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How to Decide Which Over-The-Counter (OTC) Foot Fungus Medicines Are Right for You

You Are Likely to Find Five Types of Foot Fungus Medications on the Shelves

By Nancy Larson

Updated March 03, 2009

(LifeWire) - It's reached the point that you're embarrassed to wear sandals. The peeling, cracking and redness between your toes make you want to hide your feet. But you can't get away from the burning and itching. Topical over-the-counter treatments (OTC) for athlete's foot, or tinea pedis, are often successful, but most take several weeks to work.

Here's a rundown of some of the most popular and commonly encountered types of OTC foot fungus medications you'll find on the shelves.


Active ingredient: terbinafine.

Common brand names: Lamisil, Lamisil Once. Generics available.

How it works: The most effective of all OTC treatments, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, terbinafine is an antifungal product that kills the fungus and keeps it from coming back by inhibiting an enzyme it requires to grow.

How/when to use: Applying original Lamisil cream once a day for one week heals up to 97% of all cases, according to the academy. A single application of the newer, film-forming Lamisil Once effectively treats athlete's foot.

Important information: In very rare cases, side effects may include blistering, itching, redness or irritation.

Most antifungal products cost about $10 to $11 for a 12-ounce tube, and generics run $2 to $3 less. Because terbinafine works twice as fast as other foot fungus treatments, you'll probably need only one tube instead of two or more, so you might save money. The film-forming, one-time-use variety costs more -- about $20.


Active ingredient: clotrimazole.

Common brand names: Lotrimin, Mycelex. Generics available.

How it works: Clotrimazole is an enzyme-inhibiting product that gets rid of fungus and prevents it from growing back.

How/when to use: Apply a small amount of clotrimazole cream or lotion twice a day for two to four weeks.

Important information: Avoid other topical creams or lotions because they might reduce the effectiveness of clotrimazole. Call your doctor if you experience severe blistering or other signs of further irritation, or if your athlete's foot doesn't clear up in four weeks.


Active ingredients: tolnaftate.

Common brand names: Tinactin, Desenex spray, Absorbine, Blis-To-Sol, Ting. Generics available.

How it works: Tolnaftate inhibits an enzyme to stop the growth of fungus and prevent its recurrence.

How/when to use: Apply gel, cream, lotion or spray two times daily for two to six weeks.

Important information: Call your doctor in the unlikely event that the use of tolnaftate results in severe blistering, itching, redness, peeling, drying or irritation.


Active ingredient: miconazole.

Common brand names: Micatin. Generics available.

How it works: Miconazole halts and prevents fungal growth by inhibiting an enzyme.

How/when to use: Apply the cream, lotion, spray or powder twice a day for four weeks.

Important information: See a doctor if irritation or blisters develop.

Undecylenic Acid

Active ingredient: undecylenic acid.

Common brand names: Blis-To-Sol powder, Cruex.

How it works: Undecylenic acid is an antifungal fatty acid that kills fungus and stops it from growing on the skin.

How/when to use: Use two times a day for four weeks.

Important information: Irritation and other possible side effects are rare. Your visible symptoms may disappear before the condition is actually cured.

Additional cautions

Clean and dry the area, especially between toes, before applying antifungal products. Wash your hands before and after using these medicines to keep the infection from spreading to your fingers and fingernails.

After applying any antifungal medication, cover the area with loose gauze only -- no tight-fitting bandages -- to allow air circulation. Go barefoot when possible, and wear 100% cotton socks and loose shoes when you must wear shoes.

Continue to use all these products for the minimum time period, even if your fungus appears to be cured. Avoid getting any antifungal agent into your mouth, nose or eyes.


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Bedinghaus, Joan M., et al. "Over-the-Counter Foot Remedies." aafp.org. 1 Sep. 2001. American Academy of Family Physicians. 26 Feb. 2009 <http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010901/791.html>. "Clotrimazole Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. 15 Mar. 2006. University of California San Diego. 16 Feb. 2009

<http://myhealth.ucsd.edu/library/healthguide/en-us/DrugGuide/topic.asp?hwid=d01236t1& >.

"Miconazole Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. 13 Feb. 2004. University of California San Diego. 13 Feb. 2009 <http://myhealth.ucsd.edu/library/healthguide/en-us/DrugGuide/topic.asp?hwid=d03195t1&>.

"New Antifungal Agents Additions to the Existing Armamentarium." clevelandclinicmeded.com. 2003. Cleveland Clinic. 19 Feb. 2009 <http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/pharmacy/julyaug2003/antifungal.htm>.

Schmid-Wendtner, M.H., et al. "Terbinafin-Topika: Ultimative Verkürzung der Therapiedauer bei Tinea pedis ." Der Hautarzt 59:12(2008): 986-991. 18 Feb. 2009 <http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/klu/105/2008/00000059/00000012/00001552 >.

"Terbinafine." myhealth.ucsd.edu. 29 Jan. 2008. University of California San Diego. 16 Feb. 2009 <http://myhealth.ucsd.edu/library/healthguide/en-us/DrugGuide/topic.asp?hwid=d04012a1&>.

"Tolnaftate Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. 13 Feb. 2004. University of California San Diego. 18 Feb. 2009 <http://myhealth.ucsd.edu/library/healthguide/en-us/DrugGuide/topic.asp?hwid=d01274a1&>.

"Undecylenic Acid Topical." myhealth.ucsd.edu. 13 Feb. 2004. University of California San Diego. 18 Oct. 2007 <http://myhealth.ucsd.edu/library/healthguide/en-us/DrugGuide/topic.asp?hwid=d03686a1&>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.

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