High-tech fitness trackers certainly encourage people to put their feet through the paces these days. But for those suffering from hyperhidrosis (or excessive sweating), peeling off sweaty socks without having engaged in any physical activity whatsoever is nothing to celebrate. According to the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHS), about 5 percent of people worldwide — that’s 367 million people — deal with issues related to extreme sweating. Our feet haul us through thousands of steps per day. Yet we cram them into pointy pumps, pound them on the pavement, and often tend to them last when it comes to self-care.
Hyperhidrosis can mean you wind up producing much more sweat than what is typically associated with exercise or nervousness. Simply put, your sweat glands remain “on” for longer periods of time and don’t know when to stop. Those with plantar hyperhidrosis or sweaty feet, in particular, often find themselves contending with soggy footwear, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, or continual cold feet.
Pinpointing exactly what causes these bouts of extreme sweating continues to prove challenging for researchers, but there is possibly a hereditary connection. And although for many, hyperhidrosis first manifests itself during childhood or adolescence, it can occur at any age.
Your sweaty feet game plan
When it comes to managing your sweaty feet, you need to formulate a solid game plan. Start by following the American Academy of Dermatology’s advice to keep a journal of how and when sweating episodes occur. This will help you identify triggers such as certain foods or situations that should be avoided.
Wash your feet every day
Addressing plantar hyperhidrosis also involves going the extra mile when it comes to hygiene. Be sure to wash your feet daily, twice if necessary.
Over-the-counter soap options include antifungal foot washes like those from Purely Northwest and ArtNaturals, which feature tea tree, eucalyptus, and other essential oils. Whichever you prefer, be sure to dry your feet thoroughly, especially between the toes, to reduce skin bacteria.
Dr. Suzanne Fuchs of LuxePodiatry suggests a short 20-minute soak in warm water with 3 to 4 tablespoons of baking soda. She also recommends using black tea for soaks, due to the presence of tannins. These can help shrink pores, thereby reducing the flow of sweat. Simply swap out the baking soda for two bags of black tea and keep your feet under for an additional 10 minutes.
Dry your feet with antifungal powders
Keeping your feet dry and fungus-free is essential. A dusting of cornstarch works in a pinch — let it sit for about half an hour, then wipe off. Powders, however, pack more of an antifungal punch in addition to tackling moisture. And there are plenty to choose from. The most common brands include Dr. Scholl’s Soothing Foot Powder, Gold Bond Medicated Foot Power, and Zeasorb Antifungal Treatment Powder.
Choose the right antiperspirant
Your two feet contain roughly 250,000 sweat glands, so how can you slow them down? The IHS points to antiperspirants as a first line of treatment since they are inexpensive, easy to use, and not invasive. Sprays like Odaban and roll-ons such as Driclor work by temporarily plugging the glands and stopping the flow of sweat. Apply them just before going to bed. You sweat less at night, allowing for better antiperspirant block buildup. Please note: If you have sensitive skin, you may wish to check with your doctor before trying this approach.
Wear the right socks
Do not overlook your socks. Wool socks are especially good for ventilation, as are cotton. But be sure to avoid nylon socks, which will trap moisture and lead to sogginess. Kirkland provides a good option. Change them more than once per day and take along an extra pair when you’re out.
Last but not least, the shoes
When it comes to actual footwear, take a pass on the boots and the sport shoes, as they excel at trapping in moisture. Instead, settle on something a bit more breathable that employs canvas or leather. Alternate the pairs you do wear to keep them all as dry as possible. Changeable absorbent insoles such as those by Zederna and Dr. Scholl’s provide additional defense against odor. And whenever you’re able, kick your shoes (and socks) off and give your feet some fresh air.
Keep in mind that the results of these suggestions vary depending on the individual. By and large, plantar hyperhidrosis does not require a visit to the doctor, though that could be the next course of action if there is no improvement.
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Healthy, Happy Feet
Our feet haul us through thousands of steps per day. Yet we cram them into pointy pumps, pound them on the pavement, and often tend to them last when it comes to self-care.
A 2014 survey shows that 8 out of 10 Americans have experienced a foot problem — defined as everything from an ingrown toenail to chronic foot pain. And depending on how long that foot problem lasts, it could potentially impact one’s overall quality of life and health. If you’ve got foot pain or even a minor skin irritation, you’re more likely to shirk exercise, for example.
Essentially, if your feet fall behind, so do you.
“They keep us ambulatory,” says podiatrist Michael J. Trepal, the vice president for academic affairs and dean at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. “People unable to move about suffer numerous physical, psychological, and social afflictions as a direct or indirect result of foot dysfunction.”
Even if you’re known among your friends as having dainty Cinderella feet, or the tall gal who jokingly refers to her feet as skis, foot health is critical. “It is not simply how they look but how they work that matters most,” Trepal says.
Learn more about the proper soles, hygiene, and other lifestyle choices to give your feet the support they’ve been giving you.
Foot health 101
- Don’t wear too-tight shoes.
- Don’t share shoes.
- Don’t share pedicure utensils with your pals.
- Don’t hide discolored nails with polish. Let them breathe and treat the underlying issue.
- Don’t shave calluses.
- Don’t perform “DIY surgery” on an ingrown nail.
- Do try the Legs-Up-the-Wall yoga pose after a long day or a hard workout.
- Do give yourself a foot massage or book a reflexology session.
- Do roll a tennis ball under your feet.
