Tea tree oil is used for a lot of things: to clear acne, to repel bugs, to cure bites, cuts, and bruises . . . the list goes on, and it's even Meghan Markle-approved (she calls it a "cure-all"). Though this oil can soothe dry, itchy skin, when it comes to treating athlete's foot, an infection caused by fungus, it's not as effective as you'd think. We spoke to Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare, about why.
Can You Treat Athlete's Foot With Tea Tree Oil?
Dr. Cunha said that tea tree oil may be somewhat effective at reducing itching, scaling, swelling, and burning caused by athlete's foot when applied twice a day. But, he advised, it's not as effective as actual antifungal medication, and it may take several months to see progress if you just stick to the oil. "Tea tree oil is only 60 percent effective," he said.
How to Properly Treat Athlete's Foot
Dr. Cunha explained that the best way to treat an infection is to first determine whether it's bacterial or fungal. "Most infections that present with scaliness and itchiness to the bottom of the foot and in between the toes are a result of athlete's foot," he said. Before you go to a doctor, you can try over-the-counter antifungal medication for athlete's foot for two to three weeks, but if the condition doesn't improve, then you'll need a prescription-strength medicine.
"It's worth pointing out that most people tend to assume their feet are just dry or scaly when they actually suffer from athlete's foot," Dr. Cunha noted. "They typically just slather their foot in lotion, thinking this will solve the problem, but they aren't treating the fungus. That means the infection could get worse and travel to your nail." In the event that it does travel up to your nails, you might need an antifungal oral medication. Other tips he gave us include spraying Lysol on your shoes regularly and avoiding walking barefoot at public pools and in gym locker rooms (seriously, don't do it!). So, sure, use tea tree oil to your heart's content, but if you're looking for an effective treatment for athlete's foot, this podiatrist wants you to choose medication specific to that infection, not just for dry skin.