Antifungal essential oils for treating skin infections

Author: Nicodemus Amboye
Category: Biological Sciences
Published on: 2021-05-24 12:59:38   Updated On: June-28-2021 09:00:13

Essential oils are volatile chemical compounds with a characteristic sweet smell. They occur in few plant species in special structures such glands and secretory vesicles. They are extracted from different parts of the plant including the leaves, flowers, bark, wood, roots, and fruits.

Essential oils are made of phenolic compounds and terpenoids (monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes) as the key components. It is the terpenoids that give essential oils their antimicrobial capabilities including antifungal, insecticidal, antiviral, antioxidant, nematicidal properties, among others. These properties have seen essential oils being employed in different industries in the manufacture of cosmetics, perfumes, insecticides, herbicides, food additives, et cetera

In this article we highlight antifungal essential oils used for treating fungal skin infections.

What are fungi?

Fungi are microorganisms found in many places existing as single-celled species such as yeast or multi-cellular species such as molds. According to research, there are over a million species of fungi, 200 of these cause diseases in humans. Recent years have seen a surge in the number of deaths caused by fungal infections. The most vulnerable age groups include infants, the elderly and people with poor immune systems (Guarner & Brandt, 2011).

Fungal species that frequently cause human diseases have been identified as Aspergillus sp., Candida sp., Fusarium sp., and Cryptococcus sp. (Warnock, 2019).

Aspergillus spp. comprises the following species as the major cause of fungal diseases in humans: Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus terreus, Aspergillus ustus, Aspergillus glaucus, Aspergillus nidulans, and Aspergillus clavatus (Warnock, 2019).

Fusarium spp. comprises the following species that cause fungal infections in humans: Fusarium solani and Fusarium oxysporum (Warnock, 2019).

Candida spp. comprises the following species that cause fungal diseases in humans: Candida albicans, Candida krusei, Candida parapsilosis, Candida glabrata, and Candida tropicals (Warnock, 2019).

Fungal infections are also known as mycoses and can be categorized into classes based on the site they invade in a human body. The following table summarizes three main types of fungal infections (mycoses).

Fungal infection Site attacked
Cutaneous mycoses Infect the epidermis, nails, hair, feet, hand
Subcutaneous mycoses Penetrate the epidermis and dermis to infect the deep underlying tissues
Systemic mycoses Spread throughout the body


Common cutaneous mycoses include tineas and are caused by dermatophytes from the following genuses: Microsporum, Trichophyton, and Epidermophyton. The following table summarized several kinds of tineas as per the body part involved:

Tineas Common name Location in the body
Tinea capitis Ringworm Scalp
Tinea pedis Athlete’s foot Feet
Tinea barbae Barber’s itch Beard
Tinea unguium Onchomyosis Toenails, fingernails
Tinea cruris Jock itch Groin
Tinea corporis Ringworm Non-hairy skin


Antifungal essential oils for treating skin infections

Research shows that extensive use of synthetic antifungal agents to fight fungal infections has led to an increase in resistance by fungi to the said agents. In light of this, essential oils continue to emerge as a better alternative in the fight against fungi because they are not only safe to use but eco-friendly as well.

The following is a list of essential oils that can be used for treating skin infections that are caused by fungi:

  • Agathosma betulina (round leaf buchu) essential oil 

This essential oil inhibits the growth of Trichophyton rubrum, which causes fungal skin infections.

Fajinmi et al. (2019) showed that Agathosma betulina essential oil inhibits growth of Trichophyton rubrum indicating a strong fungicidal effect of the oil. 

  • Ageratum houstonianum (floss flower) essential oil 

According to a study conducted by Njateng et al. (2010), Ageratum houstonianum essential oil contains antidermatophytic compounds and can therefore be used as remedy for fungal infections that target the skin.

The study also established that the oil was non-toxic when applied topically.

  • Bidens tripartita (three Lobe Beggarticks) essential oil 

Bidens tripartita essential oil has shown strong antifungal activity against all fungi belonging to the Candida species. This is because the oil contains two main bioactive agents, p-cymen and β-linalool (Tomczykowa et al., 2018).

This means that the oil can be topically applied to eliminate any fungal infections caused by the Candida species

  • Boswellia (Indian frankincense) essential oil 

Boswellia essential oil shows strong antifungal activity against Candida tropicalis. This is according to a study conducted by Rabadia et al. (2011), which investigated the antifungal activity of essential oils against fluconazole resistant fungi.

The study also established that when Boswellia essential oil is combined with fluconazole (an antifungal drug), the mixture is more lethal to the growth of Candida tropicalis fungi compared to when the essential oil is used in isolation.  

