Sweating is like producing mucus or going to the bathroom. It is gross and unpleasant, but we actually need it to live. That is just a part of being a member of Kingdom Animalia. Being a member of Order Primates means we have sweat glands just about everywhere. We need them! It is our primary means of thermoregulation. Sweat cools us off and keeps us from getting overheated.
How Sweating Happens
Thermosensitive neurons are located in the hypothalamus of the brain. When temperature receptors in the skin send signals to these neurons, the sweat glands are activated. Sweating causes the core temperature to decrease through evaporative cooling on the surface of the skin. Of course, working in close-fitting, often heavily lined boots are going to make your feet extra warm.
The average human has two to four million sweat glands. About 250,000 of these are on the soles of your feet, where they are the most concentrated. How much sweat a person exudes depends on activity level, weight, age, and gender as well as a number of other factors. The sweat itself is mostly just water with trace amounts of lactic acid, urea, and several minerals. It is when sweat is metabolized by bacteria that it contributes to disagreeable odors.
And Here Is The Problem!
It is the bacteria on your feet that contribute to most of your podiatry woes. Sweaty feet at best are just smelly and itchy. If left untreated, it can lead to bacterial and fungal infections. There are many ways to combat the problem of smelly feet at the source. Your granny might have said, “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” She was not far from wrong. The first step (no pun intended) to overcoming sweaty feet is taking care to keep yourself clean. Those include:
- Keep your feet clean
- Keep your boots clean
- Wear clean socks
Clean Your Feet
Let us be kind and assume you bathe or shower once a day. Do not ignore your tootsies! Give them a scrubbing with anti-bacterial soap, getting in between the toes. Rinse them well and dry them thoroughly. Some men claim they need their toenails long for “spearing buffalo”. No, you do not! (Particularly if you share your sleeping area with someone.) After a shower, when your nails are soft, you should trim your toenails straight across.
Your socks will last longer and bacteria will be less a few hiding spaces. If you must clean off in a communal shower, you might want to think about flip flops or shower shoes so as not to expose yourself to the fungus that can lead to athlete’s foot. In this situation, it is imperative that you make sure your feet are good and dry before putting on socks.
Clean Your Boots
Clean your boots every time you wear them and dry them thoroughly. Your shoes should come with cleaning instructions. Follow them to the letter, particularly if you wear leather boots. Get more than one pair of boots so you can alternate them. If you stuff newspaper in your shoes when you are not wearing them, it will dry them properly from the inside and absorb odors and sweat.
Clean Your Socks
Your socks must be absorbent with an ability to wick away moisture. You should wear a clean and dry pair of socks every day. Your socks should be made of an absorbent material. Cotton is best for summer and wool is best for winter. In very cold or wet conditions, try wool over cotton.
If you wear rubber boots, you might want to invest in polypropylene sock liners. Synthetic materials such as nylon are not helpful. You could try socks with ventilation panels or contain bacteria reducing chemicals. Consider having a spare pair of socks in case the pair you put on gets drenched.
Getting clean is your first defense against all body odors. Your second defense is bringing on the chemicals. Chemicals are not necessarily bad! Everything is chemicals when you get down to it. Most chemical antidotes come in the following forms:
Let Us Spray….
Applying antiperspirant deodorant spray to the soles of your feet can make a big difference. Even though this is typically used for the underarms, it performs in much the same way to keep your feet from sweating and smelling bad. You can also try spraying the inside of your shoes with an antibacterial spray. A roll-on deodorant also helps.
It is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology that you apply antiperspirant to dry feet before bed and wash it off in the morning. For best results, you should repeat this for another three or four consecutive nights. You should then switch to using it only once or twice a week. Do not apply this to cut or broken skin. If you develop a rash or other skin irritant, discontinue the use of that product.
Take a Powder!
There is no shame in using a little foot powder. You can use it directly on your feet or sprinkle it in your boots. Talcum powder does the job. Baby powder tends to be a bit too mild for most adult odors. It will absorb sweat but it won’t halt the growth of bacteria. If you don’t like your feet smelling like a freshly diapered baby, there are unscented powders with or without medication as you please.
Good old fashioned baking soda eliminates odors not just in your refrigerator but anywhere that you sprinkle a little. A little cornstarch can go a long way in keeping your boots clean and dry. If foot fungus is a problem for you, there are antifungal foot powders to keep it in check.
