Stinky feet. The embarrassing odor can drive even your best friend running out the door. It's in the heat of the summer, when we put away our closed-toe shoes and boots for sandals and flip-flops, that the funk becomes more apparent.
Let's address foot-odor fiction right now. Having stinky feet does not mean that you're dirty. It's those darn little bacteria critters that live with us that create the stink. And we all have bacteria.
Bacteria eat dead skin. After they digest sweat, which contains fat, they release a gas. As they feast on your feet, their colonies grow. The more bacteria living in dark, damp sweaty shoes and between our toes, the more gas. It's like a dark, moist, self-contained world with an ozone problem.
We asked Dr. Melissa Peck Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, how to decrease the amount of bacteria feasting on our feet and therefore reduce the stench.
"It's a real problem," Piliang said. "The vast majority of people suffer from foot odor to some degree. Sweat itself doesn't smell. It's the bacteria, after digesting the sweat, that smells."
Piliang gave us a few tips on preventing, or at least decreasing, foul-smelling tootsies. (See sidebar.) Try her fresh-foot plan for odor-free feet, but note that the odor will return if you return to your past routine. If all else fails, see a dermatologist.
Piliang also mentioned a more serious odor, micrococcus sedentarius. (Think rotten eggs on a summer day.) This type of bacteria goes beyond stinky acids to a more volatile sulfur smell.
"This type of bacteria affects 10 to 15 percent of the population. You'd have to follow [her fresh-foot] list, plus wash your feet a few times a day with an antibacterial cleaner," she said. "And even then, the smell can return."
One treatment for extreme sweat is Botox. She said that it blocks the nerves that signal the glands to sweat. You'll have less sweat for bacteria to feed off and, therefore, less smell.
If, after trying the steps you can still smell the stink, visit a dermatologist.