You’ll likely first notice the dermal invader when getting dressed or undressed or while taking a shower or bath. A sudden blemish on the usually clear landscape of your skin. It might be a reddish hued rash, resembling a map of Caribbean islands, lighting up across your chest. Or red overlapping circles on your thigh, like a mutation of the Olympic Games logo. A peculiar circle emerging on your scalp, the size and shape of a polo mint, only rendered in red. White maddeningly itchy skin webbing abruptly between your toes. Any of these discoveries may be the announcing of a fungal skin infection. So what exactly is a fungal skin infection and when should you book in to see your GP if you suspect you have one?

The Most Common Forms of Fungal Skin Infection

  • Athlete’s Foot
  • Tinae Pruris (Jock Itch)
  • Ringworm
  • Pityriasis Versicolor
  • Cutaneous Candidiasis
  • Beard Ringworm
  • Fungal Nail infection
  • Vulvo-Vaginal
  • Candidiasis
  • Candida Vulvitis

Typical Symptoms Of A Fungal Skin Infection

  • A rash
  • Scaly skin
  • Itching
  • Stinging
  • Soreness
  • Burning
  • Raised bumps
  • Flat red patches
  • White skin
  • Discolouring
  • A circular patterned rash
  • Pinky red circles

Typical Locations Of A Fungal Skin Infection

  • Feet
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Under the breasts
  • Hands
  • Groin
  • Scalp
  • Neck
  • Buttocks
  • Genitals

What Is A Fungal Skin Infection?

A fungal skin infection is a skin infection caused by a fungus. For a patient otherwise in good health, they are common and not harmful, but undeniably distracting and inconvenient if left untreated. And most patients agree a fungal skin infection impacts heavily on one’s self esteem, due to unsightly symptoms that may socially be associated with poor hygiene.

As humans we most often experience fungus – a living organism formerly compared by science to the plant kingdom – in the guise of yeast in our kitchens, mushrooms on forest walks, mould growing in a damp basement or mildew in a dingy garage and as an infection pestering the surface and folds of our skin from skull to toe.

A specific cluster of three fungi – Microsporum, Epidermophyton and Trichophyton – known as dermatophytes cause human skin infections. But you don’t need to worry about how to say any of them when you book a GP appointment, it’s for your doctor to navigate these unpronouncables for you and know the best course of treatment.

What is worth knowing is that these dermatophytes thrive in a moist, warm environment, so fungal infections typically appear where skin folds congregate and sweating occurs. For this reason, the groin, the genitals, under the breasts, the buttocks and between the toes are all prime sites for a fungal skin infection and related to this, obesity will exponentially increase the risk of a fungal skin infection.

Does A Fungal Skin Infection Live On The Skin Or Also Beneath The Skin?

Fungal skin infections occupy the surface of the skin and if treated in good time and effectively, very rarely go deeper.

How Do You Contract A Fungal Skin Infection?

Fungal spores live in the air and on surfaces in any warm, moist environment and their first port of landing will be on our skin or entry via our lungs. This is why a patient being treated for Athlete’s Foot, should stay away from public swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres and any other exercise and sport facility until their infection has cleared. In other fungal skin infections, our natural fungal habitat loses balance and a fungus such as Candida, which is present and regulated at a beneficial level in the vagina and digestive tract by healthy bacteria, begins to over-produce, leading to an infection.

How Will A Doctor Diagnose A Fungal Skin Infection?

A doctor will carry out an examination of the affected area and in most cases, be able to offer a clinical diagnosis. Less often, a skin scraping may be collected and sent off to a laboratory for examination (under a microscope or through a diagnostic cultivation of the fungus).

If A Clinical Diagnosis Can Be Made, What Is A Typical Course Of Treatment?

The most commonplace form of treatment for a fungal skin infection is the prescribing of a topical or oral anti-fungal medicine (many end with the suffix ‘azole’). A topical anti-fungal medicine will be applied to the site of the skin fungal infection. An oral anti-fungal medicine is taken in capsule or tablet form.

Are Anti-Fungal Medicines Prescription Only?

No, some are available over the counter at your local pharmacist without a prescription.

