective to provide antifungal or antimicrobial activity, but the combination of phytochemicals synergizes each other and are effective to treat the various fungal infection. [20] Infection is always associated with inflammation.

Eucalyptus oil is an effective therapeutic agent against Athlete’s foot, as it reduces inflammation and accelerates the healing process. [1]

How to use essential oils for athlete’s foot?

Using diffuser

In favourable atmospheric condition, aerobic bacterial growth is faster, which facilitate recurrence of infection. In the market, several types of essential oil diffusers are available, such as nebulizer diffusers, ultrasonic or humidifying diffusers, heat diffusers, and evaporative diffusers. [21]

Application of these diffusers can freshen up the air and preserve the air quality. In addition, the antimicrobial activity of the mentioned essential oils can prevent the airborne microbial growth and inhibits microbial germination. Thus, it accelerates healing of athlete’s foot, prevents further growth of the causative microbes and reduces the recurrence of infection.

Tea tree oil diffuser application is one of the methods to stop the reproduction of causative microbe’s athlete’s foot. [22]

Topical applications by diluting them

Athlete’s foot is a topical skin infection and therefore the topical application of therapeutic agent can be the most effective and conventional method. There is research information to support that topical application of essential oils to treat skin infections; like peppermint oil application.  [1] However, all the essential oils mentioned in this article are topically used to treat Athlete’s foot.

A direct application of essential oil may cause different types of hypersensitivity reaction on the skin. Therefore, it is always recommended that dilution of the essential oils is a vital step prior to application on the skin.

Using in bath

Another effective way to apply essential oil in the treatment of Athlete’s foot is adding the oil in the soaking bath. For this, you need to take a warm water filled the tub and add few drops of prescribed essential oils on it. Then soak your feet for 10 to 15 minutes in the tub water. [23]

This allows the oil to enter the skin through skin pores. The ability of essential oils to penetrate the skin assist to treat the Athlete’s foot infection. [1]

Limitation of using essential oil for athlete’s foot.

All these diffusers have their own pros and cons. One must do his/her own product analysis by evaluating the product reviews before selecting the type of diffuser. [21]

Some of the skin reactions that may occur in case of direct application of essential oils are irritation, contact urticaria, allergic rash, and photosensitivity. These may damage the natural skin fibroblast cells due to cytotoxicity of the essential oils. [1]. Therefore, it is always suggested to conduct skin patch test before applying the essential oil to the skin to check the specific skin hypersensitivity, if any.

General safety guideline for essential oil dilution has mentioned that 25 to 100 percent dilution range should be maintained in-case of topical fungal infection treatment. [23]

In addition, dilution of essential oil requires special attention for topical application of these oils to toddlers and elderly patients. Because both of them are more sensitive to develop skin reactions against topical agents. For example, without proper dilution, cineole in Eucalyptus oil and menthol in Peppermint oil can cause skin irritation.  [24]

Bottom Line: Unhygienic foot often causes Athlete’s foot infection. Maintaining hygienic foot-care is easy to prevent Athlete’s foot infection.

However, few immuno-compromised individuals are prone to develop infections. The regular prescription antibiotic or antifungal synthetic medication formulations often lead to drug resistance with the dangerous outcome for future. Therefore, essential oil application to treat Athlete’s foot infection is one of the safe alternative natural phyto-therapy along with maintaining personal hygiene.

All the seven mentioned essential oils in this article have scientific evidence of their potential antibacterial- anti-fungal activity, which assists to treat and prevent Athlete’s foot infection. 

