Topical Antifungal Medicine for Fungal Nail Infections

Browse By All Topics


Topical Antifungal Medicine for Fungal Nail Infections


Nonprescription topical

Generic NameBrand Name

Prescription topical

Generic NameBrand Name
ciclopiroxLoprox, Penlac

Ciclopirox comes as a cream or lotion (Loprox) or lacquer (Penlac). The cream or lotion is applied to the skin or nail twice a day for 2 weeks. The lacquer (nail polish) is applied to the nail once a day for up to 6 months.

Terbinafine cream or gel is applied to the skin and nail. To kill a fungal skin infection, terbinafine is applied twice a day for at least 2 weeks, or once a day for 2 to 4 weeks. To control a fungal nail infection, longer-term use is needed.

The other medicines are available as creams, lotions, solutions, or sprays and are applied directly to the nail and surrounding skin once or twice a day for 3 to 12 months.

How It Works

Topical antifungal medicines prevent the growth of or kill fungi.

Why It Is Used

Topical antifungal medicines are used to treat fungal nail infections. Often, the medicine that is used depends on the type of infection you have.

  • Terbinafine may be used to treat fungal nail infections caused by dermatophytes, such as distal subungual onychomycosis and white superficial onychomycosis.
  • Ketoconazole, oxiconazole, and econazole are used to treat fungal nail infections caused by dermatophytes and yeasts, such as Candida.
  • Clotrimazole is used to treat dermatophytes and molds.
  • Ciclopirox is used to treat fungal infection on the nail surface (white superficial onychomycosis).

Topical medicines are also used to prevent reinfection, to prevent athlete's foot from causing a fungal nail infection, and after removal of a nail.

How Well It Works

Topical medicines may be used to treat fungal nail infections. But they do not work as well as oral medicines in curing fungal nail infections.

Using a topical antifungal around the toes after an infection is cured may prevent reinfection.1

These medicines may be used when there are concerns about the risks of oral antifungal medicine.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Skin rash, blistering, itching, or other skin irritation you did not have before using this medicine.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Possible headache.
  • Dizziness.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Topical antifungals rarely cause side effects. If you have a problem, stop using the medicine and talk to your doctor.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Habif TP (2010). Fungal nail infections section of Nail diseases. In Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 5th ed., pp. 956–961. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedJune 27, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use.

How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.