Sailors are always working to keep mold and mildew at bay on our ships, and, to be honest, those who live at sea must be vigilant about fungal infections on our skin! As someone who loves to geek out about human bodies, I'm slightly tickled about being itchy right now, because it gave me a chance to learn. First I reached out for the wisdom of Women Who Sail, a Facebook Group that has nearly 16,000 members as of this writing, and which is moderated strongly for kindness. WWS's collective experience and wisdom is a powerful thing! I then researched the information shared with me to back up the anecdotal information with as much good science as possible. I share it back out to the community as a gift of thanks.

"Oh, hey, something is growing in my crevices!" is not a thing a lot of folks are comfortable saying. Since I am, I figure it's my job to share what I learned when I did so. (My left armpit, WHICH I AM NOT SCRATCHING, and I send you our love.) Of course, if you aren't sure what's up on your body, it's best to speak with a medical professional. I am not a doctor, and this isn't medical advice. Cruising sailors often don't have that option to visit a doctor quickly, though, so we do our best to prepare in advance, and knowing our options is great! Once you do know what a fungal infection looks like, it's nice to be able to treat them yourself if you're comfortable with that.

Over the Counter Remedies

Remember, with pharmaceutical treatments, it is important to follow the full course of treatment recommended by the manufacturer so as not to contribute to the growth of drug-resistant microbial strains, which are crappy not just for you, but for all of humanity.

  • Medicated dandruff shampoo used as a body wash. Dandruff is a fungal overgrowth on the scalp, so lots of folks find dandruff shampoos effective for fungal overgrowth on other parts of their skin. Many brands were raved about, including Head and Shoulders, and Selsun Blue. One person in particular shared that her physician had advised her to lather up with Nizoral, let it sit for three minutes, rinse and towel dry before applying antifungal cream.
  • Products marketed for jock itch, foot fungus, diaper rash, and yeast infections. All of these are fungal infections! Different infections and bodies will respond better and worse to different drugs. Always wise to consult a doctor or pharmacist, of course, and I am neither. But if you're stocking your first aid kit to cruise, it's great to know wide uses for things you may carry!
  • One woman shared that she used to work for the WHO in a tropical region and that her team like to make a cream that was equal parts zinc based diaper cream (such as Ammens, below), athlete's food cream (wich will be clotrimazole), Vagisil cream, and a topical antibiotic cream. She said they kept it in the fridge so it was cool and soothing to apply.

Over the Counter in Mexico

Natural Remedies

  • Nutritional Healing. As one kind person pointed out, "fungus begins from the inside out." Limiting carbohydrate sources such as grains, sugar, and alochol will speed healing and make recurrence less likely. Eating probiotic foods such as unpasturized yogurt, kombucha, kefir, and lactofermented vegetables can be helpful, as can probiotic supplements. My current state, for instance, followed a week celebrating a friend's 50th birthday with friends and then a few days celebrating my 49th. TOO MUCH BOOZE AND SWEETS! There are also many things listed below which can be eaten joyfully: curry, cinnamon, lemongrass, oregano, vinegar, coconut oil, lemon... a healthy, varied diet of fresh, organic foods is always the best basis for our health. You are what you eat!

  • Sunlight! If you think about where fungi grow, it's in your crevices: between toes, under arms, in the groin, in folds of belly or under the breast, in the vagina (yeast is a fungus!), nipples and throat (thrush is yeast is fungus), or under a diaper. Take care with sun exposure to areas not used to exposure, of course. And yes, this simple treatment is truly effective.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar. I began this research because I couldn't use my usual best remedy, a 20 minute 1-2x daily soak in a bath with 2 cups of ACV and water that just covers my skin. But maybe you are in a house! And a friend pointed out that you can spray it on, and shared that doing so several times a day healed a foot fungus that had stubbornly resisted pharmaceutical treatment for years. A 3:1 water:vinegar spray is my favorite homemade skin toner already; easy enough to apply that to other pats of the body. Another avid ocean-crossing sailor recommended rinsing with vinegar after ocean swims as a preventative treatment in case one has been exposed to "little jellies or sea lice." Frankly, I'm not up to googling that one yet; we'll just note it here and save it for later. This sailor also noted that apple cider vinegar is easy to make, and I'm excited about trying this! Apples are on my next provisioning list.

  • Lemon juice has been studied and found useful. I use lemon essential oil on our interior woodwork, and on surfaces to discourage mold and mildew.

  • Tea Tree Oil is an essential oil which is a powerful antimicrobial treatment. It is loved and used by many people. Please do your research on proper dilution; I used it neat (full strength) when healing a piercing in my early 20's and 25 years later, still get a near-blistering reaction from the allergy that resulted! Tea tree oil is also toxic to dogs, so you wouldn't want to use it on skin that might get licked by nice furry folks. A kind Woman Who Sails sent an article with many research links and lots of info for exploring.

