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Asking for a Friend: Why Do My Feet Stink?

We're pretty hard on our feet. We expect them to carry our weight all day. We demand that they stabilize us while we pound over miles of trails. Yet we still want them to look nice and smell like we've been lounging around barefoot all day.

Unfortunately, our feet sometimes fail us on that last front. According to podiatrist Benjamin Kleinman, D.P.M., of the Baltimore Podiatry Group, the most mundane culprit of toe-curling foot stink is old shoes. "The first thing I ask a patient who comes in with foot odor is 'How old are your shoes?' Most people will say, 'Oh, they're in good shape,' but then I find out they're over a year old," he says. Shoes that are past their due date are a breeding ground for smelly bacteria. Toss 'em. (And replace them with these cute and comfy sandals your feet will love.)

To prevent sweat in the first place, you can use an antiperspirant. The same stuff you swipe on under your arms will work, but a spray like Dove Dry Spray ($6, target.com) is a little easier to apply than solids. Kleinman doesn't recommend using powders not specifically designed for your feet to absorb moisture and cut the scent, since certain bacteria or fungi can use them for food. Jackie Sutera, D.P.M., a podiatrist and a Vionic Innovation Lab Member, says a better bet is the SteriShoe Essential ($100, sterishoe.com), which uses UV light to kill 99.9% of stink-inducing germs.

But if funk-proofing your shoes doesn't help, it's possible a fungal or bacterial infection is to blame instead. These are often accompanied by symptoms like toenail discoloration or dry skin. And while there are over-the-counter antifungal and antibacterial products at every drugstore, Kleinman suggests going to a podiatrist before trying to self-diagnose, since symptoms can be vague and easy to misdiagnose. Also smart: Skip the natural remedies like black tea or vinegar soaks, he says. They could irritate your feet.

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