Tinea Corporis Treatment & Management

Updated: Sep 17, 2020
  • Author: Shweta Shukla, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Topical therapy is recommended for a localized infection because dermatophytes rarely invade living tissues. Topical therapy should be applied to the lesion and at least 2 cm beyond this area once or twice a day for at least 2 weeks, depending on which agent is used. [26] Topical azoles and allylamines show high rates of clinical efficacy. These agents inhibit the synthesis of ergosterol, a major fungal cell membrane sterol. [27]

The topical azoles (eg, econazole, ketoconazole, clotrimazole, miconazole, oxiconazole, sulconazole, sertaconazole) inhibit the enzyme lanosterol 14-alpha-demethylase, a cytochrome P-450–dependent enzyme that converts lanosterol to ergosterol. Inhibition of this enzyme results in unstable fungal cell membranes and causes membrane leakage. The weakened dermatophyte is unable to reproduce and is slowly killed by fungistatic action. Sertaconazole nitrate is one of the newest topical azoles and compares favorably with other agents. [28] It has fungistatic and anti-inflammatory abilities and is used as a broad-spectrum agent. Some data suggest it is as effective as fungicidal agents. [29] It may have a reservoir effect and therefore is a good choice for noncompliant patients. Lastly, Liebel et al published in vitro data in 2006, reporting this drug has anti-itch properties. [30]

Luliconazole (Luzu) is an imidazole topical cream approved by the FDA in November 2013 for treatment of interdigital tinea pedis, tinea cruris, and tinea corporis. Approval was based on the results of three positive studies that evaluated 679 patients with either tinea pedis, corporis, or cruris. [31, 32]

The safety and efficacy of luliconazole topical cream 1% for tinea corporis was evaluated in a randomized, double-blind, vehicle-controlled, multicenter clinical trial in 75 individuals aged 2-17 years with a clinical- and culture-confirmed diagnosis of tinea corporis. Patients were randomized to receive luliconazole or vehicle cream. About 1-inch of topical cream was applied of the surrounding skin once daily for 7 days. Complete clearance was observed in 71% of patients in the luliconazole group compared with 36% in the vehicle cream group. [32]

Allylamines (eg, naftifine, terbinafine) and the related benzylamine butenafine inhibit squalene epoxidase, which converts squalene to ergosterol. Inhibition of this enzyme causes squalene, a substance toxic to fungal cells, to accumulate intracellularly and leads to rapid cell death. Allylamines bind effectively to the stratum corneum because of their lipophilic nature. They also penetrate deeply into hair follicles. [10]

Ciclopirox olamine is a topical fungicidal agent. It causes membrane instability by accumulating inside fungal cells and interfering with amino acid transport across the fungal cell membrane.

A low-to-medium potency topical corticosteroid can be added to the topical antifungal regimen to relieve symptoms. The steroid can provide rapid relief from the inflammatory component of the infection, but the steroid should only be applied for the first few days of treatment. Prolonged use of steroids can lead to persistent and recurrent infections, longer duration of treatment regimens, and adverse effects of skin atrophy, striae, and telangiectasias.

Systemic therapy may be indicated for tinea corporis that includes extensive skin infection, immunosuppression, resistance to topical antifungal therapy, and comorbidities of tinea capitis or tinea unguium. Use of oral agents requires attention to potential drug interactions and monitoring for adverse effects. Resistance to oral agents is also prevalent in some areas, although not all treatment failures are related to resistance. [11, 12, 13]

The mechanism of action of oral micronized griseofulvin against dermatophytes is disruption of the microtubule mitotic spindle formation in metaphase, causing arrest of fungal cell mitosis. A dose of 10 mg/kg/d for 4 weeks is effective. In addition, griseofulvin induces the cytochrome P-450 enzyme system and can increase the metabolism of CYP-450–dependent drugs. It is the systemic drug of choice for tinea corporis infections in children. Minimal inhibitory concentrations for common dermatophytes tend to be higher for griseofulvin than for other agents, and response rates may be lower, especially at labeled doses. [33]

Systemic azoles (eg, fluconazole, itraconazole, ketoconazole) function similar to the topical agents, causing cell membrane destruction. [10]

Oral ketoconazole at 3-4 mg/kg/d may be given. However, this agent carries an associated risk of hepatitis in less than 1 in 10,000 cases and is rarely used orally for dermatophyte infections.

Fluconazole at 50-100 mg/d or 150 mg once weekly for 2-4 weeks is used with good results.

Oral itraconazole in doses of 100 mg/d for 2 weeks shows high efficacy. With an increased dose of 200 mg/d, the treatment duration can be reduced to 1 week. However, the cytochrome P-450 activity of itraconazole allows for potential interactions with other commonly prescribed drugs. [34] When it is appropriate to prescribe the drug, there may be some advantage to giving itraconazole with whole milk to increase absorption. [35]

Based on E-test for susceptibility of T rubrum, voriconazole was the most active and fluconazole was the least active of the azole drugs. [36]

Oral terbinafine may be used at a dosage of 250 mg/d for 2 weeks; the potential exists for cytochrome P-450, specifically CYP-2D6, drug interactions with this agent.

Systemic therapy is needed when the infection involves hair follicles, such as Majocchi granuloma. In this case, topical therapy may serve as adjunct treatment with the oral medication.

For severe cases of tinea incognito, oral antifungal treatment may be necessary. Important to note is that if the clinician suspects a dermatophyte infection, a topical steroid should not be prescribed. Often, patients are co-prescribed corticosteroids for anti-inflammatory effect and antifungal cream to hasten the resolution of the rash. However, in true dermatophyte infections, this leads to severe worsening of the skin lesions. A clinician should first perform at least a 14-day trial of antifungal cream. If there is no improvement, other dermatoses can be considered.

The preferred treatment for tinea imbricata is griseofulvin or terbinafine, although some resistance has developed to oral griseofulvin. [37]  Botanical extracts appear promising. [38]


Surgical Care

Surgical treatment is usually not indicated except for drainage of superficial vesicles, bullae, pustules, or deep abscesses.



The tinea corporis may recur if therapy does not result in complete eradication of the organism, such as when patients stop applying topical therapy too soon or if the organism is resistant to the antifungal agent used. Reinfection may occur if a reservoir, such as an infected nail or hair follicle, is present. Many, if not most, adult patients with tinea corporis also have tinea pedis and unguium, which should be treated.

Id reaction

Dermatitis caused by exogenous agents initially arises at the site of contact. Not infrequently, additional patches of eczema develop at distant sites. This phenomenon, termed secondary dissemination, can occur with severe tinea pedis. Disseminated eczema appears later than the primary lesions by a few days to weeks, tends to follow a strikingly symmetric distribution pattern, and shows a predilection for analogous body sites (eg, extensor aspects of the lower and upper extremities, palms, and soles). It may even arise in the absence of and without a preceding a “primary” eczema (eg, in nummular dermatitis).



Imperative for preventing the spread of a dermatophyte infection is to discourage close contact between infected and noninfected individuals and to stop the sharing of fomites (eg, towels, hats, clothing). Because dermatophytes flourish in moist environments, patients should be advised to wear loose-fitting clothing made of cotton or synthetic materials.


Long-Term Monitoring

Follow-up care for tinea corporis should be determined per patient need, severity of infection, and response to treatment. The rate of relapse is high. [39]