“There’s a fungus among us” is a fun rhyming phrase with a bit of truth to it—fungal organisms really do live all around us. But there isn’t anything fun about having a fungal skin infection. Fungi like moist, warm environments. That’s why they thrive in such places as gyms, swimming pools, locker rooms and public showers. 

Among the most common fungal skin infections are athlete’s foot, jock itch, ringworm, candida and yeast—all of which can show up as an itchy, red (or white), scaly patch or a simple bright-red wide line in a skin fold, an armpit or the groin. Over-the-counter antifungal creams, including clotrimazole (Lotrimin) and miconazole (Desenex), can clear up the infection if you catch it early—usually within about a week—before it’s created a strong colony of fungal organisms that’s harder to kill. But fungal infections can be persistent, and the synthetic ingredients of antifungal medications (such as those described above) should not be used day after day—you may develop a resistance to the drug over time.

My approach is to combine safe topical natural medicine with an internal protocol that improves skin health and boosts resistance to fungi. What works best…*

• Use lavender essential oil. This is my favorite topical antifungal. It can kill fungi, and its scent is pleasant for most people. What to do: Apply full-strength lavender oil extract to dry, scaly fungal infections and on nonopen bright-red fungal infections, such as those in the folds of skin, three times a day. Important: In some people, undiluted oil can cause irritation. Do a skin patch test on a small area before applying to larger areas of skin. Before putting it on any fungal infection where the top layer of skin has been eroded, which is common in athlete’s foot, dilute lavender oil with a carrier oil (such as almond or olive oil)—one part lavender essential oil to four parts carrier oil. If your fungal infection is so severe that it is open, cracked and bleeding, see your doctor. 

• Cut out sugar. Fungi feed on simple sugars, and they thrive on people who eat a lot of sweets. If you’ve got a fungal infection, avoid sugar, including desserts, candy, honey, maple syrup and even alcohol, as well as “white” carbs, such as bread and pasta. 

• Take a probiotic. Fungi can live not only on our skin but also in our intestines. Healthy bacteria (aka probiotics) can help—they compete with fungi and eventually crowd it out of the gut. For unknown reasons, an overgrowth of fungi in our intestines makes a fungal infection on the skin more common. Conversely, an abundant gut population of healthy bacteria can reduce fungal skin infections. For those fighting a fungal infection or recovering from one, a typical daily maintenance dose is 10 billion units of a probiotic with acidophilus and bifidus strains. 

• Get more beta-carotene. This nutrient helps the skin resist injury and invasion by organisms, including fungi. It also helps the skin heal. Eat lots of beta-carotene-rich foods, such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes and carrots, and leafy greens, including spinach and kale. You also can take a beta-carotene supplement. If you have an active fungal infection, I suggest 50,000 international units (IU) of beta-carotene daily for one month. Note: If you are a current or former smoker, check with your doctor before using a beta-carotene supplement—some research has linked high doses with an increased risk for lung cancer in this population.

*If a fungal infection does not clear up within a week, see your doctor for advice.

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