Gelling like Magellan
Sometimes, you need to put in an odor eater. Most of these are solutions based on aluminum chloride or activated charcoal. They are available at any pharmacy and many can be trimmed to fit the boot. There are also spray and creams that will do the job. If you would like to try essential oils, try mint, tea tree, thyme, and eucalyptus for a fresh scent.
There are also gel heel socks infused with vitamin E, shea butter and aloe vera. You can wear them to bed and wake up with soft, healthy feet. You may also try treating yourself to a foot massage with cream made with calendula oil. A foot file will get rid of dead skin.
Other Remedies You Might Like To Try
For quick relief, try dabbing just a small bit of rubbing alcohol between your toes or on the most sweaty areas of your feet. This will dry out your feet in an instant and stop foot odors. However, it is important to refrain from using this remedy too often as it can excessively dry out the feet and lead to skin irritation.
One unusual home remedy would involve soaking your feet in a basin of warm water with two black tea bags. The tannins in the tea will close the pores in your skin, thereby reducing sweating. Let your sweaty feet soak for twenty minutes at a time. Repeat this treatment every day if you need to. (Do not drink this tea.)
If all else fails, you may also consider a technique called iontophoresis uses water to pass a mild current of electricity through the skin of the feet. This temporarily keeps sweat from seeping out of the sweat glands. You can find an iontophoresis machine for home use online or in a drug store. Do not attempt to electrocute your feet on your own.
And, Of Course, What This Website Is Made For!
You need to pick the right kind of work boot to reduce sweating. Boots are particularly notorious for trapping in sweat. Be on the lookout for boots constructed from breathable fabric such as leather or canvas. Rubber boots do not allow feet to breathe. Your boots should give your feet room to breathe. Stay away from patent or plastic shoes because they do not let in any decent airflow and worse, may even trap sweat inside the shoe.
Make sure that your boots are the correct size. Boots that are too tight will crowd your toes and contribute to sweaty feet. Insoles may also give you some relief from sweaty feet. Try to find some absorbent or deodorizing insoles that wick away moisture and thus prevent foot odors. If you are unlikely to encounter puddles or other wet areas on the job, forego waterproof boots.
When Is It Time To See A Doctor?
If you have tried everything and nothing seems to reduce foot sweating, it may be beneficial to search for medical advice. You may be suffering from hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating. Excessive sweating exclusive to the sole of the foot is called plantar hyperhidrosis. A licensed podiatrist can help you learn to manage your plantar hyperhidrosis.
Meanwhile, a doctor can explain to you the many treatment options for excessive sweating in other areas of your body, such as your face, hands, scalp, and armpits. You may be asked to keep a journal to keep track of when your feet are the sweatiest to determine other triggers.
A doctor will diagnose excessive sweating by asking you to describe your symptoms and carry out a physical exam. The doctor may also perform an iodine test for starch. To carry out this test, the doctor will apply an iodine solution to your feet. Once the iodine has completely soaked in, the doctor will then sprinkle cornstarch over your feet. Should the skin turn dark blue that indicates an excessive amount of sweat.
And Then What?
After making a diagnosis of excessive sweating, your doctor may prescribe a prescription-strength antiperspirant, such as Drysol. Alternatively, it may be recommended that you take a series of Botox injections. Yes, that is the same Botox movie stars use to make themselves look younger.
Even though people usually take Botox shots merely for cosmetic purposes, this drug can also end excessive sweating. The latest research suggests that the effects last for an average of six to nine months. Many patients are satisfied with the results.
Should your particular case of hyperhidrosis prove severe, you may be required to undergo a sympathectomy. This is a surgical procedure that involves cutting specific nerves to halt the signals that cause the body to sweat excessively. It is very risky and should only be done under the most extreme circumstance.
Other Ways To Keep Your Feet Healthy
There are other ways to keep your feet healthy. Not only will they keep your feet healthy, but you may experience an overall improvement in your general health if you follow these tips.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Heavy people sweat more because they exert more energy moving around and there is just more mass to cool off. Losing some excess weight will reduce stress on your feet in more than one way.
• Drink lots of water. Drinking plenty of water, particularly on hot days or when exercising or working hard, aids in regulating body temperature and reduces the likelihood of excessive sweating. Sports drinks may have some added nutrients, but often extra sugar as well.
