Cleaning your feet may seem like a no-brainer, but are you really doing a good job?
Toe jam, that gunk that builds up between your toes, can result if you’re not properly cleaning your feet and toes. Like ear wax, mucus, and many other bodily residues, toe jam has an ick factor that most of us would rather not think about. But the issue can have several different causes — some of them more serious than others — so it pays to give your feet special attention.
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What Is Toe Jam?
So-called toe jam isn’t just one substance. In fact, it can have multiple sources, from the benign to the worrisome. Toe jam is a nonmedical, umbrella term that refers to the smelly gunk which can accumulate between the toes. When feet are often sweaty or not washed frequently, toe jam may be more likely to result. Luckily, the condition is usually not serious and responds well to simple lifestyle changes.
What is toe jam made of?
Lint from your socks. A common and harmless cause of toe jam is simply sock lint—fuzzy bits of material that rub off between your toes. Wash new socks inside-out before wearing them to cut back on loose lint.
Dry skin. Eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions can result in flakes of dry skin that can combine with sweat, resulting in gunk between your toes. Treating a skin condition may help reduce toe jam.
Foot problems. Corns — thickened layers of skin due to pressure — can form between toes. When corns become softened through contact with sweat or other moisture sources, they may contribute to toe jam.
Athlete’s foot. Fungal infections, such as those caused by athlete’s foot, thrive in warm, moist environments like shoes and are a common source of toe gunk. Wearing clean socks, keeping feet clean and dry, and using antifungal products can help treat athlete’s foot and, in turn, toe jam.
Scabies. This highly contagious infection occurs when tiny mites burrow into the skin, including between the toes. In rare instances, it can cause toe jam. If you have scabies, your physician can prescribe an effective treatment to eliminate it.
What Causes Toe Jam?
While toe jam is typically only a buildup of dry skin with a smell between toes, there are some conditions that can cause more toe jam. They include:
- Skin conditions —Eczema or psoriasis may cause more toe jam.
- Chemotherapy — Chemotherapy can weaken the immune system and create an environment for fungal infections to take root.
- Diabetic neuropathy — Diabetes has numerous effects on the skin of the feet, including swelling and ulcers that can become infected and increase toe jam.
How to Get Rid of Toe Jam
Washing your feet and drying them completely is the best way to get rid of toe jam — optimally twice per day.
How to Prevent Toe Jam
You can cut back on toe jam by addressing the sources mentioned above. In addition, good foot hygiene can go a long way to preventing the problem. Here are some tips:
- Change your socks after they get sweaty or wet.
- Wear open-toed shoes.
- Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch between toes to help keep them dry and prevent infection.
- Keep corns and calluses smooth by using a pumice stone.
See your physician if you think you have an infection.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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