How to Deal With Sweaty Feet

How to Deal With Sweaty Feet

Slipping and sliding in the summer months is great—if you’re at a water park or in a pool, that is. Otherwise, it’s the miserable reality of sweaty feet.

“I’ve literally had patients come in and tell me they’re sweating so much, they’ve fallen out of their shoes,” says Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, a professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and president of the International Hyperhidrosis Society. “Or they can’t wear heels because they’re afraid they’ll slip and break an ankle. It can go from mild and a nuisance to very significant.”

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In rare cases, sweaty feet are caused by hyperhidrosis, a medical condition that triggers excessive sweating and affects different parts of the body, like the underarms, hands, and feet. It has a strong genetic component, Glaser says: More than half of people with it have at least one relative who has it. They sweat even when it’s not hot outside, so much that their clothes or shoes become completely soaked. “We don’t know exactly what the cause is, but we know that in those individuals, the sweat glands are completely normal,” she says. “It appears this problem is caused by a part of the brain that’s supposed to regulate temperature.” Treatment includes iontophoresis (which involves using a small device that produces sweat gland-blocking electrical currents) and Botox injections that generally last up to six months.

For most people, however, sweaty feet are simply the result of wearing the wrong shoes or socks—or spending hours outside on a hot day being active. The problem is worth addressing because fungus likes sweaty feet, opening the door to infections like athlete’s foot, which usually begins between the toes. “If you put a cotton sock on a foot, you stick it in a shoe, and then you get that dark, damp, moist environment, where it stays wet all the time, fungus grows,” says Jay Spector, a podiatrist at Atlanta Sports Podiatry in Johns Creek, Ga. “It’s just like if you have a leak in your bath you’re not aware of, and you have sitting water for a while.”

With that in mind, we asked experts how to best prevent and cope with sweaty feet.

Choose shoes that let your feet breathe

Wearing tight shoes that don’t allow for good air flow—like dress shoes or boots—can exacerbate sweating. Instead, look for lightweight athletic shoes with mesh on the outside, advises Danielle DesPrés, a podiatrist and foot and ankle surgeon in New York. “Mesh has airflow,” she says. Shoes without it won’t be as breathable.

Some brands, like Geox, sell shoes designed for ventilation, Glaser says. When you go shopping, she suggests asking the salesperson assisting you if they have any recommendations for sweaty feet. “People are embarrassed, but it’s so common,” she says. Shoe-store workers are usually well-versed in how to keep feet cool.

Read More: The Health Benefits of Wearing Shoes in the House

Another strategy, Glaser adds, is to add inserts to your shoes; they help absorb moisture so shoes stay drier longer. Summer Soles, for example, makes peel-and-stick shoe liners that can be used in sandals, heels, and other types of shoes. And if it’s possible, slip your shoes off during the workday. “I usually suggest to patients if they’re sitting at their desk and they get a moment, take their feet out of their shoes,” she says. “Get some air to them.”

If you have to wear certain shoes at work, get creative

Many of DesPrés’ clients are doormen and security workers—people who are on their feet all day, in the heat, in heavy shoes. Their feet tend to swell up throughout their shift, making their shoes tighter and more uncomfortable. Yet they’re required to wear black shoes, she says. So DesPrés came up with a solution: “I’ve told some of them to get a pair of sneakers that are really comfortable and supportive, because they often have other arch and foot problems too,” she says. “Then spray paint them black”—covering up light-colored mesh, brand names, and other markings—“and now you have your black shoes.” The workers who have tried it, she adds, assure her it does the trick. Some companies also make supportive black sneakers that could pass as dress shoes. 

Put thought into socks

Socks play an important role in the sweaty-feet equation. Spector is a marathon runner, and he’s learned that the key to cutting back on sweat-drenched feet is wearing acrylic socks, which wick out moisture. (His favorite brand is Balega.) Merino wool works similarly—but he avoids cotton. With lightweight wool or sweat-wicking socks, “I’ll do a 20-mile run, and I take my socks off, and it’s as if I just put them on,” he says. “If I were to wear cotton socks, they’d weigh 10 pounds.”

There’s one time, however, when you should ditch the socks: overnight. “At some point, our feet need to breathe,” he says. “We don’t want to wear socks 24/7,” especially given that there might be bacteria or dirt inside of them. Going sockless for eight hours while you sleep is an excellent opportunity for your feet to air out, he adds.

Use antiperspirant—or tea bags

Apply some antiperspirant to the bottoms of your feet, DesPrés advises. Just make sure it’s spray-on, not roll-on, which helps ensure it won’t be slippery. Some people use anti-fungal powder on their feet, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “But depending how much your feet sweat, sometimes that powder can get all gooped up in your shoes,” she says, making antiperspirant the superior choice. If your go-to brand isn’t cutting it, DesPrés suggests the topical antiperspirant Drysol; it’s available over the counter and contains aluminum chloride hexahydrate, which helps treat overactive sweat glands.

Read More: Put Your Shoes Back On. Here’s the Problem With Going Barefoot

A slightly more unconventional strategy: Boil a couple of unflavored black tea bags in a pint of hot water, and then pour some cold water into the mix. “Let it cool down, and then soak your feet in it,” DesPrés says. “The tannic acid [from the tea] helps kill bacteria and seals up some of the sweat glands.” It sounds weird, she acknowledges, but some people find that doing a tea soak at least once a week leads to less sweaty feet.

Dry out your shoes when you take them off

Pulling your feet out of sweat-soaked shoes is unpleasant—and so is trying to slide back into them. Shoe dryers can help: They blow cold air into shoes, just like a hair dryer. Spector goes for a run twice a day, and if it’s raining in the morning and his shoes get wet, he utilizes the dryer. “By 4:30 in the afternoon, when I’m going to run again, my shoes are no longer wet,” he says. Another idea: Put your sweaty shoes in front of the refrigerator. It has a vetting system on the bottom, Spector points out, and the cool air flowing out can help moisture evaporate from your shoes.

Give your shoes a bath

People often worry that their sweaty shoes are going to start to smell. That’s why DesPrés recommends spraying the insides with Lysol once every week or two. “It’ll kill whatever bacteria and fungus is in it,” she says, thus improving the odor. You can also toss some shoes into the washing machine. DesPrés has learned, however, that the standard detergent used for washing clothes doesn’t always suffice, so she adds Pine-Sol to the load. It’s a disinfectant that also helps deodorize.

Read More: Is It Unhealthy to Sweat a Lot?

One other way to make sure your shoes don’t start to smell, DesPrés adds, is to avoid wearing the same ones every day. If you find some you really like, buy two or three pairs, she suggests. Rotating which you wear every day gives them extra time to breathe and prevents odor from accumulating.

Plan ahead

Always take an extra pair of socks with you when you’re spending time outside. If you’re playing a three-hour beach volleyball game or running a 5K, and your feet are really sweaty, you’ll be glad you did. “Halfway through your event, you can put new socks on,” Spector says.

It’s also helpful to always carry antiperspirant wipes or a travel-size bottle of antiperspirant. And consider taking a pair of shoes along to change into after your outdoor activity. For example, “You could bring sandals to change into after a hike,” DesPrés says. That can help your feet stay dry and have time to air out. It’s one of plenty of small strategies that can help ensure you don’t need to break out into a sweat over the idea of sweaty feet.

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