Listen, it happens. The entire experience of moving through security at the airport is super stressful (especially so for people of color and trans individuals who are often particularly scrutinized in this process), so it can be easy to lose track of everything and throw caution (and your shoes and socks) to the wind. The truth is, it's best for your health to leave your socks on when you move through TSA. We had a podiatrist break down exactly why it's important.
What are the risks of going through airport security barefoot?
"It's not necessarily 'bad' to go barefoot through airport security, but there are some things that we need to remember when we do," says Mark Kosinski, DPM, FIDSA, faculty professor at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. "Shoes and socks serve a protective function. Shoes protect us from injury, from things dropping on our feet, from stubbing our toes, and from stepping on sharp objects. We lose that protection when we go barefoot and need to be careful with each step," he says. Since airport security can get pretty hectic, you'll want to watch your step and get your shoes back on as quickly and safely as possible.
Another small risk of going barefoot at the airport? The number of germs and pathogens present in a place where so many people are walking, including fungus that causes warts and athlete's foot, as well as bacteria, and viruses that can cause infection or illness. While Dr. Kosinski adds that the amount of time you spend barefoot means you're probably not at serious risk of contracting one of these pathogens, the risk is still not zero.
You'll want to be especially mindful if you have existing cuts, blisters, or rashes on your feet, as this could make an easy access point for one of those nasty bugs.
Do socks provide enough protection?
You can leave your socks on when going through security at the airport, but if you're headed to a warm climate, you may roll up with your sandals on, sans socks. In those situations, it's a good idea to pack extra socks in your bag so you're not stuck in the line barefoot.
If you're curious whether socks offer enough protection, Dr. Kosinski says that they are sufficient for the short amount of time you typically spend in security. However, if you're prone to foot conditions, are immunocompromised, or have certain medical conditions (like diabetes), you may want to pack a fresh pair of socks to change into after going through security since these pathogens can cling to the material of socks.
"When you're able, put on a fresh pair of socks, and when you reach your destination, wash your feet with soap and water. Antibacterial soap if available," says Dr. Kosinski. And aside from airport security, the same advice goes for walking barefoot while on the plane and in your hotel. Keep in mind that fungi and bacteria usually inhabit more moist surfaces, like around pools and the floors of public showers and bathrooms, and even hotel carpets. That's why it's always best to wear something—socks, flip-flops, well-fitting sneakers—whenever you're walking around in a public space.
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