It’s a typical hot summer day and you put on a nice pair of closed toe shoes before heading off to work. A few hours later, you take your shoes off and catch a whiff of something unpleasant. Could your sweaty feet be to blame for the body odor you’re experiencing later in the day?
Many of us have dealt with sweaty feet before, especially in the summertime. Excessive foot perspiration can make our feet feel uncomfortable as moisture gets trapped inside our shoes. Friction from socks and footwear can also lead to irritation or even infections if left unchecked. However, smelly feet may potentially cause problems beyond just our feet.
The Link Between Sweaty Feet and Body Odor
When we sweat, our sweat glands release moisture along with various compounds and acids. Most body odor comes from apocrine sweat glands, which are located in areas like our armpits and groin and release sweat containing proteins and lipids. However, eccrine sweat glands all over our bodies, including on our feet, produce sweat containing water, salts, small amounts of protein, and various acids.
When foot sweat mixes with bacteria naturally present on our skin, the bacteria break down sweat components, releasing substances like isovaleric acid. These substances cause the unpleasant and distinct sweaty foot smell. The same bacteria and acids build up inside shoes and socks, causing them to retain odors even after you kick them off.
If you wear socks and shoes all day, compounds like isovaleric acid may travel and get transferred to other areas of your body. Your shoes and socks essentially become reservoirs spreading foot bacteria and sweat around, possibly causing generalized body odors even in areas not directly in contact with your feet or footwear.
Moisture and bacteria held against other areas of your skin allow odor-causing bacterial buildup to occur elsewhere over time. Contaminated footwear spreads the problem beyond your feet, causing secondary body odor even after you remove your smelly shoes and socks.
Preventing Odors by Keeping Feet Dry
Keeping your feet as clean and dry possible is key to preventing odor issues. Along with good hygiene, moisture-wicking socks can pull sweat away from your feet, keeping them drier throughout the day. Often changing out of damp socks can also help.
Wearing breathable shoes and occasionally going barefoot gives your feet a chance to air out. Using antiperspirants or absorbent foot powder in shoes may control sweat and moisture. Make sure to thoroughly wash shoes, socks, and feet regularly to prevent bacterial and odor buildup.
When to See a Doctor
While stinky feet are generally more of a nuisance than a medical issue, excessive foot sweating can indicate an underlying problem. Conditions like hyperhidrosis (abnormal oversweating) or athlete’s foot may need treatment to keep foot odor under control.
See your doctor if you deal with unusually smelly feet along with symptoms like irritation, wounds, discolored nails, or cracking skin. Getting an accurate diagnosis is important, as conditions like fungal infections require specific medications.
For some people, body odor comes from excess foot sweat spreading bacteria and compounds found on the feet. Paying close attention to foot hygiene and keeping feet dry may help control odor issues over the course of a day. Still, heavy foot sweating should get checked out to rule out problematic skin conditions. Keeping on top of your foot health can prevent all sorts of issues, keeping your feet – and your nose – happier.