• Eat less red meat. It has been found that vegetarians’ sweat smells less bad than others. If a vegetarian lifestyle just is not in the cards for you, at least try to cut back on red meats such as beef and processed meats and eat more vegetables.
• Cut back on spicy things. Eating hot chili peppers and piquant spices can encourage sweating. Sweating can also be a sign of an allergic reaction. Do you sweat more after eating certain foods?
• Let your feet get some rest. At the end of the day, let your feet air out. Take off your socks and shoes, prop your feet up and let them rest awhile. If it’s just a little too cold for that, put on some slippers or slipper socks and let your feet relax.
Myths And Facts About Feet And Sweat
Let us now clear up a few misconceptions. This might help you approach the subject in a more educated way.
MYTH: Sweating is unhealthy.
FACT: Sweating is essential for health. In fact, Anhidrosis is the inability to sweat. It can lead to heatstroke and death. Sweat is the body’s natural way of cooling the body. It is only excessive sweat that is unhealthy.
MYTH: Because sweating is natural, you shouldn’t try to stop it.
FACT: Blocking only a few of the millions of sweat glands is acceptable. Taking a pee is also completely natural, but do you want to do it just anywhere? You have so many sweat glands, stopping a few won’t hurt anything.
MYTH: Sweat smells bad.
FACT: Sweat is 99 percent odorless water. Sweat only smells bad when the proteins in sweat mix with bacteria on the skin. Keep your skin clean, use deodorant to kill bacteria and antiperspirant to block sweat and you will avoid bad smells.
MYTH: Sweat removes toxins from the body.
FACT: Sweat is mostly just water and a dash of salt. All you are releasing is extra heat and losing water you need to replace. The only organ you have that detoxifies your body is the liver. Your epidermis prevents most toxins from entering, but the sweat glands have nothing to do with toxins. Do not fall for any health fads or gimmicks that claim sweating will detoxify your body.
MYTH: Sweating helps you lose weight.
FACT: You are losing water, not fat. Sweating is a byproduct of calorie-burning exercise, but sweating in of itself does not in any way lead to weight loss. In fact, you should take care to stay hydrated when exercising or working hard. Some of the minerals lost through sweat include potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium. Many sports drinks have these minerals so you can replace them while rehydrating. However, they sometimes have extra sugar which you may want to avoid if you are watching your glucose intake. Read the label carefully before buying it.
MYTH: Men just naturally have smellier feet than women.
FACT: Women actually have more sweat glands than men. Even though women’s feet are generally smaller, there is no real reason for a man’s feet to be smellier than a woman’s feet. However, women do have a stronger sense of smell than a man and may find irritating odors more offensive and thus are quicker about doing something about it. So, gentlemen, if you want a lady’s attention, start by taking a shower.
MYTH: Only athletes get athlete’s foot.
FACT: Anyone exposed to the tinea fungus can get an athlete’s foot. It is most often found in locker rooms and communal showers, places athletes frequent. Keep extra care to make sure your feet are clean and dry if you go to such places. If athletes get athlete’s foot, what do astronauts get? Mistletoe!
MYTH: You can’t get athlete’s foot if you wear socks and shoes all day.
FACT: The fungus thrives anywhere that’s dark and damp. If you wear shoes, boots, or socks that are damp whether with sweat or outside moisture, you could develop an athlete’s foot. If your boots or socks get soaked, you may want to change them as soon as you can.
MYTH: Mouthwash can help foot odor.
FACT: Mouthwash is for your mouth. Mouthwash can cause skin irritation and it is rather too moist when what you want is for your feet and shoes to be dry. Use products specifically designed to combat foot odor. Shop around to find which brands perform best.
MYTH: You should put antiperspirant on first thing in the morning.
FACT: You should put antiperspirant on just before going to bed. Since you do not sweat much at night, the active ingredients in your antiperspirant will have time to penetrate your pores. This will make the antiperspirant more effective and give you one less thing to do in the morning.
Fun Facts About Feet, Shoes, and Sweat
- It was once believed hippos sweated blood. The reddish fluid excreted by the hippopotamus is not sweat but something more like mucus. It acts as a natural sunscreen to keep the animal from getting sunburned.
