Despite its name, ringworm isn’t actually caused by a worm or any type of living parasite. Instead, it’s a skin condition that’s caused by a type of fungus called tinea. It lives on the dead tissues of skin, including your nails and hair.
Ringworm causes a red, scaly, itchy patch on your skin. Over time, it takes the shape of a circle or a ring (or several rings). This is where the name “ringworm” comes from.
You can get ringworm on your skin and nails. It’s most common on the arms and the scalp, but you can get it anywhere on your skin, including your face. If ringworm develops in different areas, it may be called by a different name. For example, when it affects the groin area, it’s referred to as jock itch. When it affects the area between your toes, it’s called athlete’s foot.
Fortunately, ringworm can respond well to home treatments.
A note about essential oils
Several essential oils, listed below, can help treat ringworm. When using essential oils, test that you’re not allergic to them first. Dilute the essential oil by adding three to five drops per ounce of a carrier oil such as olive or mineral oil. Then, rub it onto healthy skin in an area the size of a dime. If you have no reaction in 12 to 24 hours, it should be safe to use on your infection.
1. Soap and water
When you have ringworm, you need to keep the area as clean as possible. This helps prevent the further spread of the rash and helps keep the affected area under control.
Wash the affected area with water and antibacterial soap daily before applying other home remedies on top of it. Dry the area thoroughly after showering, as moisture makes it easier for the fungus to spread.
Pine and coal-tar soap are older home remedies that might be an option, but they can be irritating to sensitive skin.
2. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has strong antifungal properties, so it may help treat ringworm when applied topically to the affected area. To use it, soak a cotton ball in undiluted apple cider vinegar and brush the cotton ball over your skin. Do this three times per day.
3. Tea tree oil
Native Australians conventionally used tea tree oil as an antifungal and antibacterial, and it’s used today for the same purposes. It can be extremely effective in treating fungal skin infections.
Apply tea tree oil directly to the affected area two or three times per day with a cotton ball or swab. If you have sensitive skin, it may be helpful to dilute the tea tree oil in a carrier oil like coconut oil, which has its own antifungal benefits.
4. Coconut oil
Coconut oil has both microbial and antifungal properties that can help treat ringworm infections. It’s an extremely effective topical home remedy for ringworm and infections with other fungi, like candida. Because it’s easy to apply to the scalp and an effective hair conditioner, coconut oil could be an ideal treatment for scalp ringworm.
To use it, warm the coconut oil either in the microwave or in your hand until it becomes liquid, then apply it directly to the affected area. It will absorb into the skin quickly. Apply it at least three times daily.
Turmeric has numerous health benefits, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also an effective antifungal that inhibits growth.
Combine fresh-ground turmeric, or the turmeric spice, with a small amount of water and mix until it becomes a paste. Apply it to your skin and leave it on until it dries. You can also drink turmeric water or turmeric tea daily to get the internal benefits.
6. Aloe vera
Aloe vera has long been used as a natural remedy for both bacterial and fungal infections, and ringworm is no exception. Aloe vera can treat the ringworm and may soothe symptoms of itchiness, inflammation, and discomfort. You can find ointments with aloe vera or apply aloe vera gel directly to the area. Do this at least three times daily.
7. Oregano oil
Oregano essential oil may be a more powerful antifungal than other commercial products that are available, and can inhibit and treat fungal skin infections, including athlete’s foot and ringworm.
Oregano oil is an extract that you can purchase online or at stores like GNC. Mix a few drops with a carrier oil like olive or coconut oil, and apply it to the affected area three times per day.
8. Lemongrass oil or tea
Lemongrass oil extract, and to a slightly lesser extent lemongrass tea, both have antifungal properties that can be helpful in treating fungal skin infections like ringworm.
To use lemongrass oil, mix a few drops of lemongrass oil with a carrier oil. Apply it directly to the skin twice per day. You can also apply a brewed tea bag directly to the ringworm.
9. Powdered licorice
Licorice has strong antimicrobial properties, and research has found that the extracts of licorice could be used as alterative treatment for fungal infections.
Mix eight teaspoons of powdered licorice with a cup of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Stir until it makes a paste. When the mixture is cool enough to touch, apply the paste to the affected area twice daily. Leave it on for at least ten minutes.
While all-natural ingredients are great, sometimes you need something a little stronger. OTC antifungal topical remedies are available and effective for mild cases of ringworm. Look for the active ingredients clotrimazole and terbinafine. You can apply these ointments twice per day.
When to see your doctor
You should see your doctor if your symptoms don’t clear up or don’t respond to treatment within two weeks. You should also go to the doctor if you’re in a position that could likely spread it to others, such as if you’re a teacher.
In some cases, ringworm won’t respond to home remedies or OTC treatments. Your doctor will write you a prescription for an antifungal topical ointment or an oral medication.
Prevention and outlook
Ringworm is highly contagious. While it’s most commonly spread from skin-to-skin contact, you can also catch it from touching something that someone with ringworm touched.
To prevent ringworm, you should keep your skin clean and dry. Immediately after the gym or shower, put on clean, dry clothes. Avoid physical contact with someone who has ringworm. You should always wear shoes, like flip-flops, in public showers.
Most cases of ringworm clear up within two weeks.