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Why Do My Feet Smell, and What Can I do About It?

November 12, 2008

It is not uncommon for people who wear closed shoes (and even those who just wear slippers) to develop bad foot smell.  Foot odor is a condition that can be disturbing and embarrassing. Moreover, it may cause serious problems if left untreated. This article answers why a person’s feet develop bad odor, and how this situation can be prevented or solved with the proper foot care.

Causes of Bad-Smelling Feet

The main reason why a person develops foot odor is the growth of bacteria that feed on the sweat from the feet. Naturally, our feet have about 25 thousand sweat glands, which means that our feet can sweat quite a bit under diverse conditions.  When you wear socks, or when you wear closed shoes, the sweat stays in the feet and gives way for bacteria to build. The bacteria that feed on sweat excrete certain smell and eventually affect the smell of our feet.  Some people’s feet smell more than the others, with the reason often being minor differences in chemical composition, and also that their feet may sweat more.

Aside from perspiration, hair in the feet can also contribute to the buildup of bacteria, because it provides these organisms with a place to live. This is the reason why men are more prone to foot odor than women, as men have more hair on their feet than women.

Smelly Feet: Prevention and Solutions

Since foot odor is caused by sweat, it is important that you wear properly ventilated shoes to minimize the secretion. If it is required that you wear closed shoes, you can do the following:

  • Wear clean socks. It is even recommended that you change the socks every now and then throughout the day, especially after exercising.  Likewise, it is important that you choose cotton socks rather than those made from materials that promote perspiration such as nylon and polyester.
  • If you wear shoe inserts, no matter how well-designed they are for ventilation, they must be exposed to air. Dry them before you wear them again.
  • Before wearing shoes, apply specialized anti-perspirant foot spray or deodorant foot powder to prevent build-up of bacteria.
  • After wearing your shoes, allow them time to air out for a while, and periodically wash them with anti-bacterial soap.
  • If the foot odor is intense, you may want to consult a podiatrist. They specialize in foot problems. In some cases, you may need to use customized orthotics.
  • Wear shoe inserts that prevent the growth of bacteria. There are insoles that deal with foot odor. Most of these inserts are made of anti-bacterial material, and provide breathing spaces or small holes so perspiration will not settle and attract bacteria.

It is best that foot odor be dealt with early in order to prevent the situation from getting worse.  If untreated, this condition may cause more serious foot problems such as athlete’s foot or fungal infections.

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