1. Ané Orchard, Sandy van . Vuuren. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017; 2017: 4517971. Published online 2017 May 4. doi: 10.1155/2017/4517971. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5435909/
2. Bill D Misner. A novel aromatic oil compound inhibits microbial overgrowth on feet: a case study. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: 3. Published online 2007 Jul 13. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-4-3. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1997117/
3. Ahmet Sadan Okmen , Gulten Okmen, Ali Arslan, Mustafa Vurkun. Antibacterial Activities of Mentha piperita L. Extracts Against Bacteria Isolated from Soccer Player’s Shoes and its Antioxidant Activities. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Education and Research | Vol 51 | Issue 3 | Jul-Sep, 2017. Online available at https://www.ijper.org/sites/default/files/Doi%20-%20article%20id%2010.5530ijper.51.3s.5.pdf
4. A.Vogel Talks Athlete’s Foot. Online available at https://www.avogel.co.uk/health/skin/fungal-skin-infections/athletes-foot/
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6. How effective are athlete’s foot treatments? PubMed Health. Created: January 14, 2015; Next update: 2018. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072732/
7. C. F. Carson, K. A. Hammer, T. V. Riley. Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) Oil: a Review of Antimicrobial and Other Medicinal Properties. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2006 Jan; 19(1): 50–62. doi: 10.1128/CMR.19.1.50-62.2006. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1360273/
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11. Mohamed Nadjib Boukhatem, Mohamed Amine Ferhat, Abdelkrim Kameli, Fairouz Saidi, Hadjer Tchoketch Kebir. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) essential oil as a potent anti-inflammatory and antifungal drugs. Libyan J Med. 2014; 9: 10.3402/ljm.v9.25431. Published online 2014 Sep 19. doi: 10.3402/ljm.v9.2543. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4170112/
12. Fereshteh Behmanesh, Hajar Pasha, Ali Asghar Sefidgar, Mohsen Taghizadeh, Ali Akbar Moghadamnia, Hajar Adib Rad, Leyla Shirkhani. Antifungal Effect of Lavender Essential Oil (Lavandula angustifolia) and Clotrimazole on Candida albicans: An In Vitro Study. Scientifica (Cairo) 2015; 2015: 261397. Published online 2015 Oct 13. doi: 10.1155/2015/261397. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4621348/
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16. Pinto E, Vale-Silva L, Cavaleiro C, Salgueiro L. Antifungal activity of the clove essential oil from Syzygium aromaticum on Candida, Aspergillus and dermatophyte species. J Med Microbiol. 2009 Nov;58(Pt 11):1454-62. doi: 10.1099/jmm.0.010538-0. Epub 2009 Jul 9. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19589904
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18. Scott Gauvura. Oil of Oregano. Science Based Medicine. Published on May 2011. Online available at https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/oil-of-oregano/
19. Fonseca AO, Pereira DI, Botton SA, Pötter L, Sallis ES, Júnior SF, Filho FS, Zambrano CG, Maroneze BP, Valente JS, Baptista CT, Braga CQ, Ben VD, Meireles MC. Treatment of experimental pythiosis with essential oils of Origanum vulgare and Mentha piperita singly, in association and in combination with immunotherapy. Vet Microbiol. 2015 Aug 5;178(3-4):265-9. doi: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2015.05.023. Epub 2015 May 28. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26036789
20. Ameur Elaissi, Zyed Rouis, Nabil Abid Ben Salem, Samia Mabrouk, Youssef ben Salem, Karima Bel Haj Salah, Mahjoub Aouni, Farhat Farhat, Rachid Chemli, Fethia Harzallah-Skhiri, Mohamed Larbi Khouja. Chemical composition of 8 eucalyptus species’ essential oils and the evaluation of their antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activities. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012; 12: 81. Published online 2012 Jun 28. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-81. Online available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475086/
21. Katie-Wellness Mama; Essential Oil Diffuser Review. Updated December 4 2017. Online available at https://wellnessmama.com/23343/essential-oil-diffuser-review/
22. LAURA SUMNER. Best Essential Oils for Athlete’s Foot! Safe Practices, Tips and Recipes. MAY 31, 2017. Online available at https://www.essentialbazaar.com/best-essential-oils-for-athletes-foot-safe-practices-tips-and-recipes/
23. Robert Tisserand. New Survey Reveals Dangers of Not Diluting Essential Oils. November 12th, 2015. Online available at http://tisserandinstitute.org/new-survey-reveals-dangers-of-not-diluting-essential-oils/
24. Safety Information. National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. Online available at https://naha.org/explore-aromatherapy/safety/

Dr. Nita Sharma Das

Dr. Nita is a freelance medical writer with an experience of more than 14 years in Indian healthcare industry with a strong niche in Nutraceutical. As per academia, she is a Doctor of Naturopathy and did her PhD in Alternative Medicine.

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