Prescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot

Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents

Prescription Topical Antifungals for Athlete's Foot


Topical allylamines

Generic NameBrand Name
terbinafineLamisil Cream, Lamisil Spray

Topical azoles

Generic NameBrand Name
ketoconazoleKetoderm Cream

Other topical antifungals

Generic NameBrand Name
ciclopiroxLoprox, Penlac

Topical medicines are put directly on the skin. These medicines are available in cream, solution, gel, and lotion forms. One medicine may be available in many forms. Your doctor will help you decide which form is best for you.

Lotriderm combines a topical antifungal (clotrimazole) with a topical corticosteroid (betamethasone).

Allylamines and azoles are different classes of antifungal medicine. This is important because medicine from one class may work better than medicine from the other.

How It Works

All of these medicines kill fungi. See the medicine label for specific instructions. In general:

  • Terbinafine is used for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Other topical medicines are used for 4 weeks, except for topical ketoconazole, which is used for 6 weeks.

If you stop taking the medicines early, even after 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

Prescription antifungals usually are used to treat athlete's foot when treatment with non-prescription antifungals has not been successful or the athlete's foot is severe.

The topical forms are used for mild to moderate cases of athlete's foot.

Ciclopirox can treat bacterial infections that might occur along with a fungal infection.

Ketoconazole penetrates thick skin well and is a good treatment option for moccasin-type infections.

Clotrimazole-betamethasone may be used when the athlete's foot rash is itchy and burning.

For severe cases or when topical medicines do not work, oral antifungal medicines (pills) are used.

How Well It Works

Both topical and oral forms of prescription antifungals are effective in curing athlete's foot for most people.

Topical allylamines require a shorter course of treatment (1 week) than do topical azoles (4 to 8 weeks). But studies show that allylamine medicines work slightly better than azole medicines.1 Although allylamines are more expensive than azoles, you use less of this medicine to successfully treat a fungal infection.

Side Effects

Topical antifungals rarely cause side effects. Stop using the medicine if it results in severe blistering, itching, redness, dryness, or irritation.

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

What To Think About

It is not known whether these medicines harm a fetus or whether topical medicines pass into breast milk. If you are pregnant, could become pregnant, or are breast-feeding, talk to your doctor before you use these medicines.

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



  1. Crawford F (2009). Athlete's foot, search date July 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Randall D. Burr, MD - Dermatology
Last Revised August 10, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.