Although all soaps are antibacterial by nature, only a few speciality soaps have ingredients that make them effective anti-fungals, as well. Anti-fungal soaps are most commonly used by wrestlers, gymnasts and martial artists because diseases including jock itch, athlete's foot, and ringworm are commonly transmitted through skin-to-skin contact and through contact with shared gymnastic mats. Anti-fungal soaps must be used on a daily basis to be effective, as a single application is not strong enough to combat a fungal infection.
The oil from the leaves of the neem tree has been used for its anti-fungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties in India for more than three millennia. It is an important plant in Indian traditional medicine, and recent research has successfully isolated the active constituents azadiractin, nimbidin and nimbin. Neem soaps have the additional benefit of repelling parasitic insects such as ticks and fleas, as well as promoting the healing of scars.
Tea Tree Oil
The majority of anti-fungal soaps on the market exploit the powerful anti-fungal activity of tea tree oil, alternatively known as Melaleuca alternifolia. Tea tree oil has a strong, somewhat balsamic scent that is unpleasant to some, but it is remarkably safe and effective as a topical antimicrobial agent. It is the primary active ingredient in both Defense Soap and Gym Soap, two common anti-fungal soaps. Although tea tree oil has a broad spectrum of terpenes that have a cumulative antimicrobial effect, its most effective individual constituent is terpinen-4-ol.
Manuka is occasionally known as New Zealand tea tree. The oil from this tree has many of the same antiseptic, antibacterial, and anti-fungal properties as Melaleuca, but has a far less intense odour. Although manuka does not contain terpinen-4-ol, it does contain UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor. UMF is a powerful, nonirritating anti-fungal chemical in its own right. Manuka soaps are only beginning to become available in health-food stores in North America.
Katialis is an anti-fungal soap with a devoted cult following. Manufactured in the Philippines, Katialis contains zinc oxide, salicylic acid and elemental sulphur. While elemental sulphur, like neem, has a long history of use as an anti-fungal treatment in traditional Indian medicine, the addition of zinc oxide is a modern innovation. Katialis medicated soap is available in the United States only by mail order.