There’s a wide range of websites providing you with information on aromatherapy. Often, claims are made regarding the topical application of essential oils to cure foot odor.
If such sources aren’t backed by either trustworthy reviews (e.g. your own personal experiences or those of peers) or PubMed and Wiley Interscience studies we are not sure how to judge these statements.
Fact is that there’s little clinically backed evidence to support the wide variety of therapeutic claims made by aromatherapists.
So we did some desk research to find out what sources are available regarding the topical use of essential oils in order to combat stinky feet.
In medical terms, whether or not there’s a clinical indication for essential oils as a plantar hyperhidrosis remedy.
What Are Essential Oils?
Essential oils are extracts from specific plant species, and are designed to contain the true essence of the plant from which they are derived.
They are actually not “oily” to the touch, but instead are pure liquid extracts that are distilled from the plant using various means, and then concentrated to form the extract.
They usually come in small bottles and the liquid is concentrated enough such that only a few drops are needed for each use. The uses of essential oils range from aromatherapy, to natural remedies for physical discomfort, to household cleaning, to insect repellents.
Essential oils are commonly used for inhalation and, generally in diluted form, for topical treatment.
Why Essential Oils for Smelly Feet?
Foot odor is caused by the interaction of microbes (chiefly, bacteria) with the sweat and dead skin cells on your feet. The metabolism of these bacteria can leave odiferous byproducts that are “cheesy” in smell.
One way of combatting foot odors is establishing a treatment regimen that uses essential oils. According to proponents of the use of these oils there are several essential oils that can be used on smelly feet.
What does research say?
Topical application of aromatic oils may exert antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic effects.
This is obviousdly very generic information. However, these aspects may be helpful in curing feet sweating and subsequent foot odor since it’s the bacteria that cause the smell.
More specific information was offered by another case study that showed..
..that the use of an ‘oil-powder compound’ consisting of arrowroot, baking soda, basil oil, clove oil, tea tree oil, and sage oil reduced bacterial and fungal growth in shoes and socks.
In fact, a number of essential oils may be beneficial for the relief of foot odors, as explained in the following paragraphs:
Eucalyptus oil is distilled from the leaf of Eucalyptus, sp. Eucalyptus oil has a long history of use as a pharmaceutical, antiseptic, repellent, flavoring, fragrance, and also in industrial processes.
To make the essential oil, leaves of Eucalyptus are steam-distilled into a plant extract (“Eucalyptus oil,” 2014). Two aspects of Eucalyptus oil can help foot odors: Its antiseptic properties can retard the growth of bacteria, and its fresh fragrance can help mask your foot odors.
Lavender oil is extracted from the flower spikes of the lavender flower, Lavandula, sp. Lavender has long been raised for its flavor, scent, and medicinal properties.
This essential oil has anti-microbial properties when used on the skin, and a very pleasing natural aroma to help mask smelly foot odors.
Peppermint oil has a long history of use in aromatherapy and as a folk medicine. Active chemicals in peppermint oil include terpenoids and flavonoids.
Terpenoids add peppermint’s aromatic component, while flavonoids provide an anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory component. These compounds help peppermint oil to retard microbial growth and mask any foot odors with a pleasant smell, while also helping to relive inflammation of your tired feet.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is also known as melaleuca oil. It is extracted of the leaves of the narrow-leaved tea tree, Melaleuca alternifolia (not to be mistaken with the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, from which tea beverages are derived).
It is known to have a fresh, camphor-like smell, and has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (“Tea tree oil,” 2014). Applied to the feet, tea tree oil can help fight the growth of microbes that cause foot odor, and its potent natural fragrance can help mask any existing foot odors you might have.
In a study on the antimicrobial and medicinal properties of tea tree oil researchers concluded that:
There’s a wide range of laboratory studies that support the long-held beliefs that Tea Tree Oil has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties.
This study concludes “there is still a lack of clinical evidence demonstrating efficacy against bacterial, fungal, or viral infections.”
Which may lead you to think that tea tree oil may be useful as a preventative agent only. To help you keep the bacteria on your feet at bay.
However, other studies, also referred to on WebMD show tea tree oil does help cure Athlete’s foot. It also reduces allergic skin reactions and helps cure toenail infections.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an evergreen herb with culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. Thyme’s uses date back to the time of the ancient Egyptians.
Thyme oil contains 24-50% thymol, which is the component which gives thyme its flavor and odor. Thymol has very strong anti-bacterial/antifungal properties (“Thyme,” 2014). In therapy for smelly feet, thyme oil can help retard the growth of odor-causing bacteria, and its pleasant fragrance can also help mask foul foot-odors that are present.
Sage (S. officinalis) extract and tea are a folk medicine that has been traditionally used to treat excessive sweating.
Clinical trials provide evidence for some of its proclaimed medicinal properties. Whether or not essential sage oil is a potent remedy for smelly feet remains to be seen. Based on the available data it is somewhat promising.
Certain essential oils may help combat foot odors in two ways.
- First, they tend to have anti-microbial and/or anti-fungal properties, so they act against the microbes which can cause smelly feet.
- Secondly, they tend to have a very pleasant natural aroma, which can help mask any foot odors that are present. These oils are a holistic and natural way to combat foot odor, without having to resort to using drugs or other non-natural topical treatments. Masking foot odor however is not a real cure.
So do essential oils cure sweaty smelly feet?
How potent these botanical remedies are is not clear though. Tea tree oil shows to help cure other foot conditions. A blend of essential botanical oils and other compounds demonstrated to inhibit bacterial growth on feet while wearing shoes and socks.
However, real convincing clinical evidence does not exist. If you have a serious foot sweating and odor problem giving this treatment a try would probably not hurt. Some things may work for some people so why not give it a shot. If I did, I would go for tea tree essential oil or perhaps sage.
Do keep in mind that, based on what’s proven by science, other, more valid remedies are most likely better able to help you out.
Image by ilovememphis.