Are you afraid to put your best foot forward? This is the time of year when millions of Americans wish their feet were more presentable. Normally we take our tootsies for granted. We count on them to carry us around, and we keep them covered and out of sight. But with warm weather here, it’s time to kick off the shoes and go barefoot on the beach. If you’re headed for the swimming pool or the backyard barbecue, flip-flops or sandals are more appropriate than sweaty sneakers.
But lots of us are embarrassed to bare our toes in public. The problem is fungus. Such organisms love warm, dark places. Mildew grows on damp shower curtains. Mushrooms thrive on the underside of rotting logs. Shoes provide a perfect environment for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot or thick brown misshapen toenails. In most cases, toenail fungus is just a cosmetic issue. There’s no denying it: fungus-infected toenails aren’t pretty. One reader complained, “I’m a distance runner and have toenails that are fit to be seen only on Halloween.”
Some people try home remedies first. Soaking the toes nightly in a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water may help some cases. Others respond to Vicks VapoRub or tea tree oil. If applied on the nail twice a day, one of these treatments may help clear toenail fungus. Some of our other favorites involve applications of hydrogen peroxide or amber Listerine foot soaks.
Toenails grow slowly. Even powerful prescription pills like itraconazole (Sporanox) or terbinafine (Lamisil) may take months to show benefit, and it can take up to a year for a toenail to grow out completely fungus-free. Oral medicine can also have some pretty unpleasant side effects.
Another problem many people suffer this time of year is foot odor. One mother complained about her daughter’s smelly feet: “She’s seven years old and has hot, sweaty feet which smell really bad! Perhaps the odor is worse now because it’s summer and she’s wearing tennis shoes all day. It’s almost enough to kill you when she takes her shoes off in the car!”
Controlling sweating by wearing sandals or applying antiperspirant compounds can reduce foot odor. Another mother recounted her family’s solution:
“Wash and dry the feet. Soak them or wipe them down with a solution of ordinary rubbing alcohol. This gets rid of any bacteria left after the washing. Dry the feet, then rub on a small amount of any generic brand of acne treatment cream containing 10 percent benzoyl peroxide. It kills the bacteria that cause odor. “Do NOT put treated feet into smelly shoes. Use new shoes free of any odor to avoid re-infection. Continue the cream application once a day for a week. After that, two or three treatments a week are enough.”
One reader with 11 years’ experience in the shoe repair business suggests wearing cotton socks and avoiding shoes made of synthetic materials (including the lining). Allowing shoes to “rest” and dry out for a day before putting them on again can also help.
If you would like to learn more about how to get rid of nail fungus, we have lots of remedies in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care.
It’s time to let your tootsies enjoy the summer. Liberate them from those smelly shoes.