Your Guide to Fungal Infections

How to spot, treat and prevent these common skin conditions.

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Fungus is a fact of life. There are more than 1.5 million species of the funky stuff everywhere around us - in the air, the dirt, and the walls of our houses. And unfortunately, one of their favorite places to shack up is on our skin. In fact, fungal infections are the number one cause of skin disease. Here's how to spot the intruders, kick them to the curb, and keep them out for good.

Athlete's Foot
You may associate this infiltrator with dirty high school locker rooms gone by, but 20% of adults harbor the fungus that causes it.

  • What happensThe opportunistic fungus tinea pedis sets up shop in the steamy, tropical conditions of your toes and feet and is spread by direct contact with another person or a surface that harbors tinea.
  • What it looks and feels like Red, irritated, peeling skin that sometimes develops oozing blisters and burns, stings, or itches.
  • How to treat and prevent it Over-the-counter antifungal powders and creams that contain miconazole, clotrimazole, or tolfnaftate are very effective. To prevent reinfection, use shower shoes around the pool or in your gym locker room, and wear moisture-wicking socks with shoes.

Dandruff
Despite dandruff shampoo commercials that portray those tiny white flakes as a shameful secret, the truth is that as many as 1/3 of people have dandruff. It's common, easy to treat, and easy to prevent.

  • What happens A yeast called malessizia makes a meal of the oils in your scalp, causing your skin cells to die, flake off, and flutter down to your shoulders like snow.
  • What it looks and feels like Scales on your scalp that itch or telltale white specks on your shoulders.
  • How to treat and prevent it Try an over-the-counter zinc shampoo or make your own tea tree oil solution by mixing regular shampoo with 10 drops of tea tree oil in your palm. A diet lacking in B vitamins can make you more susceptible, so bone up on your Bs (try Tempeh, a protein made from fermented soy beans that has a nutty flavor and is rich in B12).

Ringworm
The first thing that should put you at ease is that, despite its name, there is no worm involved with this skin infection. Still, the fungus that causes ringworm - tinea cruris - can be a major pain in the arm.

  • What happens That same fungus behind the itching and pain of athlete's foot takes a liking to the moist skin of your torso, limbs or face, and settles in.
  • What it looks and feels like A red, scaly patch (or patches) of skin that has a distinct circular border and can itch like crazy. 
  • How to treat and prevent it Like with athlete's foot, over-the-counter antifungal creams with miconazole and clotrimazole will clear up the infection. To avoid it, don't share towels and eschew skin-to-skin contact with folks you don't know.

Jock Itch
Despite its name, this infection's not just for athletes. But if it makes you feel better to say it has to do with your athleticism, we won't tell.

  • What happens That same troublemaker fungus at fault for athlete's foot and ringworm finds its way to your nether regions.
  • What it looks and feels like Similar to ringworm, the red, irritated patches have distinct borders and can blister, ooze, and itch.
  • How to treat and prevent it Do your best to air the area out by wearing dry, loose-fitting clothing, and treat with an over-the-counter antifungal. To stay itch-free, avoid skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it and don't borrow undergarments or share towels.