As a podiatrist who has treated many patients for foot odor issues over my 15 years of practice, smelly feet is one of the most common complaints I hear. And while everyone’s feet have their own particular aroma after a long day of walking or exercise, some people do seem prone to having feet that smell stronger than others.
What causes stinky feet?
The primary cause of foot odor is sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin. Our feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of our body due to the need to keep them cool. We have about 250,000 sweat glands in our feet, and when sweat mixes with bacteria naturally present on our skin and in shoes, the bacteria multiplies rapidly creating unpleasant odors.
The type of socks and shoes we wear also plays a role. Tight, non-breathable shoes that cause excessive sweating tend to make the problem worse, as do socks that trap moisture. This creates an even better environment for bacteria to thrive.
Why do some feet smell worse than others?
While smelly feet can happen to anyone, some individuals do seem prone to having more pungent foot odor than others. There are a few key reasons why some people struggle with smellier feet:
- Hyperhidrosis – This condition characterized by excessive sweating can make individuals more prone to foot odor. The overactive sweat glands create constant moisture that enables odor-causing bacteria to rapidly multiply.
- Genetic Predisposition – There seems to be a hereditary component as well, where smelly feet runs in families. The increased number of sweat glands and amount of sweat production may be inherited.
- Health Conditions – Certain health conditions like diabetes, eczema, athlete’s foot and fungal toenail infections can also contribute to foot odor issues. Bacteria thrive on the dead skin cells associated with these conditions.
- Shoe Wearing Habits – As mentioned, the types of shoes we wear definitely play a role. Tight-fitting shoes, synthetic materials that cause us to perspire more, wearing the same shoes daily without giving them a chance to fully dry out, and not wearing moisture-wicking socks can all make smellier feet worse.
- Hygiene Habits – There also seems to be a connection with individuals that have smellier feet and infrequent washing of the feet, changing of socks, and rotation of shoes. When sweat and bacteria builds up regularly without proper hygiene, odors get worse.
As you can see, while anyone can have foot odor, some people are simply genetically prone to sweating more or have medical issues that can compound the problem. Making smart footwear choices and practicing good foot hygiene goes a long way to prevent feet from developing an offensive odor.
How to Prevent Smelly Feet
If you do suffer from stinky feet, there are several effective ways to control foot odor:
- Wash feet daily – This helps wash away bacteria and excess sweat that contributes to odor. Be sure to dry thoroughly, especially between the toes.
- Alternate shoes – By not wearing the same shoes two days in a row, you allow them to fully dry out which helps eliminate bacteria buildup.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks – These socks help pull sweat away from the skin and evaporate moisture faster. Changing socks halfway through the day can help too.
- Use antibacterial foot powder – Sprinkling your feet and shoes with powder containing zinc oxide or baking soda can help absorb sweat and fight odor-causing bacteria.
- Consider prescription antiperspirants – For severe sweat and odor issues, your doctor can prescribe clinical-strength antiperspirants to apply on the feet.
- Treat underlying conditions – If infections or skin conditions underlie the odor, seeking treatment for those can help resolve smelly feet.
Simple preventative foot care goes a long way to keeping feet fresh. But for some, no matter how diligent the hygiene, smelly feet persists. consulting a podiatrist to uncover potential medical causes and customize a treatment plan can get you the relief you need. We don’t all have to accept stinky feet as our destiny.