What Is Ciclopirox?

Jillian O Keeffe
Jillian O Keeffe

Ciclopirox is a medicine that can kill certain species of fungus on the skin or nails. It is available in a few different forms, which either need to be rubbed into the skin, or painted on the nails. Usually a fungal infection takes months to cure, and people using the medicine may have to apply the drug every day during this time. Possible side effects are typically mild, and generally involve local irritation.


The form of ciclopirox that is commonly used in commercial antifungal medications is ciclopirox olamine. This drug dates from the mid-1970s, and gained approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an important global regulator for drugs, for use as a skin and nail treatment for fungus in 1982. It is suitable for adults and children over the age of ten, but not enough information is available, as of 2011, on the potential risks for children younger than this for its safety to be assured.

When fungi infect the skin or the nails, they are not very easily killed or dislodged, and the infection can require months of treatment. Ciclopirox, like most other antifungal medications, is a longterm treatment, but the person with the infection can apply it himself or herself. Although the drug does kill a variety of fungus species, it may only be able to stop other species from growing, and this means that a patient may not experience a complete cure after the treatment.

Conditions that the drug can cure include those caused by the Candida albicans fungus. Other vulnerable species include Trichophyton species, Epidermophyton floccosum and Microsporum canis. The species that ciclopirox can prevent from growing further include Malassezia furfur and some yeast species. Medical conditions that may be caused by one of the fungi targeted by the drug include tinea, candidiasis or onychomycosis.

Those forms of the medication that are designed to be rubbed onto infected skin typically contain a smaller concentration of the drug than the lacquer form, which patients paint directly onto a nail. Cream, lotion or gel are options for those preparations for the skin, whereas the products that target the nail specifically are generally called lacquers and come in a little bottle that looks like nail polish. Two times a day for skin treatment and once a day for nail treatment is a typically recommended routine.

As the drug is only applied where necessary, and does not appear to have adverse effects elsewhere on the body, potential side effects are generally related to irritation of the skin on and around the infection. Most often this only causes the skin to become red and is not serious. Problems that necessitate medical advice, however, include soreness, blisters or alterations in the shape of a nail.

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