- Do soothe irritation with a vinegar foot soak.
If you’re wondering if socks in bed is okay, as a hygiene thing or for general foot health, here’s the answer to your burning question: Yes, it’s OK to wear socks to bed! “They’re not a problem unless they are overly tight and constricting,” Trepal says of nighttime socks. “Of course, they should be changed daily.” But do keep in mind that chronically cold tootsies could be a sign of an underlying condition.
Many people have one foot that’s larger than the other, and if this is true for you, remember to fit your shoes to your larger foot. Shoe fit comes first when buying. Don’t rely on a pretty pair to stretch or the idea of “breaking them in” around the house.
The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society has these guidelines for proper shoe fit:
Perfect shoe fit
- The ball of your foot should fit comfortably in the widest part of the shoe.
- You should have enough depth so that your toes don’t rub the tops.
- Stand up with the shoes on and make sure you have a half inch (about the width of your finger) between your longest toe and the front of the shoe.
- Walk around in the shoes and make sure you don’t experience any rubbing or slipping.
If you’re wondering about recent footwear trends, Trepal says cloth kickers, like cotton slip-ons or canvas sneakers, are fine. Just don’t wear them for running, hiking, or activities that require foot protection.
As for the minimalist running shoe craze, you don’t want to switch too fast. These shoes are intended to mimic barefoot running by encouraging a forefoot strike (the front of the foot hitting the ground first) rather than the heel strike that built-up or cushioned shoes encourage. A recent study shows this foot strike change can make some runners more efficient, but transitioning too fast from traditional to minimalist shoes could cause calf or shin pain.
Things to do
- Don’t ditch your regular sneakers.
- Go for a few short runs a week in minimalist shoes and see how you adapt.
- Increase your usage of minimalist sneakers over time.
Wear your heels like they’re worth millions — sparingly
We might love the way heels elongate our legs and make us feel powerful, but when we wear them, we sacrifice our health. 52 of the bones in the human body are actually in our feet and ankles. High heels, which tip us forward, change the natural position of the foot in relation to the ankle.
Research shows that this sets off a chain reaction up through the legs and lower spine, which could lead to chronic knee, hip, or back pain. If you’re not willing to part with your heels, choose sensible ones and wear them sparingly. “If they must be worn,” Trepal says, “find a shoe with as broad a heel as possible to increase surface area contact between the shoe and the ground.”
Always inspect your shoes
No matter what types of shoes are in your closet, you need to inspect them regularly for wear and tear.
The “good shoes” checklist
- 1. Replace your running shoes every 300 miles.
- Nice flats or boots can usually be fixed, but watch for cracking on the upper part, softening in the soles, and damage to toe boxes.
- Check high heels for the same concerns, as well as for exposed nails, an indicator you need a new heel lift.
- Check sandals for loose or broken straps.
- Repair, recycle, or toss out when appropriate.
What’s the best way to tackle rough skin and calluses?
We brush our teeth and scrub our pits, but we often dismiss the toe part of head-to-toe hygiene. Trepal notes three rules: “Wear proper fitting shoes, wash daily, and limit conditions of excessive moisture content in shoes.”
“Corns and calluses are areas of thickened skin resulting from abnormal pressure or rubbing,” Trepal says. “They are not the problem but rather the result of abnormal foot structure or function.”
Bad shoes will cause
- ingrown toenails
- other sources of irritation
He recommends using a pumice stone and skin softeners if the toughened skin bothers you. But Trepal doesn’t recommend trendy foot peels or removing calluses with callus shavers. Never do this and don’t let your pedicurist do it either. This can cause serious damage to your foot, especially if you have diabetes or poor circulation.
But remember, treating the symptom isn’t going to fix the underlying cause. Rough and thickened skin around the foot comes as a result of poor shoe fit. Pro-tip: When it comes to callus removal, keep it simple and avoid gadgets. For extreme cases, head to the podiatrist.
What about the unavoidable blisters?
If you’re a runner, a gym rat, or you like to buy new shoes (who doesn’t?), you’re probably no stranger to the blister. “Large blisters may be popped if done so with a clean instrument,” Trepal says. “They should never be unroofed. Following puncture, apply a topical antiseptic and cover with a bandage to protect.”
Pro tip: To prevent ingrown toenails, cut nails straight across. Do not round the edges. If you have a painful ingrown nail, don’t perform “DIY surgery” on it. Leave that to the professionals.
How do you get rid of foot odor?
Bathing daily and taking the time to dry the skin between your toes afterwards will help prevent odor, and bacterial and fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Pro-tip: If you do end up with the dreaded itch, try a Listerine soak.
Our eyes might be the windows to our souls, but our soles are often the windows to our overall health. “Feet tend to mirror the body as folks age,” Trepal says. “We see things such as decreased circulation, thinning of skin, brittle bones, muscle atrophy, arthritis, etc. Many of these conditions can initially manifest in the foot and ankle.”
Keep an eye on your feet for changes, pain, irritation, and anything else. Again, be mindful of what you put on your feet.
“Younger people will often sacrifice pain and function for style,” Trepal says of shoes. “As people age, there seems to be a shift toward comfort and function over style.” Don’t wait for pain and discomfort to catch up to you later in life. Feet come in all shapes and sizes — and literally all walks of life — but if you’re experiencing foot pain that doesn’t go away or an issue that’s interfering with your daily activities, see a podiatrist and take care of your tappers now.