You’re sitting at your desk after taking a long walk in the 90-degree heat during lunch, and—all of a sudden—the smell of your stinky feet wafts into your nostrils (and possibly those of your co-workers). Cue horror movie music.
Let’s face it, everyone sweats—some more than others—and there’s a certain unpleasantness that comes with having really smelly feet. Though you might blame it on your old pair of Stan Smiths or going sockless when it’s particularly hot outside, there are actually biological reasons for the issue.
“The idea is to address what’s causing the odor, and what feeds the odor is: sweat.”
“A lot of people don’t realize that odor comes from sweat, which breeds bacteria and fungus—it’s not your foot,” says Emily Splichal, doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM). “The idea is to address what’s causing the odor, and what feeds the odor is sweat. Most stinky feet are sweaty feet.”
In Ayurveda, the aromatic situation is considered a pitta condition (one of the three doshas, AKA your energetic signature). “In pitta, heat and fire are the predominant qualities,” says Trudy Collings, Ayurvedic expert and co-founder of Paavani Ayurveda, a line of organic health and skin-care products. “People with sharp-smelling feet or underarms are said to have a pitta imbalance that’s an accumulation of toxins in the body.”
Even though you can’t do much to completely stop your trusty tootsies from shvitzing, there are things you can do—from changing up your diet to doing certain yoga moves—to keep them smelling as fresh as daisies (or, at least, getting the odor in the “okay” range).
Keep reading for 5 pro tips for preventing stinky feet.
Avoid heat-inducing foods
An Ayurvedic approach addresses imbalances in the context of a person’s overall health—so practitioners look at the full picture, which of course includes diet. “In Ayurveda, we always deal with digestion because what you’re taking into the body affects the rest of your issues,” says Collings. “The first thing we recommend is to have a more cooling diet that pacifies the pitta dosha.”
That means eliminating foods that create heat in the body, according to Ayurveda—think fried food, tomato sauce, caffeine, and alcohol. (And yes, say goodbye to cayenne pepper and other tongue-scalding ingredients.) What to add to your plate? “You want to eat sweet, juicy, hydrating fruits like peaches and melons, and vegetables with a bitter and astringent taste,” explains Collings. “Those include kale, spinach, and asparagus, for example.” (Kale-peach smoothie, anyone?)
She also recommends adding spices like cumin, coriander, and fennel to your meals (they’re said to have cooling properties), as well as turmeric (the king of fighting inflammation), which reputedly reduces heat and helps rid the body of toxicity.
Keep your feet fresh
Sometimes showering just isn’t enough to prevent that dreaded odor from rising up during the day. Thankfully, there are treatments and sprays you can spritz to keep your soles as clean as possible. “A good deodorizer and antifungal is a good idea,” says Dr. Splichal. “I’d recommend tea tree oil, which you can find in foot sprays or you can apply the oil itself (with a carrier) to the bottom of your feet at night.”
You could also opt for a DIY powder—Collings says that arrowroot powder mixed with turmeric (as well as lavender and peppermint essential oil) applied before bed is a lovely, cooling refresher that helps with sweating.
Do “cooling” yoga poses
According to Ayurveda, yoga has powerful capabilities (hello, acne-fighting poses)—so, unsurprisingly, there are even vinyasa moves that are said to help with a pungent sitch. “Forward folds and any asana posture that brings a cooling energy into the body—that helps relax the nervous system,” says Collings. “Do three of these types of postures, like paschimottanasana and uttanasana, in the morning to eliminate anger and irritability, which leads to toxicity and then sweat.”
Another good bet: any sort of spinal twist. (Think a revolved side angle pose or a seated half spinal twist.) “These twists are great because they massage the liver,” adds Collings. “When you do that, it’s detoxifying the organs.”
Brew up a foot bath
For a more traditional method of dealing with your foot woes, you could always soak them—just as you do with your body in rejuvenating bath rituals.
All you’ll need? Some tea. “You can brew tea and then soak your feet in it every day for a week for about 30 minutes,” says Dr. Splichal. “Tea has what’s called tannic acid, which shrinks the sweat glands in your feet.” She recommends a plain black tea for this.
Stay calm, cool, and collected
Back on the Ayurvedic side of things, it’s better that you stay as chill as can be if you want to keep that odor away—and that includes way more than just keeping the air conditioner on blast. “Arguments or big debates are best to avoid,” says Collings. “If they happen, try taking a step back and counting to 10 or internally chant—anything to calm down.”
According to Ayurveda, stress and angry emotions lead to heat within the body, which (you guessed it) leads to stinky feet. So take some deep breaths—it just might clear the air for your sandal-clad summer.
If your funkiness won’t quit, here’s how to tell if you have toenail fungus. And for your pits, these are 9 natural deodorants that’ll stand up to even your sweatiest workout.