  • Bursera morelensis (aceitillo) essential

This essential oil has been shown to have strong antifungal activity against all filamentous fungi (that is, dermatophytes) except Fusarium sporotrichioides. This means that Bursera morelensis can be used as a remedy for treating fungal skin infections (Canales-Martinez et al., 2017)

  • Cardamom essential oil 

Cardamom essential oil has been shown to have strong antifungal activity against the fungus Trichophyton mentagrophytes which causes Tinea pedis or athlete’s foot disease. This is according to a research study done by Rabadia et al. (2011).

  • Citrus lemon (lemon) essential oil 

Citrus lemon essential oil exhibits ability to fight fungal infections that target the skin.

Sharma et al. (2012) explored the inhibitory effect of Citrus lemon on lipophilic, yeast-like fungus called Malassezia furfur. This is a fungus responsible for causing a chronic superficial fungal disease of the skin known as Pityriasis versicolor. The results showed that Citrus lemon has the capacity to inhibit the growth of Malassezia furfur.

  • Citrus sinensis (navel orange) essentialo oil

Citrus sinensis also shows antifungal activity against the fungus Malassezia furfur. This means that the oil can also be used as remedy to the athlete’s foot disease (Sharma et al., 2012).

  • Coleonema album (Cape May) essential oil

Coleonema album essential oil has been shown to have the ability to inhibit the growth of a fungus called Trichophyton rubrum that causes athlete’s foot, ringworm, and fungal infection of the nail. This is because the essential oil contains terpenes as the major bioactive components (Fajinmi et al., 2017).

  • Cymbopogon citratus (lemon grass) essential oil

Cymbopogon citratus essential oil contains high amounts of oxygenated monoterpenes which are responsible for the antifungal activity of the oil against dermatophytes (Dias et al., 2017).

Dias et al. (2017) therefore proposed that Cymbopogon citratus essential oil be used in designing formulations for topical treatment of fungal infections, especially those which are dermatophytes in nature.

Aldawsari et al. (2015) also showed that Cymbopogon citratus have the ability to inhibit growth of the fungus Candida albicans. The researchers thus proposed that Cymbopogon citratus be incorporated in formulations to be used for candidiasis treatment.

  • Cymbopogon martini (palmarosa or palm rose) essential oil 

Gemeda (2018) established that Cymbopogon martini can inhibit the proliferation of two types of fungi, that is, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Trichophyton rubrum. Trichophyton mentagrophytes is a fungus that causes ringworms while Trichophyton rubrum causes dermatophytic infections such as athlete’s foot, nail infection, jock itch and ringworms.

  • Daucus carota (wild carrot) essential oil for treating fungal infections

According to Valente et al. (2014), Daucus carota essential oil demonstrates a strong anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory activity against yeast and filamentous fungi.

Specifically, Valente et al. (2014) established that Daucus carota essential oil has strong inhibitory property against the following fungal species: Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, Candida parapsilosis, Candida guillermondii, and Cryptococcus neoformans.

  • Distichoselinum tenuifolium essential oil

Tavares et al. (2010) established that Distichoselinum tenuifolium inhibits growth of Cryptococcus neoformans and dermatophyte strains. This was attributed to the presence of monoterpene hydrocarbons in the essential oil.

Consequently, Tavares et al. (2010) recommended use of Distichoselinum tenuifolium in the treatment of contact dermatitis and other skin infection, mostly those caused by fungi.

  • Eugenia caryophylla (sprengel) essential oil 

Eugenia caryophylla  essential oil shows antifungal activity against filamentous fungi and some yeast strains (Nyegue et al., 2014). The researchers established that Eugenia caryophylla essential oil is comprised of 80% euginol and 8% e-caryophyllene which are actually responsible for the antifungal property exhibited by the oil.  

  • Lavandula luisieri (Seville lavender) essential oil 

Lavandula luisieri essential oil exhibits strong antifungal activity against dermatophytes (Dias, 2017).

According to the study by Dias et al. (2017) the oil is safe to use for topical treatments since it showed no adverse effect when applied to the host’s skin.

  • Lippia multiflora (bush tea) essential oil 

Research findings indicate that ointments formulated from Lippia multiflora essential oil have the ability to inhibit growth of selected pathogens that cause skin infections (Oladimeji et al., 2015).

  • Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) essential oil

Lonicera japonica essential oil has shown strong antidermatophytic effect against Microsporum canis, Trichophyton rubrum, and Trichophyton mentagrophytes. This is according to Rahman et al. (2014).  

The researchers therefore recommend use of Lonicera japonica essential oil in the formulation of natural fungicides to shield man and animals from fungal infections.