- The phrase “to sweat like a pig” is a misnomer. Pigs don’t sweat. That’s why they roll in mud; to stay cool. However, they will just as easily take a dip in a kiddie pool filled with cool, clean water.
- Dolphins, whales, and porpoises don’t sweat either. When you are surrounded by ocean water all the time, who needs it?
- Dogs and cats have most of their sweat glands in their nose and paw pads. As this is not sufficient for regulating body temperature, cats lick themselves while dogs pant to cool off. Cats and some dogs bred for warm conditions (such as Chihuahuas) can take the heat better and may only pant if extremely overheated.
- The only non-primate completely covered in sweat glands are equines such as horses, zebras, and donkeys. There is a protein in horse sweat called latherin because it resembles a soapy lather.
- Athletes in Ancient Rome and Greece would get rid of sweat by coating themselves in olive oil and scraping it off with a bronze or iron tool called a strigil.
- The first army boots were worn by Roman legionary soldiers. They were openwork boots with hobnailed soles called caligae. (The emperor Caligula got his nickname from wearing his father’s army boots as a child.) The open sandal-like structure of these boots probably meant Roman legionaries didn’t worry much about foot odor.
- Ancient Egyptians made deodorant out of tortoiseshell, ostrich eggs, and gallnuts. They were also very fond of perfume.
- In the early medieval period, washing was seen as a sign of vanity. It was boasted that many saints never washed but yet emitted a fragrant smell upon death. It was after the Crusades in the 11th century that perfume and at least intermittent bathing became socially acceptable.
- King John, I traveled with his bathtub. His twice a week bathing habit was considered excessive.
- Beau Brummel popularized the daily bath. He believed men should rely more on cleanliness than artificial perfumes to smell good.
- George Washington was insistent that his soldiers kept themselves and their clothes as clean as they could. However, he would warn them not to bathe near bridges where a passing lady might see them.
- Until 1858, shoes could be worn on either foot.
- The first commercially available deodorant was called Mum, developed in 1888. It was a waxy cream containing a zinc compound. It was applied with fingertips to the underarms.
- The foot binding tradition of China began in the 10th century among upper-class women in an attempt to fit the petite lotus shoes, which were only three to four inches long. After many attempts to ban the practice, it was outlawed for good in 1912.
- In World War I, soldiers were paired off and made responsible for the other’s feet. Whale oil was used to prevent trench foot.
- Women’s feet generally stop growing between the ages of twelve and thirteen. Most ballet schools will not let a student go en pointe (on her toe tips) until it has been determined that the bones in her feet are completely fused and won’t grow anymore. A man, however, may find his feet do not reach their full size until he is in his late twenties. Male dancers do more leaping and usually only go en pointe in comedic roles.
- In Latin American culture, wearing high heeled shoes for the first time is an important part of the Quinceañera celebration.
- In the original tale of Cinderella, the stepsisters chopped off bits of their feet to fit the slipper. Cinderella’s bird friends told on them.
- Odor-Eaters, a latex insole infused with activated carbon, was invented by Herbert Lapidus in 1974 while employed by Combe Incorporated.
- In the Gregory Maguire novel, Wicked Dorothy complains about how her socks are sweaty from not being able to take off her shoes, something L. Frank Baum hadn’t thought of when writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- Speaking of Oz, the Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz are valued between two million and three million dollars. Miss Garland’s shoe size was a petite women’s 5B. The soles were covered in felt to muffle her footsteps on the Yellow Brick Road.
Sweating is a simple fact of life. Smelly shoes are not. Simple, basic hygiene can eliminate or at least control most objectionable odors. Keep your feet clean and dry. Your boots and socks should also be clean and dry. There are sprays, powders, gels, creams and sole inserts that you can use to further combat foot odor.
Rubbing alcohol and black tea are two common home remedies that may help with smelly feet. Your work boots must be breathable and not fit too tightly. Excessive sweat is a condition known as hyperhidrosis and is a serious condition that requires medical intervention. Taking care of your health, in general, can lead to healthier feet.
Take some time to educate yourself about your health where footwear and sweat are concerned. Wearing the right work boot can make a difference as can the right socks and attending to your health in general. You do not have to put up with smelly, itchy feet nor do the people you may live with. Take good care of your feet and your feet will take care of you.