Foot and skin hygiene
Fungi lives all around you - in the air, soil, water and plants. Some even live naturally on your skin and can either be beneficial or harmful. Because they’re so hard to avoid, fungal infections are very common. Harmful fungi can thrive on your skin, especially when your immune system is weakened.
The most common types of fungal infections include: athlete’s foot, nail fungal infections, jock itch, ringworm and other yeast infections. These conditions are contagious, as fungi can pass from one part of your body to another through scratching, and from person to person. The latter occurs not just through direct physical contact, but also through sharing clothes or towels and contact with contaminated surfaces and objects. That’s why maintaining good personal hygiene is so important in preventing fungal skin infections.1
Good hygiene practices can help you to reduce your risk of fungal infections, stop recurring infections and also prevent them from spreading. It's good to remember that fungi thrive in warm and damp environments, so keeping your skin clean and dry is the first and most important prevention tip.
If your hygiene is poor, e.g. if your feet sweat a lot or if you don’t dry yourself thoroughly after a shower or bath, you can be more at risk of catching a fungal infection.
Wearing clean clothes can help to prevent infections. The same is also true for sheets that collect moisture as you sweat during the night – change them regularly to deny fungi a hotbed where they can thrive.
Fungi are common in communal changing areas like swimming pools, gyms, and showers, and spaces which are exposed to constant humidity and heat. To prevent catching fungal infections in these places, it’s always advisable to be extra careful. For example, you might want to make sure you always wear flip flops in communal showers. Furthermore, you should never share towels. Instead, always bring your own towel that you wash and dry at home after use in a communal area.2
Look after your feet carefully to prevent or stop recurring fungal infections like athlete’s foot.
Choose socks that keep away perspiration. Cotton socks are best.
Avoid shoes that keep your feet from breathing, or those that presses on your nails.
Wear sandals or flip-flops in shower rooms at gyms and pools to avoid infection.
Take your shoes off at home to let your feet "breathe".3
- Avoid using the same nail tools for normal and infected nails.
- Look after your toenails by keeping them trimmed and clean.
- If you have them, bring your own nail tools like scissors, clippers, nail filers, shaving tools and buffers to your salon.
- Make sure that tools at your nail salon are properly cleaned and sterilized after each individual use.4
Simple hygiene habits that can help prevent fungal infections from spreading
Fungal infections are highly contagious, so it is important to prevent them from spreading to other parts of the body or to others. Some people are more vulnerable than others and can catch it more quickly, some never get it even if they have a daily contact with person who is affected. Simple hygiene habits can help you prevent fungal infections from spreading.
Wash and dry your hands thoroughly after contact with the infected part, after applying a treatment, or after touching objects and surfaces that might be infected.
Stay away from public places where you may be more likely to spread the infection.
Use your own personal items, don’t share clothes, shoes, towels or bed sheets.
Using different towels for the infected areas, and for the rest of your body.5
If you are suffering from fungal infection, use antifungal medication. Also, remember to stay clean, but avoid over-washing as this can irritate your skin. It’s always best to treat your fungal infection as soon as possible. The longer you leave it untreated, the more harm the fungus can do to your skin or nails.
- What Are the Risk Factors for Toenail Onychomycosis?, in: Ghannoum, M. & Isham, N. (2014). Nail Fungal Infections (Onychomycosis): A Never-Ending Story? PLoS Pathogens, 10(6). doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004105
- How you can help treat and prevent athlete's foot yourself, in: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/athletes-foot/
- Preventing nail fungal infections, in: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fungal-nail-infection/
- Preventing nail fungal infections, “do” and “don’t” in: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/fungal-nail-infection/
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