Top Ten Barefoot Myths

How many have you heard . . . or believed?!

Myth #1 – We need shoes for support

For long spans of human history, people functioned just fine without footwear. People who habitually go barefoot have stronger, healthier feet than those who wear shoes. The human foot, a marvel of engineering, can very capably support most people without artificial assistance. Shoes, however, weaken the foot and make normal gait impossible. Also, many shoe designs contribute to short and long term foot damage. (For more, see FAQ-9 and SBL Med)

Myth #2 – You’ll catch a cold if you go barefoot

That’s not how it works. A person catches a cold by getting infected with the related virus, either inhaling the virus or touching an infected surface with their hand and then touching their nose, eyes or mouth.  From WebMD: “Getting chilly or wet doesn’t cause you to get sick. But there are things that make you prone to come down with a cold…if you’re extremely tired, under emotional distress, or have allergies with nose and throat symptoms.”  (See also here)

Myth #3 – Bare feet spread germs and disease

Let’s not mix up sneezes with feet! Germs don’t magically jump from feet to other objects or people. Feet usually touch only the ground or floor and pose no greater risk for spreading germs than shoes do. Hands pose the greatest risk for spreading germs–as they contact infected surfaces and then touch other objects, people or even food. But despite that, businesses don’t require gloves. (See FAQ-15)

Myth #4 – You will get athlete’s foot if you go barefoot

Athlete’s foot develops when the tinea fungus grows on the feet after contact with a contaminated surface. But the fungus needs a warm, moist environment to thrive. A shoe provides that perfect environment. From the Mayo Clinic: “[Athlete’s foot] occurs most commonly in people whose feet have become very sweaty while confined within tight-fitting shoes.” People who go barefoot regularly do not develop athlete’s foot. (See also FAQ-15)

Myth #5 – You can get hookworm from going barefoot

Contracting hookworm requires stepping in contaminated soil – but that exists only where people already infected with hookworm then defecate outdoors or use human feces as fertilizer. In places with modern sewage systems (the U.S. and other developed countries), a person has a virtually zero chance of getting hookworm. (See FAQ-15)

Myth #6 – Feet smell bad

Feet, by themselves, do not produce odor. But feet do have many sweat glands, and if feet stay in closed, warm and dark environments (inside of a shoe), certain bacteria which break down sweat have a chance to grow and do their mischief – resulting in foot odor (bromodosis). However, feet exposed to open air do not allow these bacteria to thrive – and thus do not develop that characteristic odor.  (For more, see this health article: “Why Do Feet Stink?)

Myth #7 – Feet are ugly and should be covered

Well, feet regularly strapped or encased in shoes often do develop deformities (corns, bunions, hammer toes) and ailments (athlete’s foot, toenail fungus) that adversely affect their appearance. But healthy feet generally look fine and should not bother anyone. (See FAQ-09)

Myth #8 – It’s illegal to go barefoot in stores and restaurants

In the U.S., no state health code requires footwear for customers. Also (with very rare exceptions), no local or federal laws require people to wear shoes in public areas. (See FAQ-20) A private business may set its own dress code (including requiring shoes), but that has nothing to do with any law, health code or insurance requirement.

Myth #9 – Businesses ban bare feet because of the risk of liability

Neither business insurance policies nor OSHA regulations require footwear for customers (HD/OSHA). Worries about liability usually stem from misunderstandings about actual liability law. Wearing high heels or slippery-soled shoes pose a far greater safety risk than going barefoot – yet businesses don’t try to ban those. (See FAQ-20)

Myth #10 – All stores ban bare feet

Actually, most stores do not. They don’t need to. Businesses that do often mistakenly assume that a health code or liability concern requires the wearing of shoes (or even shirt and shoes). And sometimes, a misinformed employee will believe they must enforce a rule or policy which, in fact, does not exist (see Myths #8 and #9 above).

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Additional lists of Barefoot myths: