Contrary to its somewhat ambiguous name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms — in fact, it’s a fungal skin infection that causes a distinctive, “worm-like” circular rash. The rash can appear almost anywhere on the body, but it’s most commonly seen on the feet, groin, and scalp.
While it’s highly contagious (it spreads through close skin-to-skin contact or the sharing of towels and bed linen), ringworm is usually easily treated: a sufferer can apply an over-the-counter antifungal treatment such as Daktacort Hydrocortisone Cream or Clotrimazole Cream, plus there are powders and shampoos available to treat symptoms.
In this guide, however, we’re going to focus on at-home remedies for ringworm. How effective are natural remedies at fighting the symptoms of ringworm? Are there any lifestyle changes you can make to treat and prevent infection?
First, let’s look at the most common causes and symptoms of ringworm.
What causes ringworm?
Ringworm is caused by mould-like fungi that live on the dead tissues of your skin, hair, and nails. It can be spread in the following ways:
- Human-to-human contact: most commonly, ringworm is passed from one person to another through direct skin-on-skin contact when one of them is already infected.
- Animal-to-human contact: ringworm can also be contracted by touching an animal that has the infection (for example, by petting an infected dog or cat).
- Contact with contaminated items: ringworm is often spread through sharing items such as towels, bedding, combs, and brushes with an infected person.
- Contact with contaminated surfaces: the fungi that cause ringworm can live on surfaces, and it’s common to contract ringworm from public showers or locker rooms.
How do I know if I have ringworm?
Ringworm is usually quite easy to diagnose due to its characteristic ring-shaped rash. This can appear anywhere on the body, but it’s common to have a ringworm rash on the feet, groin, or scalp. The most common symptoms of ringworm include:
- A red, ring-shaped rash
- A clear or scaly area inside the ring
- Slightly raised, expanding rings
- A round, flat patch of itchy skin
- Itchiness around the site of the rash
- In severe cases, pus-filled blisters and sores around the rash
Can I treat ringworm at home?
Ringworm is typically treated using an antifungal ringworm medication. Creams such as Clotrimazole are applied directly to the infected areas of the skin, and they work to kill the fungus and prevent the further spread of the infection.
However, in addition to medicinal treatments, some at-home remedies are believed to be effective at alleviating the symptoms of ringworm. Many of these are not medically approved, but here we’ll review some of the most commonly recommended home remedies for ringworm to see whether they’re likely to provide effective relief.
Soap and water
It’s important to keep the infected area clean, and a bit of good old-fashioned soap and water can help prevent the infection from spreading and keep symptoms under control. You should wash the affected area with antibacterial soap and rinse it with water at least once daily, but be sure to dry it thoroughly — moisture makes it easier for the bacteria to spread.
Does it work? Soap and water should be used daily to keep the affected area clean, but this is unlikely to clear an infection on its own.
Tea tree oil
An essential oil derived from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia, tea tree oil is considered to have some antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. While more research is needed before we can confirm its effectiveness at treating the symptoms of ringworm, a controlled trial of 158 patients in 2002 found that tea tree oil helped to improve the symptoms of athlete’s foot in 70% of patients who applied it twice daily for one month.
Does it work? While there’s at least some evidence that tea tree oil can help to alleviate the symptoms of skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, its effectiveness in treating ringworm cannot be guaranteed.
Apple cider vinegar
Also known as fermented apple juice, apple cider vinegar is known to have natural antibacterial and antifungal properties and therefore may aid in the treatment of ringworm symptoms. There’s not currently enough evidence to suggest this is the case, but apple cider vinegar has been shown to have antifungal properties against another fungal infection called Candida.
Does it work? Due to its acidic nature, doctors warn that apple cider vinegar could cause open sores and scarring if applied topically to ringworm-infected skin, so we’d advise against using it.
Coconut oil is made up of several fatty acids, one of which is called lauric acid: some studies suggest that lauric acid has antibacterial properties that may aid in the treatment of bacterial skin conditions such as inflammatory acne, while virgin coconut oil may help relieve skin irritation in people with mild eczema symptoms. However, there’s no evidence to suggest coconut oil can be used to effectively treat ringworm.
Does it work? While it may help to relieve the symptoms of inflammatory acne or mild eczema, the effectiveness of coconut oil in treating ringworm is currently unknown.
The aloe vera plant has been used for centuries for its supposed health and medicinal benefits. Nowadays, it is particularly prevalent in skincare products, owing to its cooling, moisturising properties. According to research, aloe vera may also help to reduce inflammation and repair damaged skin. However, there is no evidence of any antifungal properties.
Does it work? While aloe vera-based products may be effective at soothing and moisturising dry, damaged or inflamed skin, there is no evidence yet to suggest they can be used to treat the symptoms of a ringworm rash.
Evidence suggests that raw honey may have some antimicrobial and wound-healing properties, and as such it has often been suggested as a home remedy for various skin conditions. A number of in vitro studies have revealed that honey may be able to modulate the skin’s immune system, while kanuka honey from New Zealand was shown to have “therapeutic value” in the treatment of rosacea.
Does it work? Honey evidently has some antimicrobial properties that may make it somewhat effective at treating skin conditions such as rosacea, but there’s insufficient evidence to suggest it can treat ringworm specifically.
Due to little evidence existing around the effectiveness of the majority of home remedies in treating ringworm, we’d sooner recommend a course of medicinal treatment — which can be prescribed by your doctor or purchased over the counter — in addition to the adoption of a few minor lifestyle modifications.
How can I prevent ringworm?
It can be difficult to avoid contracting ringworm if you come into close contact with someone who has the infection, but there are some preventative measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of you becoming infected. To help prevent ringworm, you should:
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, bed linen, combs, and brushes, particularly if you know they’ve been used by an infected person.
- Practise good hygiene by washing your hands regularly and encouraging others in your household to do the same, especially after coming into contact with pets.
- Avoid going barefoot when using public locker rooms or showers (take a pair of flip-flops, for example).
- Wash towels and bed linen on a hot cycle, and if possible wash different people’s towels, bedding and clothing separately.
- Take your pet to the vet straight away if you suspect it may be infected with ringworm.
While there may be some evidence to suggest that natural, at-home remedies could provide relief from ringworm symptoms, our recommendation would always be to keep the area as clean as possible, invest in an over-the-counter ringworm treatment, and speak to a doctor or pharmacist if you need more advice. In addition, follow the preventative measures we’ve outlined to reduce the risk of contracting ringworm.