Different Forms Of Topical And Oral Anti-Fungal Medicines

  • Cream
  • Gel
  • Shampoo
  • Ointment
  • Spray
  • Capsule
  • Tablet
  • Lozenge
  • Oral liquid
  • Injection
  • Vaginal suppository

How Anti-Fungal Medicines Work

They stop the fungi growing by killing its fungal cells and in doing so, ensure the fungus cannot reproduce and start growing again.

How Quickly Will Most Fungal Skin Infections Clear?

7-14 days

Athlete’s Foot

Athlete’s Foot is a fungal infection of the foot. It usually strikes first between the toes (known as an inter-digital infection) but it can also launch itself on the soles or along the ‘medial’ inner side of your foot. You’ll know to make a GP appointment if you start experiencing tingling rash like symptoms on your foot or between your toes, along with itching, burning and stinging and either dry, red, scaly skin or white itchy patches. If left untreated, the fungus can spread under the toe nails and trigger an unsightly, comfortable fungal nail infection. After a clinical diagnosis, a doctor will prescribe an anti-fungal cream or spray. As Athlete’s Foot can be passed person to person and via infected surfaces, it is important that during treatment, which will typically last 14 days, you do not itch the afflicted area no matter how tormenting the itching becomes, avoid wearing any pairs of shoes which cause your feet to excessively sweat, change into fresh socks at a minimum daily and do not share your towels with another person. Due to Athlete’s Foot presenting on the feet, it is important not to self-diagnose if you are diabetic. You should instead book a GP appointment as soon as you notice any new behaviours concerning the skin of the feet.

Tinea Pruris (Jock Itch)

Jock Itch usually starts as a pinkish red rash at the top of the inner thighs and will spread to feature blistering and itching. The warm, moist climate of this specific local anatomy offers fungi an ideal environment to grow and grow it will, often expanding across the genitals and buttocks. This particular fungus will generate a noticeable musky, musty smell and the more pronounced the odour, the more established the infection. Jock itch will typically affect athletic men and sometimes women, whose exercise regimen involves intensive, frequent sweating. The infection will also target men and women who are medically classed as being overweight. After an examination by a doctor and a clinical diagnosis, an anti-fungal medicine will be prescribed and recovery time should take approximately 14 days. Due to its contagious nature, the fungal spores that cause Jock Itch are capable of living for up to a year on the towels, clothes and bedding of the patient. While treatment is underway, it is recommended that the patient wash clothing, towels and bedding daily.

Underwear should also be loose and airy and not tight and restrictive. And after bathing, the patient should pat the affected area dry carefully, to not inflame the already agitated skin any further, but also to make sure the rash is kept as dry as possible. Lastly, due to the ease of skin to skin contact transmission, a patient should also refrain from sexual contact until their GP has given them the all-clear.


While thankfully no worm is involved, a ring certainly is. And concentric, ring-like red circles appearing on the skin is the calling card of this fungal skin infection. In young children it will favour breaking out on the scalp; in adults it will tend to present first on any of the limbs, groin, trunk, feet and buttocks. As Ringworm affects animals and humans, your doctor will want to rule out whether you have any pets at home, in case transmission came via a pet. Ringworm is highly infectious and its fungal spores will spread person to person, animal to person, surface to person (again, sports and exercise facilities, along with nurseries and schools, can be breeding grounds for the spores to set up home and reproduce). After an examination and clinical diagnosis, a doctor will prescribe an oral anti-fungal medicine and anti fungal shampoo to a child experiencing ringworm of the scalp and an anti-fungal cream to an adult. In stubborn cases, a doctor may follow-up by prescribing an oral anti-fungal medicine. As with Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch, a doctor will recommend a disciplined programme of patient hygiene while undergoing treatment, ranging from changing or washing your bedding on a daily basis through to washing your hands every time you touch your body to wearing loose fitting, breathable, non aggravating clothing.

