There are lots of kinds of fungus in this world and they can affect humans in different ways. Most are harmless, but some can make you sick or even kill you, and then there’s the very special kind of fungus that can take your brain to magical places. That can be fun, if you’re into that sort of thing, but for most people, fungus only causes irritating skin or nail infections that aren’t terribly fetching. These sorts of minor fungal infections of the skin aren’t usually a serious health concern, but they do raise questions as to the cleanliness of your person, since they look kinda gross. Skin fungus might have a similar appearance to other skin conditions, which can make them more difficult to self-diagnose. Recurring infections can also alert your doctor to possible weakness in your immune system, which is definitely a good thing to know about.
Symptoms of Skin Fungi
Infections caused by different fungi have different symptoms, but there are a few general things to look for. The infection with which you are currently blessed may have only a couple or several of the characteristics listed here.
- Patches of scaly, discolored skin (pink, white, or shades of brown)
- Itchiness in the affected area
- The area slowly grows in size
- Hair loss or change in the area
- The area becomes irritated or more noticeable with sun exposure
Types of Skin Fungus Infections
There are many, many, many issues that can plague skin, and many forms of fungal infections, and I’ll only bore you with a few of them here. For a proper diagnosis, make an appointment with your favorite medical provider.
Tinea capitis. A fungal infection of the scalp, tinea capitis can pop up in a few different forms: gray patch, black dot, and favus. The only one of those that is still common in the States is black dot, but all are found around the world. Gray patch tinea capitis is usually spread to humans from cats and dogs, and results in hair breakage close to the scalp, along with scaly skin. Black dot tinea capitis is most often found in children, and they are oh so good at sharing it with other kids. It’s hard to notice until the hair loss sets in. Then there’s tinea favosa, a yellow, crusty growth of fungus that, again, causes hair loss. You generally have to be around it for a long time before it latches on to you.
Tinea versicolor. Most commonly affecting teenagers, tinea versicolor is a fairly common skin infection caused by yeast. Hormonal changes and greasy, sweaty skin can contribute to this condition, so that explains the prevalence among teens. Its biggest giveaway is the discoloration of skin, and high temperatures and sun aggravate the problem. A stubborn infection, this one, as it has a tendency to be a recurring problem for those who get it. As if you don’t have enough stuff to freak out about in high school.
Tinea corporis. Everybody knows this one by the name “ringworm,” but that’s a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one. Yes, the infection is circular in shape, but there isn’t a worm to be found in there. It’s fungus. That red ring on your skin is also usually puffy, scaly, and itchy, and there can be multiple rings going on. Ringworm is a common affliction because of the ease with which it spreads between people, animals, and you can even pick it up if it’s hanging out on a non-living surface. Ringworm is also usually pretty easy to take care of, so at least there’s that.
Tinea pedis. A very common condition lurking in locker rooms everywhere, tinea pedis is more commonly referred to as athlete’s foot. Sometimes a lovely toenail fungal infection likes to tag along with it, and the condition is highly contagious. The redness will start most often on the toes and sole of the foot and can develop into pain and itchiness. Recurring infections are pretty common; in fact, for some people, it never truly goes away. So please wear your shower shoes in the communal dorm showers, or your roommates and neighbors will find a way to get back at you.
Tinea cruris. Athletes have all the luck with the fungus. This one I’m sure you’ve also heard of: Jock itch. Protip: The opposite sex will usually find you more attractive if you’re both physically fit and in possession of a clean, fungus-free nether region. More common in men than women, jock itch has been known to develop when the individual already has athlete’s foot. Obesity, diabetes, and immunodeficiency are also contributing factors. Noticeable by the skin discoloration and discomfort, you’ll hopefully nip this in the bud before it gets out of control. I shouldn’t have to tell you that you don’t want that.
Majocchis granuloma. This is a much rarer fungal infection because it involves deeper layers of skin. Usually just the upper layers become infected because they’re up in the open. This can happen when hair follicles are damaged—like from shaving, for instance—and the fungus is able to wriggle on down to the dermis. Since we women are forced by societal standards to keep our skin silky smooth, it is more likely to affect us than our hairier male counterparts. Majocchis granuloma will have a different look from other skin fungus; there’s redness to the skin and some red bumps popping up within the affected area, and it just looks like it’s hiding under there, whereas the other fungi are not so shy.
Treatments for Skin Fungus
The basic steps to keeping you free of fungus start with keeping your skin clean and dry. Fungus grows in warm, moist areas, so don’t let those words describe your skin. If you do have an infection, you can start with treating it at home. There are many, many kinds of over-the-counter anti-fungal creams, lotions, and similar products. Active ingredients to look for include miconazole, clotrimazole, terbinafine, or selenium sulfide. Different products might have different directions, so I won’t go into specifics. Just read the label and do whatever that says. Easy. If you’re a do-it-yourself type, check out the recipes on this page for some natural remedies you can make at home. If your home care isn’t cutting it, doctors are the next step. They know things about bodily things. They’ll figure it out. Your doctor can prescribe prescription-strength topical creams and/or oral medications to clear up your skin. And just because you started medication doesn’t mean it’ll clear up instantly. It may take several weeks for your skin to get back to normal.
Natural Remedies for Skin Fungal Infections
Again, depending on the type and location of the infection, your success will vary with each of these methods.
Tea tree oil. To rid yourself of skin fungus, you don’t want pure tea tree oil; go with an oil solution that’s anywhere between 25 and 50% or a cream that is 10%. Either can be applied twice per day for a month or so.
Air. Fungus thrives in a wet, warm environment. So if the affected area is somewhere that usually doesn’t get a lot of fresh air, such as your feet, the sweaty conditions are perfect for fungus growth. Keeping your feet imprisoned in those Ugg boots day after day is not only a questionable fashion choice, but is probably contributing to your problem.
Vinegar. Vinegar can be used to clean lots of things, so why not the fungus on your skin? A solution of ⅓ vinegar and ⅔ water will make a great soak; just let the area sit in there for around 15 minutes per day and be sure to rinse and thoroughly dry the area afterward.