Ringworm: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention - Spar Soap | Natural Soap for Combat Athletes

Ringworm: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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You notice a red spot on your skin. Could it be a gi burn? It’s itchy, though. Maybe it’s a mosquito bite? You feel the dread coming on. You’ve been training every day. The spot is growing and has a darker ring around the outside. Your time has come. You have ringworm. 

Your heart sinks as you realize you’ll be off the mats for a while. What could you have done differently? How can you prevent this from happening again in the future?

What Is Ringworm?

I’ve got good news and bad news. 

The good news: Ringworm is NOT actually a worm. You can sleep peacefully tonight knowing that you don’t have tiny worms burrowing under your skin and laying eggs or something.

The bad news: Ringworm is a fungal infection. So you do have a fungus living on your skin rent-free. Don’t worry, though. Ringworm is very common and fairly easy to treat.

So how did ringworm get its creepy sci-fi name? It’s simply called ringworm because it can look like a circular (ring-shaped) rash. Ringworm also goes by other names, like athlete’s foot and jock itch. The medical names for it are dermatophytosis or tinea1.

While ringworm is not serious or life-threatening, it is very contagious and spreads easily. It’s estimated to affect up to a quarter of the world’s population at any given time7. And it’s especially common among athletes in contact sports5.

What Causes Ringworm?

Ringworm is a very common skin infection caused by dermatophytes (from the Greek words for “skin” and “plant”). These types of fungus eat keratin, which is a protein found in hair, nails, and the outer layer of skin3.

The fungus that causes ringworm can survive on the skin’s surface for months. It can also live in clothes, towels, hairbrushes, soil, and of course, the mats at your gym3.

Ringworm spreads between humans via skin-to-skin contact. Anyone can get it, but some people are at a higher risk for ringworm than others. This includes people with weakened immune systems, athletes (especially those in combat sports), people who wear tight shoes and sweat a lot, and people who have close contact with animals1.

Not everyone who comes into contact with ringworm will show symptoms. It is possible that your immune system protects you from getting a rash – but you may still be a carrier3

Ringworm Symptoms 

The exact symptoms of ringworm can depend on the body part that is infected. In general, a ringworm rash is red, itchy, scaly, and ring-shaped. It often includes hair loss to the area as well. The circular patches tend to grow over time, and more patches can appear on different parts of the body.

Symptoms appear between 4 and 14 days after coming into contact with the fungi that cause ringworm.

Body (Tinea Corporis)

  • A ring-like rash, with outer skin red and inflamed. May look normal in the middle
  • Merging rings
  • Slightly raised
  • Itchiness


Groin - Jock Itch (Tinea Cruris) 

  • Itching
  • Redness and burning
  • Flaky, scaly skin on inner thighs
  • Symptoms worsen when exercising or wearing tight clothes

Foot - Athlete’s Foot (Tinea Pedis)

  • Red, swollen, peeling skin between toes (usually between 4th and 5th toes)
  • Itching, stinging, burning
  • Flaky, loose, breaking skin between toes or on soles or heels

Scalp (Tinea Capitis)

  • Circular patches of bald, scaly skin
  • Itching
  • More common in children than adults

ringworm scalp

Nail Bed (Tinea Unguium)

  • Thick, brittle, crumbly, ragged nails
  • Yellowish in color
  • Yellow or white streaking
  • Nails may separate from nail bed
  • Possible pain in toes or fingertips6

tinea pedis

Beard Area (Tinea Barbae)

  • Hair loss
  • Redness, swelling
  • Pus-filled bumps
  • Raised, moist spongy patches
  • Less common: fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes

Ringworm Diagnosis and Treatment 

Doctors usually diagnose ringworm after examining the area and asking questions about the symptoms. They can also take a small sample of the skin and look at it under a microscope or send it to a lab1. This way, they can determine that the rash is ringworm and not another issue like psoriasis.

Treatment for ringworm depends on the part of the body it affects and how serious it is. Some types of ringworm can be treated with non-prescription (“over-the-counter”) medications, but others need a prescription antifungal medication.

Ringworm on the Skin (Including Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch) 

This can usually be treated with over-the-counter creams applied to the skin for 2 to 4 weeks1. Non-prescription medications for treating ringworm include:

  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
  • Miconazole (Monistat)
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil)
  • Ketoconazole (Xolegel)

Ringworm on the Scalp 

This usually needs to be treated with prescription medication, such as fluconazole or terbinafine, taken by mouth for 1 to 3 months.

What About Home Remedies?

Some people recommend home remedies based on “anecdotal evidence.” These can at best, not work, and at worst, cause scarring. Stick with the science on this one and go for an over-the-counter antifungal cream.