  • Marrubium vulgare (horehound) essential oil 

According to Rezgui et al. (2020), Marrubium vulgare L. essential oil has strong antifungal and antioxidant capabilities and can therefore be used to treat skin dermatophyte infections.  

  • Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) essential oil for treating fungal infections

Myristica fragrans essential oil shows strong inhibitory action on growth of the following fungi: Candida glabrata, Candida albicans, Candida tropicalis, and Rhizomucor miehei (Mary et al., 2012).

  • Myrtus communis (myrtle) essential oil 

Research findings by Barac et al. (2018) indicate that Myrtus communis essential oil has the ability to inhibit growth of Malassezia sp. that was isolated from the skin of patients suffering from Pityriasis versicolor (a yeast infection of the skin that results in the appearance of flaky discoloured patches on the chest and back of the host).

  • Salvia officinalis (sage) essential oil 

According Abu-Darwish et al. (2013), Salvia officinalis L. essential oil shows inhibitory properties against growth of dermatophyte strains making it suitable for the development of antifungal agents.

The oil also showed no negative effect on the skin of the host where testing was done. This characteristic makes it a suitable agent for formulating cosmetics and pharmaceuticals products (Abu-Darwish et al., 2013).

  • Thyme essential oil 

Thyme essential oil contains high concentrations of thymol and carvacrol both of which show strong antifungal activity. This makes thyme essential oil a suitable remedy for treating fungal infections (Pinto et al., 2006).

Research by Omidbeygi et al. (2007) established that Thyme essential oil (Thyme vulgaris) had a strong antifungal activity against a fungal species called Aspergillus flavus.

In another research, Rassoli et al. (2006) established that Thymus eriocalyx and Thymus x-porlock essential oils show very strong antifungal activity against Aspergillus niger.


Cited sources

Abu-Darwish, M., Cabral, C., Ferreira, I., Goncalves, M., Cavaleiro, C., Cruz, M., Al-Bdour, T., Salgueiro L. (2013). Essential oil of common sage (Salvinia officinalis L.) from Jordan. Assessment of safety in mammalian cells and its antifungal and anti-inflammatory potential. BioMed Research International, 2013, 1-9.

Barac, A., Donadu, M., Usai, D., Spiric, V.T., Mazzarello, V., Zanetti, S., Aleksic, E., Stevanovic, G., Nikolic, N., Rubino, S. (2018). Antifungal activity of Myrtus communis against Malassezia sp. Isolated from the skin of patients with pityriasis versicolor. Infection, 46(2), 253-257.

Canales-Martinez, M., Rivera-Yanez, C., Salas-Oropeza, J., Lopez, H., Jimenez-Estrada, M., Rosas-Lopez, R., Duran, D., Flores, C., Hernandez, L. and Rodriguez-Monroy, M. (2017). Antimicrobial activity of Bursera morelensis Ramirez essential oil. African Journal of Traditional, Complimentary, and Alternative Medicines, 14(3), 74-82.

Dias, N., Dias, M., Cavaleiro, C., Sousa, M., Lima, N. and Machado, M. (2017). Oxygenated monoterpenes-rich volatile oils as potential antifungal agents for dermatophytes. Natural Product Research, 31(4), 460-464.

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Fajinmi, O.O., Gruz, J., Tarkowski, P., Kulkami, M.G., Finnie, J.F. and Van Staden, J. (2017). Antifungal and antioxidant activities of Coleonema album and Coleonema pulchellum against skin diseases. Pharmaceutical Biology, 55(1), 1249-1255.

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Nyegue, M.A., Ndoye-Foe, F.C., Essama, S.R., Hockmeni, T., Etoa, F.X., Menut, C. (2014). Chemical composition of essential oils of Eugenia caryophylla and Mentha sp cf piperita and their in vitro antifungal activities on six human pathogenic fungi. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 11(6), 40-46.

Oladimeji, F.A., Akinkunmi E.O., Raheem A.I., Abiodun, G.O., Bankole, V.O. (2015). Evaluation of topical ointment formulations of essential oil of Lippia multiflora moldenke. African Journal of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicines, 12(5), 135-144.

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About the Author

Nicodemus is an MBA (strategic management) graduate of Egerton University (Kenya). He also holds a BSc degree in botany, zoology and chemistry, from the University of Nairobi (Kenya). He is proficient in the following computer programming technologies - HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, Bootstrap, PHP, MySQLi and Python. He is an experienced researcher and writer in the fields of business management, information technology, biological sciences, and social sciences. He enjoys developing computer programs and web applications that address diverse user needs.

*Available for article writing and web design/development projects*
(contact: +254 723 753820, email: [email protected])


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