  • Oregano oil is very popular with a lot of folks and known to be effective against lots of microbes, including viruses. It can be used both topically and internally. I personally find the scent pretty challenging, but I am hearing so many raves about it for antiviral use this cold and flu season that I will probably try keeping some onboard -- or perhaps just using it more for cooking, as I do love it in my food!

  • Lavender essential oil has been shown to be a potent antifungal agent. Silly me; knew this! I use lavender sachets in my cupboards aboard Rejoice to discourage mold growth in clothing. I spray lavender and lemon oil into my empty trash can and on surfaces to discourage smells and growth. I use lavender oil neat (undiluted; lavender is rare in being safe to use neat) on bug bites and cuts. Didn't occur to me to use it for this! Many essential oils have antimicrobial properties. If you are interested, I encourage you to research this yourself; here is just a glimpse of some of the proven options. The body of human knowledge around essential oils is old and vast! As a quick primer: most oils need to be diluted before use on skin, some can burn with sun exposure even diluted, (including cinnamon, clove, and citrus), and it is best to test new oils on a small area, as bodies respond differently to powerful substances.

  • Cinnamon has been studied extensively for antifungal use, I was surprised to learn! It seems useful internally and topically. This article seemed the best balance of advice and interesting research. If you like your science hard, try this to whet your interest. Topical use should be careful and without sun, as cinnamon can burn.

  • Lemongrass was found useful in the study cited for lemon juice above, and is traditionally used in as an antifungal in essential oil treatments.

  • Coconut oil. This was recommended by several people, so I poked about and found that there is research that shows that coconut oil has antibacterial properties. Neat! Coconut oil can be ingested and applied topically. I'll be spraying with vinegar-lavender and then slathering on a little coconut oil. Perrrfect.

  • Curry is my own suggestion, both antifungal, antinflammatory, and even inhospitable to cancer.

  • Exfoliation. One person said that she likes to make a coconut oil and salt scrub. Sea salt and coconut oil both have antifungal properties, so this makes sense. Another person said that she'd seen a dermatologist who worked in WWII who swore by scrubbing with oatmeal powder (you just grind oatmeal in a blender or with a mortar and pestle) as an exfoliant. She noted that it "works on the principle that exfoliation prevents the fungus from creating fruiting bodies (the red rash you see), and therefore kills it off over time." Which is deliciously gross and amazing to me.

  • GSE/Grapefruit Seed Extract. GSE is a proven powerful antimicrobial agent. Folks used to use it internally, but that is no longer suggested, as it has been found that the extraction process for making the oil leaves traces of substances you do not want to swallow. We always have some GSE diluted for topical use in our first aid kit -- a tincture bottle holding 35 drops of GSE in 1 ounce of water for wound care. So good for those days when grinding winches has pulled your nails away from the flesh; you just use the dropper to apply it to each nail and the liquid flows easily into the crevices to soothe the tenderness.

  • Boric Acid is used in homeopathic anti-candida medications and it can be used topically. A kind stranger shared that a dilution of 1 teaspoon in 1 cup of water works great for her. This article shares many uses, including sprinkling the powder in socks. Boric acid is also used to kill roaches, and if you are concerned about toxicity, here is excellent information.


  • Corn Starch was suggested by a few people. I cannot find any documentation of this as a cure, but I can find research that says it will not worsen a fungal infection, and I see anecdotally that people like to use it to help keep skin dry an avoid chafing, which makes for a less hospitable environment for fungus to flourish.

Heat Rash/Prickly Heat/Miliara

While we're talking skin stuff, another common occurence is heat rash, also called prickly heat and miliara. No, not malaria!

The United Kingdom's National Health Service has a clear, simple article on heat rashes. The Mayo Clinic's is good, too, and has useful photographs for identifying this condition.

In summary, they heat rash is little bumps that are raised, maybe red, and might feel prickly. There can also be redness in the tissue generally. Prevent by dressing in loose clothing, keeping cool, and hydrating well. Try to aim your physical activity for cooler parts of the day. Treatments involve applying cool cloths or wrapped ice, calamine, antihistamines, and hydrocortisone. Don't scratch it! Don't use scented products. Natural treatments can include applying (unsweetened, unpasturized) yogurt to the skin and very gently exfoliating with ground oatmeal to help unblock the glands. It is recommended that one see a doctor if there is a fever, chills, swollen lymph glands, or pus are present. Apparently this condition is common in infants, in which case you should absolutely not listen to me, but take your baby to the doctor, of course.

If you have experience with other remedies for these conditions, I'd be delighted to hear them in the comments in order to research and consider adding them!