Will Ringworm Go Away On Its Own?

The short answer: Maybe, if it’s a very mild infection. The longer answer: Why wait and find out? Do you want it to spread to other areas of your body? Don’t you want to get back to training as soon as possible? 

You should contact your doctor if you think you have a ringworm infection. Also contact your doctor if your infection gets worse or doesn’t clear after using over-the-counter medications1.

Ringworm in Contact Sports

Some researchers suggest looking at ringworm in contact sports athletes differently than in the general population. They’ve come up with the name ringworm gladiatorum4 (that’s right, you’re a gladiator) to describe ringworm infections in wrestlers and other contact sports athletes.

Ringworm is the most common fungal skin infection in contact sports and the second most common skin infection in this group – the first is HSV infection. Certain factors increase the risk of outbreaks among these athletes. These include:

  • skin-to-skin contact during training and competition
  • skin trauma (cuts and scrapes)
  • the fact that infection does not always cause symptoms but still remains contagious5


If ringworm isn’t life-threatening, why should we care about it?

Ringworm doesn’t usually cause serious illness, but it can affect your personal and team goals. A ringworm infection will keep you off the mats until it goes away, causing you to miss valuable training time or important competitions.

It also impacts quality of life. Ringworm infections are itchy, uncomfortable, and unsightly. They force you to take special measures to get rid of them, like applying creams, avoiding contact with others, and washing clothes and sheets frequently.

Fortunately, people have become more aware of fungal skin infections in gyms and contact sports. More research is needed to determine exactly how to prevent ringworm from spreading in athletic settings. For now, we rely on hygiene recommendations from health authorities like doctors and the CDC1

How to Prevent Ringworm 

1. Shower within 30 minutes of stepping off the mat.

The longer you let the nasty microbes remain on your body, the more likely you are to develop an infection. Wash with hot water, make sure to work up a lather, and don’t forget to scrub your feet! 

To really do a number on those fungi, use a gentle antifungal soap. Spar Soap is formulated with natural antifungal ingredients that don’t dry out your skin.

2. Put your training clothes straight into the laundry.

Don’t hang out in your training clothes, even if you didn’t sweat a lot. Throw them into the laundry right after training. 

pile of laundry

3. Sanitize Your Equipment

This includes gis, rash guards, spats, head gear, shin guards, singlets, wrestling shoes, and mouth guards (seriously, go wash your mouth guard right now). For equipment that isn’t easily washable, use a sports equipment disinfectant spray like this one. If you can’t spray or wash it, at least leave it out in the sun. It can help kill nasty germs. 

4. Wear rash guards and spats while training

They don’t call them “rash guards” for nothing! Minimize skin-to-skin contact for you and everyone else. Wear them under your gi, too. 

5. Change your shower towel frequently.

There’s no use showering if you’re going to dry yourself off with a fungal breeding ground! Depending how often you train and how well-ventilated your bathroom is, change your towel multiple times per week. 

6. Stay Moisturized

Don’t give the fungi cracked skin to nestle up in. Consider a lotion with natural antifungal ingredients, like tea tree oil. 

putting lotion on hand

7. Change your socks and workout clothes every day

Yes, even if you didn’t sweat. 

8. Cover up cuts and scrapes

Fungus often finds its way onto your skin through cuts and scrapes, so keep them covered with bandages, tape, and clothes.

9. Keep the Mats Clean

Make sure the mast are mopped after every class and deep cleaned at the end of every day. Use a mat cleaner like Rochester Midland Enviro Care Neutral Disinfectant (For Cleaning Mats).

cleaning products

10. Check your skin every day!

It’s on all of us to prevent the spread of ringworm. If you notice any red or itchy spots on your skin that can’t be explained by gi burn or mosquito bites, DON’T TRAIN. You can still spread it to others, even if it’s covered up. Treat it and make sure it clears before you return to training.

The Bottom Line

Ringworm is a common fungal infection of the skin and the most common fungal infection among contact sport athletes. Its appearance depends on its location on the body, but it often looks like a red ring and itches. It is not life-threatening and can usually be treated with over-the-counter antifungal creams.

Athletes should take personal and collective hygiene steps to prevent the spread of ringworm. To combat fungus naturally and avoid contracting an infection that sets back your progress, shower right after training. Get more bang for your buck by using a soap with natural antifungal properties that also moisturizes your skin, like Spar Soap



  1. Ringworm
  2. Ringworm (body)
  3. What You Need to Know About Ringworm
  4. Tinea Gladiatorum: Wrestlers’ Emerging Foe
  5. Tinea Gladiatorum: Epidemiology, Clinical Aspects, and Management
  6. What you need to know about nail fungal infection
  7. Ringworm