How to deal with sweaty, smelly feet

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 Ballerina flats are the worst shoes to wear if you want to prevent sweaty, smelly feet. (WHYY News)

Ballerina flats are the worst shoes to wear if you want to prevent sweaty, smelly feet. (WHYY News)

We do a lot of walking during the summer, slogging a few blocks to the beach in the blazing sun, carrying those pesky chairs and the umbrella, and pounding the pavement exploring the sights of a new city.

We walk around in plastic flip flops, or barefoot in sneakers – and then…feet get sweaty and stinky. What can be done about that?

“You have more sweat glands on your hand and feet than elsewhere on your body,” says podiatric surgeon Dana Canuso, who’s an expert on foot care.

But while our hands tend not to smell bad even when they are sweaty, our feet often do.

“You may be smelling a secondary problem. It’s not the sweat you are smelling, it’s the fungus and bacteria that are growing because of that sweat,” said Canuso.

Our hands are not covered, so sweat dries off quickly. But our feet are usually stuck in shoes, and bacteria and fungi like dark, moist places.

In her practice, Canuso met patients who tried everything from apple cider vinegar to Vicks Vaporub to eliminate odors, without success.

Canuso has a background in chemistry and eventually developed her own line of foot care products. It includes a serum to fight infections, as well as a foot wash, and a spray to kill odors in shoes.

The skin on our feet is thick – so any product we use to fight fungal infection first has to penetrate those layers. And sometimes, especially dry, scaly skin on feet can be a sign of an underlying problem.

“Most people who have dry cracked skin have a small fungus infection they are dealing with,” said Canuso. Many thick, oily creams will not penetrate that layer, and can make infections worse, she explained.

It’s also important to keep feet as dry as possible. “We recommend changing your socks, and not wearing cotton socks,” said Canuso. “They don’t wick the moisture away. We recommend a bamboo sock, or a polyester material.”

It’s also important to let shoes air out and dry frequently. “They get wet, they get bacteria in them, they need a chance to dry and for the bacteria to die,” she said.

Canuso says while she likes wearing ballerina flats occasionally, they are not a great option.

“It’s the worst shoe you could wear for sweaty feet, and for walking around, ballet flats with no socks, this is the reason people get sweaty feet.”

She says sandals are a better option, because they allow feet to breathe.

“But when it comes to sandals, cheap flip flops are the absolute worst,” she added.

Generally, Canuso says, many of us take our feet for granted – and neglect them – until there’s a serious problem – and should spend a bit more time making sure they’re healthy.

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