Feet are supposed to be stinky, right? After all, “smell my feet!” is one of the first taunts kids tend to learn.
But foot odor gets less funny as we age. There’s even an intimidating-sounding technical term for excessively smelly feet — bromodosis.
The good news is there are relatively simple treatments that can reduce foot odor. We checked in with Dr. Elizabeth Dixon, resident physician at Tidelands Health MUSC Family Medicine Residency Program in Myrtle Beach, to learn more about the causes of causes of excessive foot odor and the best ways to tackle the condition.
Why do feet stink?
Foot odor is often caused by a combination of bacteria and sweat on your feet. When sweat mixes with bacteria on your skin, it can create an off-putting, vinegary odor as bacteria break down your sweat. Sweat itself has no odor.
“When your feet sweat, you can develop an unpleasant odor that can linger on your skin and get trapped in your shoes and socks,” Dr. Dixon explains.
Excessively stinky feet are usually the result of excess sweat, she says. The first step is to treat the condition is make sure there’s no underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed.
“Sometimes excessive sweat can be a sign of a medical problem or related to a medication you’re taking,” Dr. Dixon says.
The odor can also come from a fungal infection such as tinea pedis (commonly known as athlete’s foot) or onychomycosis (a fungal infection in toenails). Both should be treated to help ensure they don’t spread.
Hygiene makes a big difference
The good news, Dr. Dixon says, is that there are proven ways to help reduce or eliminate smelly feet.
“The easiest way is through personal hygiene by washing your feet every single day,” Dr. Dixon says.
“If you can, try not to wear the same shoes every day — especially if they are wet from sweat. You should also wear socks while you’re wearing shoes — and get a new pair of socks every time.”
Other tips to consider:
- Invest in a spray deodorant or antiperspirant designed for feet — you can also try using common underarm deodorant, too.
- Invest in sport socks that help increase ventilation so your feet are kept as dry as possible.
- Once you finish showering, fully dry your feet – including the spaces between your toes – before slipping on socks.
- Use deodorizing insoles in your shoes that can be taken out and replaced.
- Wear open-toed footwear to let your feet breathe.
- To help kill microbes, soak your feet in warm saltwater with vinegar or tea bags.
You can even talk to a physician about Botox injections, which can help reduce sweating in your feet.
Dr. Dixon pointed out that smelly feet are extremely common and usually easily treated, so don’t hesitate to ask for your doctor’s advice.
“You do not need to live with the symptoms,” she said. “We help people overcome excessive foot odor regularly; it’s something we see all the time.”