Foot odour is a very common complaint that can affect anyone at any time. While smelly feet aren't a sign of a serious condition, they can be unpleasant and embarrassing. The main cause of foot odour is simply having sweaty feet and can be made worse by wearing the same shoes every day.
Who gets sweaty feet?
Sweating is a natural function of the body. Anyone can get sweaty feet, regardless of the temperature or time of year. There are some medical conditions or times in our lives that mean we're likely to sweat more, such as:
• Pregnant women and teenagers tend to sweat more, due to natural hormone changes
• If you're on your feet all day or work in a very physical job, your feet are likely to be sweaty
• We all tend to sweat more when we're under stress
• If you have the condition called hyperhidrosis, you will sweat more than most people
• If you have a fungal foot infection, such as athlete's foot, this can increase the unpleasant odour of sweaty feet
What causes the bad smell?
The smell we associate with sweaty feet is caused by the bacteria on our skin. As they naturally break down the sweat, they release an odour.
Foot odour & shoes
When we wear shoes, the sweat from our feet naturally soaks into the soles. This provides the perfect environment for the naturally occurring bacteria from our skin to grow – even when we've taken our shoes off.
If the sweat in the shoes hasn't fully dried out from the previous day, the bacteria will continue to grow and produce odour once we put our shoes on again. This odour is then released when we remove our shoes later.
Dealing with smelly feet
The most effective way to help manage smelly feet is once-daily washing of your feet with a specialist liquid antibacterial soap. This will help reduce the number of odour-causing bacteria. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you if this treatment is suitable for you.
Lather your feet in the soap, leave it for at least two minutes, then wash off. Your foot odour should improve within a week. Make sure you dry your feet well after they have been wet, especially between the toes.
Making sure you don't wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row will give your shoes the chance to dry out fully and help prevent bacteria from developing. Using and regularly changing insoles can also help. Ideally, wear socks made from natural fibre such as cotton or wool. You should change these at least once a day to help deal with smelly feet.
If you have particularly sweaty feet, you can use your usual deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet. There are also specialist foot deodorant products available. Your pharmacist can offer advice on the best product for you. If you have a fungal infection such as athlete's foot, your pharmacist can recommend a treatment.
When to see a GP
If you've tried getting rid of your foot odour yourself without success, see your GP. Excessive sweating and odour can be a sign of an underlying medical condition such as hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Your GP can prescribe medicines or refer you for treatments that can help.
• Wash your feet once a day with antibacterial soap and dry them properly, especially between the toes, to help deal with smelly feet
• Don't wear the same shoes two days in a row – give your shoes time to dry out fully
• If your foot odour doesn't improve or gets worse, see your GP