Everything you need to know about foot perspiration and foot odour. Our 10 tips on what really works to combat this problem.
Foot perspiration and foot odour. These are no laughing matters. After all, almost a third of the German population state that they suffer with these problems. Although it may be a sensitive topic, we want to take this opportunity to talk about it openly. Firstly, you are certainly not alone in suffering from this, and secondly, there are lots of simple and effective tips that are guaranteed to help combat this issue.
Why do my feet sweat?
Foot perspiration is a completely normal, a natural occurence. The skin is the largest organ in the human body (1.5-2 metres squared), and it is covered in thousands of sweat glands. Depending on the body part, there are up to an incredible 100-600 sweat glands, or so-called eccrine glands, per square centimetre. Very few of us can claim to be millionaires in the traditional sense, but interestingly enough when it comes to sweat glands, we are born with between two to four million each at birth. Here comes some more trivia that you can pull out at parties to amaze people: when under the most intense thermal conditions, the human body can expel up to 3 litres of perspiration every hour, meaning an unbelievable amount of up to 72 litres of sweat per day (assuming an electrolyte-rich fluid supply). This is, of course, purely a theoretical value – we would not recommend spending a whole day in the sauna. Incidentally, whilst we are on the topic of saunas, it is interesting to note that around 0.4 to 0.8 litres of water (sweat) evaporates from our body per 10-12 minute session in the sauna.
There is also another type of sweat gland, namely the apocrine glands (“scent glands”), which stem from prehistoric times (when we had to mark our territory) and are still present in certain parts of our body (armpit and pubic area).
In this post, however, we will be discussing the eccrine sweat glands, which are responsible for foot perspiration, and feet which sweat excessively. Sweat glands function is to regulate the body temperature and are, in essence, a complex natural climate control system. To do so, the sweat gland excrete sweat if it is too warm in certain places, however it is actually the process of this sweat evaporating from your body that causes us to cool down. Sweat is actually a real work of nature when you come to think about it.
In fact, sweat only becomes a problem when the body part which is perspiring is wrapped up/covered tightly, meaning that no sweat can escape. Only then does it become a concern. As it happens, the hands and feet are the body parts which have the most sweat glands (350-370 sweat glands per square centimetre), so the hands sweat almost as much as the feet do, but, of course, they are usually much better ventilated. If you have never noticed this before, then we suggest wearing a pair of first aid rubber gloves for an hour. And voila: it will not take you long to become aware of your hand’s perspiration. Human feet give off around 0.1 centilitres of perspiration every 24 hours. That equates to a full shot glass. Perspiration from the hands and feet are not the only main sources of thermoregulation. Mother nature really has perfected the human design when it comes to this: as the hand’s and feet’s purpose is predominantly for gripping and movement, their natural moisture is increased to provide them with improved grip and purchase on smooth surfaces.
Briefly summarised: foot perspiration is a natural process. It will not become a problem if you know how to manage excess perspiration.
Why does foot perspiration smell?
Fresh perspiration is actually odourless. This is the reason, for example, why saunas do not have an unpleasant odour (so long as people take notice of the request to shower before entering as they are supposed to). Sweat only starts to smell when is not able to evaporate and is therefore left to fester for a long time in textiles, socks or shoes. The unpleasant odour which arises from sweat after some time is also not actually caused by the sweat itself, but, in fact, bacteria which colonises on the skin. They feed on the substances contained in sweat, such as urea, protein and lactic acid. So the unpleasant smell of sweat that we are familiar with therefore arises as a result of bacterial decomposition or the decomposition processes, rather than through sweating itself. One of the main substances that is expelled through the decomposition process is butyric acid. It is this substance that is responsible for the smell of perspiration (some of you may still remember the chemistry lesson where the professor passed around a test tube containing butyric acid). Sweat smells the most unpleasant during menopause and puberty due the hormonal changes occurring in the body. On the other hand, foot perspiration from babies is almost odourless. To summarise, however, it is only stale sweat that causes a problem when it comes to odours. It is particularly difficult for fresh sweat to evaporate immediately when wearing footwear – this is why the build-up of stale sweat is particularly an issue here. Bacteria love moist-warm environments and shoes are therefore the most ideal place for them to multiply. This is an issue that we really must be proactive in tackling.
Why do some people’s feet sweat more and others less?
As mentioned earlier, sweat glands are located all over the body. The number of sweat glands and their distribution, however, depends highly on the individual. For example, it is extremely dependent on the skin type. Those with skin type 0 (very light-skinned) have the fewest sweat glands, which is because they typically have very thin and less pigmented skin. People with dark skin have up to twice as many sweat glands per square centimetre. There are also a number of highly individual normal variations which have an effect on the density of sweat glands covering each square centimetre of skin. You will have noticed when you shake hands with people that certain people tend to have particularly clammy hands, or perhaps more pronounced sweat patches under their armpits or on their backs. Despite their bad luck in these areas, however, they may not need to read this article any further themselves, as foot perspiration is not a particular issue for them. The intensity of sweat and the areas in which it occurs the most logically depend on your physique, level and types of activity and the clothing and shoes that you wear.
