Does Going Sockless Increase your Risk of Foot Fungus? Not really. | The Body of Evidence

Does Going Sockless Increase your Risk of Foot Fungus? Not really.

I got a random e-mail from the CBC the other day asking me about socks and foot fungus. Specifically whether the trend to wear shoes without socks increases the risk of tinea pedis or as it is sometimes called Athlete's foot.

This was the result of the interview. Ultimately I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just watch where you step if you happen to be barefoot.


Last week a UK podiatrist raised a red flag about foot fungus. She claims she's seeing more cases lately - particularly in young men who've succumbed to the seductions of style. The fungal heavy fashion play in question? Showing off the coveted mankle. The problem isn't the bare ankle so much as the means to achieve it. More men are going sockless which can lead to tinea pedis, science speak for good old athlete's foot. Fashionisto foot, it turns out, might be a better monicker.

Dr. Emma Stephenson says the average foot sweats a half pint a day. How are our socks not drenched by noon? No matter. "Too much moisture and warmth can lead to fungal infections such as athlete's foot", she says. Worst case scenario? Trench foot. You know, something old timey soldiers in only the worst, damp and dirty conditions would encounter. Helpful counsel: don't click on that link if you're eating.   

Stephenson asserts she's already treated a 19 year old UK lad with full blown trench foot. He did, however, work in a car wash. To be fair, the climate is different here in Canada (it's colder for one, necessitating woolies on our tootsies) but many of our cities actually get more precipitation on average than jolly old London. Still, with milder weather becoming a mainstay, we might expect summery trends like going sans sock lingering well into autumnal months.

So, should we be worried? Less than a year ago there was drug-resistant super fungus travelling the globe that scared the bacteria out of us. People died undignified deaths. Of fungus.

To avoid getting swept up in fungal fury, I thought it best to field some foot questions with CBC Life contributor and medical expert, Dr. Christopher Labos. As more men forego socks for style, I wanted to know if foot fungus cases were actually climbing.

In Canada at least, Labos says he hasn't heard of a spike. The numbers, however, were higher than expected. He says athlete's foot is "actually already very common" and estimates that about 15 to 25 percent of people get tidea pedis over their lifetime. Do take comfort if your feet are female - problematic foot fungus is "more common in men",  younger men in particular, although it "rarely happens before puberty."

Labos asserts that "our feet sweat more than the rest of us because we tend to encase them in occlusive foot wear [like] socks and shoes or boots."

The real issue, he says, is foot exposure to truant fungi in places like gym locker rooms and public swimming pools. After that, a warm, sweaty foot encased in a shoe, especially those spaces between the toes, simply becomes an ideal breeding ground. Sweat, no matter how much, is really just a fungus catalyst.

But you do "have to come into contact with the fungus, so wearing your own shoes without socks doesn't accomplish that unless the fungus got into your shoes to begin with". And as Labos asserts that "a fungus is an organism that infects you" from outside contact, the no sharing rule bears mentioning here.

Labos did add an important wrinkle to rocking no socks for style: "If you're not wearing socks with your shoes, you're more likely to be walking around barefoot on surfaces where the fungi can grow." So clean footwear acts like a shield. The issue, it seems, is not no socks - it's going barefoot altogether. The naked foot trotted through unsavoury spaces simply picks up rogue fungi more easily.

A fashionable solution

As a man that tends to show a little mankle in warmer weather, I can tell you the simple and elegant solution is a socklet. It looks like a ballet slipper when your shoes are off and they come in every color. One caveat, it will not look great if you go to a no shoes party - so maybe leave the sock in the shoe and let your toes go commando. Just not in a locker room, public pool, or trench.

An alternative solution if you're bold (and want to roll the fungi dice) is baby powder in the shoe. A light dusting does the deed, for most. If you insist on going sockless, charcoal or cedar wood insoles can help.

A final option for the more daring men among you is to adopt a burgeoning fashion trend a little sooner. The high sock (yes, even in summer and even with shorts). If the sock sticks, we won't be fretting about fungus this time next year. Well, we'll at least be fretting less.