Can you use tea tree oil for athlete’s foot? A look into the evidence behind the home remedy

Tea tree oil for athletes foot

June 14, 2023

Athlete’s foot is a common skin infection that results in itchy, painful, and cracked feet. If you have it, you want rid of it ASAP.  Can tea tree oil do the trick?

There’s plenty of talk online that recommends the essential oil as an effective cure for athlete’s foot. At The Soapery, we give you the evidence behind the anecdotes. 

In this post, we’ll look at studies to see whether the home remedy can really beat store-bought treatments.


    What causes athlete’s foot?

    Athlete's foot, medically known as tinea pedis, is caused by a fungus growing on the feet. You can catch the fungus from direct contact with someone who has it, or by touching contaminated surfaces.

    It gets the ‘athlete’ part of its name because it thrives in warm and moist environments. Think communal showers, locker rooms, swimming pools, and sweaty trainers.

    Don’t be fooled, though, it can affect sports buffs and couch potatoes alike, especially if you live in a hot and damp climate.

    Symptoms of athlete’s foot include:

    • Intense itching
    • Deep cracks
    • Peeling skin
    • Redness
    • Scaling
    • Itchy or burning toes

      It makes us itchy just thinking about it! Now, onto the remedies…

      Athlete's foot fungal infection

      Tea tree oil as a natural remedy for athlete’s foot

      Tea tree oil has a long history as a natural antiseptic and is a popular choice when it comes to home remedies for skin conditions and fungal infections.

      In herbal medicine, tea tree oil is often described as having antibacterial and antifungal properties.

      In 1990, Valerie Ann Worwood, a highly influential aromatherapist, recommends adding 10 drops of pure tea tree oil to a cup of clay for a foot powder, or 5 drops to a cup of salt in a foot bath.

      Similarly, in her 2000 book The Essential Blending Guide, aromatherapist Rosemary Caddy recommends the following blend to treat athlete’s foot:

      • 15 drops of tea tree
      • 15 drops of spike lavender
      • 15 drops of tagetes

        She goes on to suggest 3 treatments:

        1. Foot powder: Add 3 drops of the blend to talc and sprinkle on your feet and in your footwear.

        2. Foot bath: Add 6 drops of the blend to warm water.

        3. Foot rub: Dilute 4 drops of the blend in 30ml of grapeseed oil and massage the feet every night before bed.

        You’ll find plenty of recommendations online that include slightly different recipes, but they generally include tea tree oil blended with a carrier oil and applied multiple times a day.

        So does tea tree oil work for athlete's foot?

        Studies on tea tree oil for athlete’s foot

        To date, support for tea tree oil as an athlete’s foot treatment is still largely anecdotal.

        That said, some sources draw on research findings to claim that tea tree oil can treat athlete’s foot when the solution is above 10% concentration. This is based on the following two studies by the same research group.

        Let’s take a closer look…

        What's the evidence that tea tree oil can treat athlete's foot?

        Study 1: Tea tree oil at 10% dilution

        To begin with, researchers tested tea tree oil at a 10% dilution. They concluded that it wasn’t any more effective than washing your feet twice a day with soap. 

        How many people took part in the study?
        104 patients with clinical athlete's foot 

        Did they give a treatment recipe?
        They used 10% tea tree essential oil mixed in sorbolene cream

        How much treatment was applied?
        We don’t know the exact quantity, but it was applied twice daily for a month. 

        Did the study see results?
        No, there was no difference compared to the placebo. 

        Can a strong tea tree oil solution prevent athlete's foot?

        Study 2: Tea tree oil 25% and 50% solution 

        After yielding no results, the researchers upped the quantity. This time, they found that 25% and 50% dilutions of tea tree oil can cure athlete’s foot in about half the cases.

        One major problem though: the dilution was unsafe and caused dermatitis (skin inflammation) in some of their participants. This is no surprise since Tisserand & Young recommend a maximum 15% dilution of tea tree oil for skin!

        How many people took part in the study?
        158 patients with clinical athlete's foot.

        Did they give a treatment recipe?
        25% and 50% tree tea oil mixed in ethanol and polyethylene glycol.

        How much treatment was applied?
        Again, no exact quantity, but it was applied twice daily for 4 weeks.

        Did the study see results?
        Yes, but it wasn’t all positive.

        Let’s start with the good news: 68% of the 50% tea tree oil group and 72% of the 25% tea tree oil group showed a “marked clinical response”. Around half of the people were cured.

        Now the bad: 4 people developed moderate to severe dermatitis. The dilution was far too harsh for the skin. You absolutely must dilute tea tree oil in a carrier oil before applying it to your skin.

        Can tea tree oil cure tinea pedis fungal infection?

        Conclusion: Does tea tree oil for athlete’s foot work?

        These studies showed that tea tree oil can work, but it’s not the most effective or safest treatment. 

        For it to make a significant difference, you would have to use a very strong tea tree oil solution, which we don’t recommend. If you have athlete’s foot, we suggest you opt for standard over-the-counter treatments like clotrimazole and terbinafine instead.

        That said, washing your feet twice a day is an effective way to prevent athlete's foot. Why not add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to the soap you use? This antibacterial tea tree soap recipe could be an effective way to keep athlete’s foot at bay.  

        So there you have it, our science-backed take on tea tree oil for athlete's foot. Are there any other essential oil claims you’d like clearing up? Let us know in the comments!

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