Topical therapy for fungal infections

Amber A. Kyle, Mark V. Dahl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


Fungi often infect the skin surface and subsequently invade the stratum corneum to avoid being shed from the skin surface by desquamation. Pharmacologic agents applied to the surface of the skin in the form of creams, lotions, or sprays, readily penetrate into the stratum corneum to kill the fungi (fungicidal agents), or at least render them unable to grow or divide (fungistatic agents). Thus, topical therapies work well to rid the skin of topical fungi and yeasts. Azole drugs such as miconazole, clotrimazole, and ketoconazole are fungistatic, limiting fungal growth but depending on epidermal turnover to shed the still-living fungus from the skin surface. Allylamines and benzylamines such as terbinafine, naftifine, and butenafine are fungicidal, actually killing the fungal organisms. Fungicidal drugs are often preferred over fungistatic drugs for treatment of dermatophytic fungal infections, since treatment times as short as one application daily for 1 week are associated with high cure rates. Furthermore, patients often stop treatments when the skin appears healed, usually after about a week of treatment. If this short-term treatment is stopped, fungi recur more often when fungistatic, rather than fungicidal, drugs have been used. Yeast infections such as those caused by Candida albicans respond less well to allylamine drugs. The azole drugs are often preferred for these types of infections. Nail infections are difficult to cure with topical therapies because the infections usually occur under the nail instead of on top of it and products penetrate poorly, if at all, through the nail plate. Infections of hair follicles, nails, and widespread infections often require systemic treatments. Antifungal agents are compounded into many different types of vehicles. Patients often prefer to treat weeping infections with spray formulations. Most physicians prescribe branded products in cream or lotion bases. Cost is a factor dictating prescription choice, especially since most products work well regardless of mechanism of action. Cost becomes especially important when infections involve large areas of the body surface. This article reviews various treatments of cutaneous fungal infections, with special emphasis on cure rates and rationales for choosing particular products.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-451
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Dermatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004

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