The sock-free trend that's created a foot fungus epidemic

Wearing a pair of socks with non-breathable shoes is almost always preferable to going sockless. Source: Getty

It’s something we all likely drummed into our kids – wear socks with your shoes, because it stops them reeking and keeps your feet healthier. After all, anyone who’s parented a teenage boy or two knows the pall a pair of well-worn sports shoes can cast over a house!

But a new generation hasn’t learned this important little life lessons, and now they’re suffering.

Hollywood stars brought back the ‘bare ankle’ look by wearing their slim-legged trousers, and even formal suits, paired with loafers, brogues and trainers, often with pointier toes than men have worn in previous decades, their sockless ankles proudly on display. It was quickly adopted by young men around the world, who’ve been baring their ankles in all manner of outfits in recent years.

But it’s also brought abut a rash – literally, in many cases – of foot conditions, with the rise so alarming that Britain’s College of Podiatry has issued a warning about it.

The college told the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper that it was seeing more and more young men coming to its foot specialists with a variety of issues caused by badly-fitting footwear and a lack of socks. (It should be said, women are no strangers to either of these issues, having forced their nylon-covered feet into painful shoes for decades!)

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The college’s Emma Stevenson told The Telegraph that a pair of feet typically produce about half a pint of sweat each day – yes, really! – and if that’s not absorbed by a sturdy pair of socks and combined with synthetic or non-breathable shoes, that means fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, also known as tinea.

Add pointy toes to the equation, as many of the shoes designed to be worn without socks are sharped, and you’ve got a double-whammy of foot-related horror, as generations of stilletoe-wearing women will attest.

“In addition to increasing the risk of ingrown toenails, other bony defect issues such as bunions can be exacerbated by pointy shoes,” Stevenson said. “Likewise, slip-on shoes cause the toes to claw in order to keep the shoe on the foot and can also result in increased friction on the back of the foot where the foot slips in and out of the shoe.”

The Australian Podiatry Association, which happens to be celebrating Foot Health Month in October, is on the same page as it’s UK equivalent.

The Aussie association has plenty of advice on healthy feet on its site, but here are a few key tips that you may want to share with the young men in your family!

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Keep pointy shoes for special occasions

Pointy shoes can make your toes ‘claw’, which may affect your overall body posture. Clenched toes can also cause rubbing, leading to corns and calluses, so look for broad-toed shoes allow the toes more room and can help prevent pressure injuries.

Let your feet breathe!

Make sure shoes are made from a material that breathers, because fungal infections such as tinea love a warm, moist environment. Absorptive socks can help draw moisture away.

Your toenails matter

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Major toenail problems can be caused by incorrectly fitting shoes, which press too tightly on the toenails. Toenail problems can also be caused by warts, tumours under the nail, trauma, infection or poor circulation. Fungal infections an be among the trickiest to treat, but a podiatist or doctor can recommend anti-fungal mediations.

Get the right fit

Your toes should not touch the end of your shoes or you may damage your nails and toes – you need a gap of about 1cm from the end of your longest toe. I you can see an outline of your foot pressing against your shoe that its probably the wrong fit. And don’t buy shoes that need breaking in, shoes should be comfortable immediately.

Time your shopping trip

Shop for shoes later in the day – most people’s feet tend to swell during the day and it is best to fit shoes when they are at their largest.

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Dry out your shoes

Spray your feet with underarm antiperspirant before putting on your shoes, and avoid wearing the same shoes every day. Instead, give them 48 hours to dry after wearing them. Putting dry tea bags into your shoes after wearing them can help absorb excess moisture.

Buy some socks!

The best socks allow your feet to breathe so look for natural fabrics – good-quality athletics or running socks will usually fit the bill. It’s even possible to buy specialist socks that are infused with copper, a natural antibacterial agent. Even if you stick to regular socks, make sure they’re completely dry before wearing them, and sprinkle your foot with powder to help absorb any moisture before putting them on.

Don’t forget the baking soda/bi-carb

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A sprinkle of baking soda or bi-carb in a smelly pair of sneakers is amazing for killing odours. If you want to use it regularly, fill an old sock with the powder, tie off the top, and keep the ‘sachet’ in your stinky shoes when you’re not wearing them. 

Do you always wear socks, or do you sometimes bow to fashion and go sockless?