Nonprescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot

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Nonprescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot



Generic NameBrand Name


Generic NameBrand Name

Other antifungals

Generic NameBrand Name
tolnaftateTinactin, Ting
undecylenic acidTrifungol

These antifungal medicines are put directly on the skin (topical). They are available as creams, lotions, solutions, gels, sprays, ointments, swabs, or powders. One medicine may be available in many forms. Your doctor will help you decide which form is best for you.

How It Works

All of these medicines kill fungi. But you most likely will use terbinafine for a shorter amount of time than the others. See the medicine label for specific instructions. In general:

  • Terbinafine is used for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Other medicines are used for 4 to 6 weeks.

If you stop treatment early, even if the symptoms are gone, an athlete's foot infection will likely return. It is very important to use the medicine for the entire time directed.

Why It Is Used

Nonprescription antifungal medicines are usually the first medicines used in treating mild and moderate athlete's foot. If treatment is not successful, or if you have a severe case, prescription antifungals are used.

How Well It Works

Nonprescription antifungal medicines are effective in curing athlete's foot for most people. Studies show that allylamine medicines work slightly better than azole medicines.1

Terbinafine requires a shorter course of treatment (1 week) than miconazole and clotrimazole (4 to 6 weeks). While terbinafine costs more than the other two, you need less of it to successfully treat a fungal infection.

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:

  • Mild stinging when using undecylenic acid (Trifungol).

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. Fuller LC (2010). Tinea pedis and skin dermatophytosis. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease, 3rd ed., pp. 740–742. Edinburgh: Mosby Elsevier.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedJune 1, 2012

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