As the warm weather arrives, many people look forward to shedding their boots and sneakers for open-toed shoes and sandals that keep feet cool and let them breathe. However, for those plagued by smelly feet, summer can make this embarrassing problem even worse.
Sweaty Feet Lead to Smelly Feet
Hot and humid summer weather causes feet to sweat more. This provides an ideal environment for bacteria on the skin to multiply and produce foul-smelling substances. Eccrine sweat glands on the soles and sides of the feet produce sweat to help regulate body temperature. This sweat creates a warm, moist environment that bacteria love. The most common bacteria found on human skin, such as Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus aureus, feed on sweat and debris on the skin and generate waste products that have a characteristic foot odor.
Closed-Toe Shoes Trap Odor
Many people rely on closed-toe shoes and socks in the winter to control foot odor. The shoes and socks absorb sweat and contain the smelly odor. However, open footwear choices like sandals, mules, and flip flops expose feet to the air, releasing any pent-up odors. Baring feet that have been confined in shoes all winter tends to unleash an especially powerful stench. The smell may catch people off guard if they are used to covering it up during colder months.
Hyperhidrosis Exacerbates Odor
For people with excessive sweating of the feet, known medically as plantar hyperhidrosis, summer heat intensifies this problem. This condition causes the eccrine glands on the soles to go into overdrive producing sweat beyond what is needed to regulate temperature. The abnormally high sweat levels lead to even more bacteria growth and potent foot odor. Hyperhidrosis affects an estimated 3% of the US population. The plantar form that impacts the feet tends to cause more embarrassment and distress than sweating elsewhere on the body. Self-consciousness about odor can lead some people to avoid situations where they have to take off their shoes, such as at the beach.
Odor+Moisture=Fungal Infection Risk
The sweaty, smelly conditions in shoes during summer also create an ideal environment for fungal infections to develop. Athlete’s foot is the most common fungal infection, caused by tinea fungi such as Trichophyton rubrum. Fungal spores thrive in the warm, dark, moist interior of shoes. If feet already have cracks in the skin or nail damage, the infection can gain entry. Symptoms include red, peeling, itchy, and swollen skin between the toes or blisters on the soles. The fungus can also spread to toenails, causing discoloration and thickening. Along with odor, fungal infections can make feet unbearably uncomfortable in hot weather.
Treat the Odor and Sweating
To tackle smelly feet proactively before beach season begins, try over-the-counter products containing antibacterial ingredients to kill odor-causing bacteria. Look for washes with tea tree oil, a natural antibacterial, or chlorhexidine gluconate, a skin disinfectant. Washing feet daily with an antibacterial cleanser and drying thoroughly can help minimize odor. Wearing moisture-wicking socks and frequently changing into fresh pairs can also help.
For hyperhidrosis, prescription antiperspirants containing aluminum chloride or other ingredients can reduce excess sweat. Iontophoresis treatments use electric current to plug sweat ducts and are about 80-90% effective for those with plantar hyperhidrosis. In severe cases, some patients elect to have surgery to cut the nerve triggering oversweating. Addressing excess sweat and using antifungal foot powder in shoes and socks can also help control odor and infections.
Podiatrist Can Help With Odor Issues
Consulting a podiatrist, a doctor specializing in foot health, can provide relief for troublesome foot odor. They can identify any underlying foot problems contributing to excessive sweat and bacteria growth, such as nail conditions that harbor microbes in debris under nails. They may also recommend customized orthotic inserts to reduce friction that creates calluses where bacteria can multiply. Odor-fighting foot soaks, prescription antiperspirants, and other targeted treatments are additional options a podiatrist can suggest for keeping feet fresh.
While summer heat and open shoes make smelly feet harder to hide, there are many effective remedies to tackle this problem. Taking proactive steps to control sweat, bacteria, and fungi will let you enjoy shedding your winter footwear without embarrassment. With the right prevention regimen and treatments, summer doesn’t have to exacerbate foot odor.