Pityriasis Versicolor

In the same way that Candida can live as a healthy yeast in the vagina and digestive tract, another form of yeast, Malassezia, can live on the skin and will be found on 9 out of 10 adults at any given time. However, if it starts to grow beyond a balanced range, it will cause a fungal skin infection called Pityriasis Versicolor (not to be confused with Pityriasis Rosacea, a viral infection). This tipping into imbalance can be triggered in patients who excessively sweat, a warm moist climate or by having a compromised immune system. It appears in the form of small map-like patches, that start out very small and localised on the chest, shoulders or back and these patches will gradually turn from light pink to red and become scaly and itchy. If the patches stay localised and small, a doctor will typically prescribe an anti-fungal cream. But if the patches begin to spread and expand the rash, gradually mapping across the trunk, then a doctor will instead prescribe an anti-fungal shampoo which is to be used in the shower. Patients who have this infection and do not book a GP appointment on first symptoms, make a common mistake of self-treating the dry itchy patches with a body moisturising lotion or cream, which only fuels the warm moist environment favoured for optimised fungal reproduction. The infection usually clears up in 5-7 days, though discolouring can linger for a longer period of time after the fungal infection is eliminated. Unlike Athlete’s Foot, Jock Itch and Ringworm, Pityriasis Versicolour is not contagious.

Cutaneous Candidiasis

As with Pityriasis Versicolor, Cutaneous Candidiasis is a fungal skin infection that occurs when naturally occurring Candida fungus on the skin tips out of balance and begins to reproduce rapidly. This leads to a red itchy, blotchy patterned rash forming, typically where folds of skin occur in the body. As the fungi thrives in a warm, moist environment, the backs of the knees, the armpits, under the breasts and between fingers and toes, will often house the outbreak of an infection. Thereafter, the infection can send a rash across the body. Cutaneous Candidiasis is not contagious and after a clinical diagnosis, is usually treated first with a programme of home remedies, ranging from the need for daily bathing and careful drying of the body afterwards to a switch to mild scent-free, non aggravating soaps when washing to a reduction in dietary sugar intake to the need to keep underwear, socks and exercise clothes freshly cleaned and frequently changed.

Beard Ringworm

This is a version of Ringworm that affects bearded men living in warm, moist climates. The itchy swellings, growths and rash that come with it cause bald patches to appear and the fungus needs to be treated with an oral anti-fungal medicine for 4-12 weeks accompanied by a topical anti-fungal shampoo. A doctor will also recommend either a cessation of shaving until the infection clears or the use of disposable razors for shaving, as well as the immediate disposal of all combs and brushes that will carry the fungal spores. Due to the contagious nature of Beard Ringworm, in historical days when men primarily went to a barber for grooming, it was known as Barber’s Itch (not to be confused with Barber’s Rash).

Fungal Nail Infection

A fungal nail infection mostly affects the toe nails, but can also affect the fingernails. Most fungal nail infections are caused by the spreading of fungus from Athlete’s Foot. The remaining minority are caused by yeasts and moulds, often spread, like Athlete’s Foot, via public swimming pools, gyms, leisure centres and other exercise and sport facilities. Nails will turn white or yellow, thicken and become unsightly and hard to trim. It is recommended to book a GP appointment long before a thickened toe nail leads to pain on walking. After a clinical diagnosis, a doctor will prescribe a topical anti-fungal medicine if the infection is young, an oral anti-fungal medicine if the infection is deeply ingrained. The patient then needs to employ meticulous hygiene practice – clean socks, using a separate set of nail clippers for trimming the infected nail, wearing protective footwear or a wet sock if visiting a swimming pool – until the infected nail gradually remedies over a period of months, grows out and can be trimmed away.

Vulvo-Vaginal Candidiasis

As with Pityriasis Versicolor and Cutaneous Candidiasis, Vulvo-Vaginal candidiasis is a fungal infection of the vulva and vagina, caused by over-production of the naturally occurring yeast Candida in the vagina. The result is a fungal infection that causes itching and soreness on the vulva and a white discharge from the vagina. After a clinical diagnosis, an anti-fungal medicine is typically prescribed, in cream or vaginal suppository form. It is common during pregnancy and a 7 day treatment usually clears the infection.

Candida Vulvitis

The same origins as Vulvo-Vaginal Candidiasis but more localised to the exterior female genital anatomy, Candida Vulvitis can therefore be effectively treated solely with an anti-fungal cream.

There are a wide reaching range of fungal skin infections, whose symptoms can rhyme with many other health conditions of varying severity, therefore it is wise to book a GP appointment rather than attempt any form of self-diagnosis. Although several treatments are available over the counter from a pharmacist, it is easy to self-diagnose the wrong condition, given the overlap of so many fungal skin infection symptoms and therefore far more prudent to seek out the advice of a healthcare professional at the earliest opportunity, on sight of the launching symptoms, especially if diabetes or a compromised immune system condition already exist.