A Stinky Situation: The Link Between Hormones and Smelly Feet

We’ve all experienced it – taking off your shoes after a long day and being greeted by an offensive odor emanating from your feet. Smelly feet can be an embarrassing problem, but what causes this smelly situation? Research suggests hormones play a surprising role.

Your feet contain more sweat glands per square inch than any other part of your body. When your feet sweat, bacteria on your skin break down the sweat and cause unpleasant odors. But why do some people’s feet seem to sweat and smell more than others? Hormones influence sweat production and foot odor.

Hormones are chemicals produced by glands in the body that regulate many bodily functions. Two key hormones, estrogen and testosterone, affect sweating and body odor. Puberty causes increases in these sex hormones. Not coincidentally, teens often struggle with sweaty, smelly feet as their hormones fluctuate.

Estrogen increases sweating and can cause excessive foot perspiration. During puberty, rises in estrogen levels lead to more sweat production in girls. Estrogen also changes the bacterial environment on the skin, allowing odor-causing bacteria to proliferate. More sweat plus more bacteria results in increased foot odor in adolescent girls.

Later in adulthood, women may again deal with smelly feet during pregnancy and menopause as estrogen levels shift. Even monthly hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle can temporarily cause sweatier, smellier feet in grown women.

Testosterone also boosts sweat production. Boys going through puberty produce more testosterone. As a result, male teens are likely to have issues with sweaty, smelly feet too. Testosterone continues to play a role in sweat and odor throughout a man’s life.

Interestingly, men tend to have smellier feet than women overall. Researchers believe testosterone gives men naturally higher levels of foot odor. The hormonal differences between men and women help explain why your brother’s feet smell worse than your sister’s.

While hormones contribute to smelly feet, other factors can make the problem worse:

  • Wearing shoes and socks all day traps sweat and bacteria on the feet.
  • Hot weather causes increased sweating.
  • Poor hygiene leaves more sweat and bacteria on the skin.
  • Certain diseases like hyperthyroidism boost sweat production.
  • Genetics can make individuals more prone to foot odor.

Though you can’t control hormones or genetics, you can take steps to combat smelly feet:

While hormones aren’t the only cause of foot odor, they do play an underestimated role. From puberty to menopause, hormone fluctuations can trigger temporary bouts of sweaty, smelly feet in women. And testosterone gives men an lifelong tendency toward more pungent foot aroma. By understanding the hormonal link to foot odor and practicing good foot hygiene, you can keep embarrassing smells at bay.