Fungal infections of the skin and nails can be painful and uncomfortable, not to mention embarrassing, and they can happen to anyone. Amy Nicolo, president and chief operating officer of anti-fungal ointment brand Emuaid, breaks down the basics of skin and nail fungus, including the signs and symptoms, as well as how to treat them.
“Most fungal infections are due to an invading fungal species (yeast or mold) taking over an area of the body where it becomes too much for the immune system to handle,” Nicolo said. “These organisms thrive in warm, dark environments such as shoes and socks, public showers and pools, and sports equipment. When your skin or nails come into contact with an opportunistic fungus it can invade and infect the area in contact.”
Recognizing the symptoms
Fungal infections are pretty common, and usually don’t require a healthcare professional to diagnose or even treat.
“Skin and nail fungus are generally considered self-diagnosable conditions,” Nicolo said. The primary symptoms of nail fungus, she explained, are changes to the nail’s appearance.
“A fungal infection can turn nails yellow, brown, black, green, or white, and can cause nails to become thick and distorted in shape or texture, as well as fragile, brittle, and even crumbly,” she said.
Signs of skin fungal infections, which can happen anywhere on the body, include irritation, itching, redness, scaliness, hyperpigmentation, peeling, swelling, burning, blisters, and rash.
Taking care of the problem
The good news is that if you do have a fungal infection, the issue is not life-threatening, and you probably don’t even need a doctor or prescription medication to treat it.
“Superficial fungal infections of the skin and nails (meaning not affecting the deep tissue), are considered relatively harmless and often treatable with over-the-counter medicine,” Nicolo explained.
She added that healing time can vary widely — anywhere between a few days to a year or more. She recommends using antifungal products that “work in tandem with the body’s own regenerative mechanisms to heal the skin and nails while eliminating the fungus.”
Nicolo recommends looking for ingredients that are safe and effective at killing the fungus, and at the same time can strengthen the skin barrier.
“Products with a combination of scientifically proven antifungal ingredients, such as silver, tea tree oil, and postbiotics (metabolic byproducts), are excellent powerhouse ingredients that all have scientific research studies backing their individual antifungal and antibacterial properties,” she said.
Understanding the science of homeopathy
Silver, tea tree oil, and oregano are all examples of natural ingredients that have long been used in homeopathic medicine, which is recognized by the FDA and is the second largest system of medicine in the world today, according to Nicolo.
“The principle idea of homeopathy is based on the use of natural substances, like plants and minerals, to assist the body in healing itself,” she said. “Naturally derived ingredients, such as silver, tea tree oil, and oregano are examples of ingredients that have long been used in traditional and complementary medicine for years, but now scientific research is catching up to understand the mechanisms behind how these ingredients act as antimicrobial and healing agents.”
Nicolo explained that clinical research helps healthcare providers and consumers alike determine the efficacy of antimicrobial ingredients in topical treatments.
“Antimicrobials that have a reduction in bacterial counts of 99.99 percent in less than a minute are the gold standard,” she said.
The dos and don’ts of bacteria
Antimicrobial products can help eliminate and prevent bacterial infections, but should be used cautiously.
“Antimicrobial products prevent and destroy a broad range of microbes including bacteria, fungi, and viruses to have a combination of antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties,” Nicolo said. “In general, antimicrobial products work at a cellular level to create an inhospitable environment for harmful microorganisms.”
But, she warned, consumers should be careful about which antimicrobial products they’re using. For example, avoid harsh and toxic products when treating a topical bacterial infection. A product that’s safe for hard surfaces is generally not going to be good for the skin. Instead, “look to products that have a majority of naturally derived ingredients that also include skin nourishing and healing properties,” she said.
Another factor to consider when it comes to fighting bacteria is antibiotic resistance. “Superbugs,” Nicolo explained, are bacteria that have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics.
“Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as ‘MRSA,’ is a highly resistant bacteria that’s the culprit for a high percentage of hospital-acquired topical skin infections,” she said.
Fortunately, Nicolo says, research is catching up. “There is promising research demonstrating the use of silver-based antimicrobials to effectively combat antibiotic resistant staphylococcus aureus.”