There are over 100 types of fungus living on our feet, according to a new study by the Human Genome Research Institute. While this may sound absolutely disgusting, a lot of these microbes aren’t so bad, says lead author Dr. Julie Segre. “One of the major functions of healthy fungi is to prevent pathogenic fungi [like athlete’s foot or toenail fungus] from adhering to our skin.”
What Research Says About Foot Fungus
The scientists found more than 80 types of fungi on the heel, 60 types in between toes, and 40 types on the toenails. By comparison, a person’s forehead only has two to 10 types of fungi present. Scientists think that the warm temperature and moist environment the feet encounter inside shoes contributes to the prevalence of fungus there, compared to other parts of the body. The feet also comes into direct contact with the ground more than, say, the forehead.
Researchers were surprised to find a world of diversity in the microorganisms on the skin. For instance, they found Malassezia, a type of fungus that dominates the body core and trunk, also on the feet. The average person was carrying eleven different species of Malassezia, including one that causes dandruff. They also found Penicillium (the mold penicillin comes from), Saccharomyces (the yeast used in beer and bread making), and Aspergillus (which can cause ear infections and ulcers).
Furthermore, researchers found that the fungi species on the feet were ever-changing. One month after the first swab of volunteers’ feet, only 30% to 40% of the foot fungus remained the same. Of the study participants, 20% were unknowingly suffering from some type of foot infection — be it athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, or heel webbing.
“The bottom line is your feet are teeming with fungal diversity,” said Dr. Segre, “so wear your flip flops in locker rooms if you don’t want to mix your foot fungi with someone else’s fungi.”
What To Do About Foot Fungus
“The odor is a byproduct of the microorganisms, the bacteria and the fungi.” However, it’s futile to use antifungal creams to remove pathogenic fungi, says Dr. Segre. “Even when you really scrub your skin you are not removing all the bacteria and fungi,” she said. Putting on these antifungal creams is like “fertilizing the fungal microorganism garden,” she added.
“What I’ve seen is that people now are using all these antimicrobial products,” Dr. Segre explains. “And, you know, we don’t know how that’s going to change the bacteria that live on our skin, and how that’s affecting the good bacteria and the bad bacteria.”
One of the best things a person can do is cover up the feet in public to prevent the transfer of harmful pathogens. Washing the hands and feet with regular soap is important. Sanitizing the shoe and putting on clean, dry socks is relevant. Keeping the skin moisturized and supple — free from cuts or cracks — is a way of keeping the harmful bacteria out of the body.
What Doesn’t Treat Foot Fungus
We’ve seen many different misguided solutions to eliminating foot fungus and foot odor. As we talked about a few days ago, many makers of shoe sprays, foot creams and so-called “antimicrobial” materials have been busted for overstating claims of efficacy. Many companies releasing foot fungus treatments mislead customers, say industry experts.
“Just because something contains a substance that can kill microorganisms, doesn’t mean that substance will kill microorganisms,” says Adam Ullman, CEO of SteriShoe, a company that manufactures a UV shoe sanitizer that is endorsed by the American Podiatric Medical Association. “Bleach is an effective germicide, but if you dilute it enough it will no longer be a germicide. Take a look at a product that uses a germicidal UVC lamp, but encases the lamp in UV blocking plastic… the UVC can’t penetrate the plastic so UVC isn’t being used to sanitize.”
When asked about the Tetra Corp’s CleanSweep Spray, he went on to explain that the industry is rife with companies that are overreaching. “Pointing to an ingredient and making efficacy claims is sketchy. Making a precise claim of efficacy, i.e. ‘eliminating 99.9%,’ without data to support it is false and misleading advertising. Assuming that nanosilver is actually a germicide, what concentration of nanosilver is needed for a solution to be germicidal and does this product achieve this?”
Ullman adds, “I’ve seen test reports tout a products ability to kill microorganisms when the control group, the group that was not treated, had died off by over 99% in just a few hours. Do some real science before claiming that something is ‘proven’ and then actually test it in the environment where it is being suggested for use.”
For these reasons, he said it was very important that SteriShoe collect scientific data and actually test it in a real world environment, rather than just in an artificial lab setting. Rather than disturbing the body’s natural microflora, SteriShoe works to sanitize and eradicate microbial build-ups in the shoe.