Garlic Burned Through Woman's Toe in Athlete's Foot Home Remedy Disaster

A woman in the U.K. has burned the skin of her left big toe after using raw garlic to treat a fungal infection in a disastrous home remedy.

The sliced raw garlic caused a second-degree chemical burn that coursed through her skin, making the top of her toe swell, redden and blister, doctors reported in BMJ Case Reports.

The 45-year-old woman had applied the remedy for up to four hours a day for four weeks in an attempt to cure the infection, which had turned her toenail yellow. That infection was athlete's foot, case report author Kai Yuen Wong told Newsweek. The condition is common in those whose snug shoes lead to excessive sweating.

Human skin is fairly acidic, with a normal pH ranging from about 4 to 5.5. But the pH of the skin on this woman's toe was 9—an alkaline measurement.

Doctors washed the foot with water until the skin pH returned to normal and the damaged skin on top of her blisters was removed. Regular dressings ensured the garlic burn healed over the next two weeks.

Doctors advised the patient to avoid garlic-derived home remedies in future. They also warned the general public to think twice before they try their own homebrewed herbal remedies.

Bulbs of garlic are piled up. Getty Images

People have used garlic as a natural remedy for thousands of years, the doctors reported, favoring its supposed antiviral, antibacterial, diuretic and antifungal properties. In fact, two small studies from 1996 and 2000 suggested a compound found in garlic might help treat foot fungus, Live Science reported.

But the vegetable's adverse effects can be dangerous—as this case shows. Garlic's moist raw flesh can directly cause a chemical burn when applied to the skin. Contact with the vegetable can also cause a delayed skin reaction in those with existing sensitivities.

Garlic burn is a known phenomenon thought to be caused by sulfur-containing compounds in the vegetable. Doctors think a chemical compound called diallyl disulfide is the main culprit behind the inflammations.

"This is the first case I have come across causing a partial thickness burn," Yuen Wong said. "Garlic is much more commonly associated with [sensitivity-related skin reactions]."

People who chop garlic regularly, such as chefs, sometimes develop skin problems, Yuen Wong and colleagues reported.

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When it comes to fungal foot infections, it's probably best to leave garlic in the kitchen cupboard. Non-prescription antifungal creams can generally treat conditions like athlete's foot, Lisa Maier, a dermatologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told Live Science. But in cases like this one, where the toenail bears signs of fungal infection, it's best to seek an oral antifungal from your physician, she advised. Maier was not involved in this particular case.

This article has been updated to include comment from Kai Yuen Wong.