Why do certain people’s feet smell particularly unpleasant?
In the following you will find 10 tips on how you can tackle foot perspiration. Those who do not take such tips on board are highly likely to suffer from particularly odorous feet. Put simply, tackling foot perspiration involves getting as much fresh air to the feet as possible, trying to control the build up of sweat and, if possible, preventing environments which are particularly ideal for bacteria. There are also medical studies which prove that feet prone to perspiration, or more specifically the odour caused by foot perspiration, are worsened by the following factors: diets with a high amount of animal protein, e.g. eating lots of meat, a lack of exercise with predominantly sedentary activity and a high level of obesity, to name a few, are all said to have a negative impact on foot perspiration. The body excretes certain substances through the release of sweat, such as urea, which is heavily influenced by nutritional factors. Incidentally, we can also observe this phenomenon in the animal kingdom – whilst vegetarian animals are barely noticeable to us in terms of their odour, this is often not the case for carnivorous animals who survive purely on meat. Think of the way that dogs smell, for example, or bears, or the enclosures of captive predators. Medical studies show that changing your diet can also have a positive effect on the amount that you sweat and the odour.
Now we come to our top 10 tips for combating foot perspiration and unpleasant smelling feet.
The right footwear is crucial. What to look for.
Out of all the 10 tips, making sure that you choose the right footwear is the most effective way to control foot perspiration. First and foremost, it is important to choose footwear which is tailored to your activities. This means, for example, that at home (or around the garden or on your balcony) you should walk barefoot as often as possible, as this is not only good for the health of your feet and strengthens the muscles in your feet, but also means that they are ideally ventilated and foot perspiration is prevented right from the source. When the weather outside allows for it, it is best to wear open shoes when out and about. If you have to wear closed shoes, then you should preferably wear those made from leather, or featuring a high amount of leather in the components. We have dedicated several pages to discussing leather on our website. Briefly put, however, leather has unbeatably valuable material and wear properties, that are useful in regulating foot perspiration. The most important factor here is that leather can absorb and release moisture better than any other material. It is breathable and the material that most closely imitates our skin, as it is, of course, real animal skin. In other words: genuine leather is the best suited material to being able to deal with foot perspiration (i.e. absorb it and keep your foot dry and in a pleasant foot climate). Real leather is therefore superior to any synthetic material when it comes to absorbing perspiration. This is despite what many shoe manufacturers from the sporting industry may claim, who offer these so-called high-tech materials. When it comes to shoemaking, leather is and always will be the best possible material.
As it goes, leather is also one of the most expensive materials that manufacturers can use when it comes to shoemaking, which is why bargain-priced shoes are made with little or sometimes even no real leather components at all. Here at Sioux, we use nothing but high-quality genuine leather for the shoe upper, inner lining and insole. This guarantees a pleasant shoe climate and is the best investment you can make to prevent undesirable foot perspiration.
1. Allow shoes at least 24 hours to rest after being worn. This lets any moisture absorbed to evaporate.
Leather is a breathable material and has an unbeatable ability to absorb and store large amounts of water. On the other hand, it must also be given the chance to release this absorbed liquid once again. The general rule goes that it takes three times as long for water to evaporate from the shoes, as it does to be absorbed. This is why it is necessary after wearing for eight hours or more to treat your shoes to a break of 24 hours, in order for then to fully return to their normal state and be ready for you to wear again.
2. You should always wear socks and choose natural materials for your socks too
You should always wear socks when wearing closed shoes, even if certain fashion trends are not typically worn with them, as they are essential for the climate and hygiene in your shoes. If you do not like the look of a cuff that is visible when wearing shoes, then you can always wear low-cut trainer socks. What is important, however, is to buy socks that are not made completely of synthetic materials, but rather also feature a high natural fibre content (wool or cotton). Functional socks are a good choice as they are usually composed of multiple materials and fabric structures, which provide them with useful moisture-wicking capabilities. This is why socks are able to absorb foot perspiration and wick it away so effectively. Furthermore, synthetic fibres supposedly create a better environment for bacteria to attach itself to and spread. Those who do not shy away from extra costs can also try out silver fibres, as these are said to have antibacterial properties.
3. Wear fresh socks every day
We explained earlier how odour from sweat arises. That’s right – it is not the sweat itself, but rather the bacteria that breaks sweat down. That is why it is important not to unnecessarily create ideal circumstances for bacteria to multiply. Socks which have been worn for days in a row are essentially a hotspot for bacteria. Therefore, the following basic rule applies: change your socks every day, even if it seems as though they have not begun to smell yet. This is a simple, but effect tip to prevent foot perspiration and foot odour.
4. Wash your socks at 60 degrees. Do not try to cut costs when it comes to this!
Being overly environmentally concerned or a feeling a sense of false economy are not recommended when it comes to laundering your socks. Bacteria will only be killed when washed at 60 degrees – something which is crucial for preventing foot perspiration when wearing socks. Those who take the care to change their socks every day do not want to make this redundant by putting on ‘fresh’ socks that are still rife with bacteria. As we now know, it is the bacteria which is the cause for the unpleasant odour which is associated with foot perspiration.
5. Washing the feet regularly. Things to note.
Feet prone to perspiration should be washed every day, preferably in the morning, using warm water first and then switching to cold water. It is important to take your time to properly wash your feet, paying attention to the area in between your toes and then using a towel to dry them completely afterwards. If once a day is not enough for your feet, and you find that they become sweaty again later in the day, then we recommend doing this twice daily and repeating this process in the evening. If this causes your feet to feel dry, then you can use moisturising creams to counteract this.
6. Foot baths. Not just a treat for the feet
If you have enough time on your hands for more than just washing your feet quickly, foot baths are a proven home remedy for foot perspiration. You can add special foot soaking ingredients to this to help combat feet prone to perspiration, such as soda, which helps to fight against bacteria on the foot. How does it work? It is all down to soda’s alkaline pH. The soda slightly changes the pH of the skin and therefore denatures the bacteria which thrive in an acidic environment. Vinegar (1/4 portion), black tea (2 bags per 1 litre) or lavender oil all have an antibacterial effect when placed in the foot bath. Sage is said to have a positive regulatory effect on sweat glands. As an alternative to black tea (which can discolour the feet), oak or willow bark or olive or walnut leaves of can be used as a substitute with a similar active effect. You must firstly brew these things, however, in order to create a suitable active mixture. This is why we prefer using black tea to combat feet prone to perspiration, as it is something which most people have handy at home on the one hand, and is very simple to use for foot baths on the other. All of these ingredients are completely harmless when applied externally. We recommend trying out for yourself what relieves your feet and what you find most comfortable as a method for preventing foot perspiration. The foot soak ingredients to combat foot perspiration which are mentioned can all be acquired from the pharmacy or chemist. Please note the dosage instructions on the respective information leaflets, unless stated otherwise in this text. After the foot bath, you should always dry your feet thoroughly and allow them to cool to room temperature before putting your socks or shoes back on.
7. Maintaining an effective foot care regime – especially when it comes to removing calluses
Calluses, or dead, hardened skin, is a breeding ground for bacteria. Keeping your feet well cared for and removing calluses (for example, with the help of medical foot care or through us of home remedies such as Lavastein & Co) is a sure way to help inhibit bacteria that thrives on sweat and therefore prevent foot perspiration.
8. Use shoe deodorant or a shoe disinfectant spray
If your shoes still smell of sweat after drying, you can use a shoe deodorant (available at pharmacies, chemists or shoe retailers) or alternatively a shoe disinfectant spray. Whilst shoe deodorants only combat unpleasant odours in the shoe, shoe disinfectant spray works at the source, killing the bacteria in the shoe that feed on foot perspiration. You can, of course, use both remedies at the same time.
9. Aluminium chloride – used as a foot deodorant or ointment
If your perspiration problem is persistent and the previous tips have not worked for you, then try using an aluminium chloride foot deodorant to help your feet maintain their moisture. This tip appears at number nine, as we recommend firstly trying the natural remedies stated in tips 1-9 to help combat your foot perspiration. For more stubborn cases of foot perspiration, however, it is necessary to deodorise the feet. If this does not help, then you can also use ointments containing aluminium chloride. Aluminium chloride has an active ingredient which narrows the sweat ducts, meaning that less foot sweat can reach the skin’s surface.
10. If none of our tips work: your doctor will be able to help with excessive perspiration.
If you are suffering with abnormally excessive amounts of perspiration, or so-called hyperhidrosis, then this is an entirely different problem. In such cases, the issue with perspiration is so pronounced that it requires medical attention. The same applies if a high level of perspiration occurs in conjunction with other serious/severe changes to the skin. Similarly, you should also consult your doctor if the excessive sweating is experienced in combination with any underlying neurological or internal diseases. There are many other medical remedies for pathological foot perspiration. It has been reported that tap water iontophoresis (direct-current therapy) achieves particularly good results when compared to other conservative treatments. This comparatively gentle therapy boasts impressive results in that it is a purely external treatment and works with a direct current of 15-25 mA and can also be prescribed on national health insurance (NHI).
We hope that you are able to maintain a pleasant and comfortable foot climate at all times and, despite dealing with foot perspiration, continue to enjoy having healthy and well-cared-for feet. Because, besides your hands, the feet are the most important part of the human body, and have truly earned your full care and attention, despite the few mishaps you might have had along the way.