Is Walking Barefoot Bad for My Feet? We Asked a Podiatrist

You take off your shoes every time you get home—and ask anyone visiting to do the same. But is walking barefoot bad for your feet? Even indoors? Let's see what the experts have to say.

Here’s What Happens If You Don’t Wear Shoes At Home, According to a Podiatrist

woman walking barefoot on a dock
Sam Edwards/getty images

Risks Associated With Walking Around Barefoot 

We checked in with Dr. Miguel Cunha, founder of Gotham Footcare in New York City, who told us, “I always advise people from walking barefoot, especially in public.” Here are some of the risks associated with forgoing shoes.

1. Athlete’s Foot

Hey, you, showering without flip-flops in the locker room. Listen up. “Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the foot that develops commonly on the soles of the feet and in between the toes,” Dr. Cunha tells us. It usually produces itchy, dry, scaling skin or, in more severe cases, inflammation, cracks and blisters. Dr. Cunha sees a lot of these issues as a result of people walking barefoot in public places or at the gym, since your feet are exposed to bacterial and fungal organisms that can infect the skin and nails.

2. Plantar Fasciitis

According to Dr. Cunha, “Your foot contains a thick band of tissue called plantar fascia that stretches from your heel to your toes. That tissue’s job is to support the muscles and arch of your foot.” Too much tension on the tissue can cause it to stretch too far, resulting in tiny tears that cause pain and inflammation. What causes too much tension? It could be walking around without shoes on, since there’s no arch support when you’re barefoot. “Walking barefoot allows your feet to flatten as your arch collapses, which will cause arch and heel pain.” Ouch, ouch, ouch.

3. Nail Fungus

Unsightly + painful = yikes. Nail fungus is a condition that occurs when a microscopic fungus enters one or more nails, and often begins as athlete’s foot (which we’ve already established is often caused by walking barefoot). “As the nail fungus penetrates deeper into the nail,” Dr. Cunha says, “it may cause the nail to discolor, thicken and develop crumbling edges.” He says that nail fungus can be treated at home using an over-the-counter ointment, but he suggests seeing a podiatrist, who can likely solve the problem in a matter of weeks (versus months).

4. Plantar Warts

A wart is “a thickened and elevated small growth of skin that develops when the skin becomes infected by the human papillomavirus (HPV),” Dr. Cunha says. They can develop anywhere on the foot, but typically occur on areas of direct pressure under the foot, such as the ball and the heel. “If you walk barefoot in public, like at the pool or waterpark, you can catch warts, as they are easily contagious.”

barefoot temp
Anne Puhlmann Photography/getty images

Potential Benefits of Walking Barefoot

You might have come across the trend of walking barefoot that's known as "earthing" or "grounding." Earthing is walking barefoot on grass, sand or any other natural surface.

Though it hasn't been thoroughly researched—and many podiatrists, including Dr. Cunha, are against it—proponents say that earthing brings you in contact with the earth. This is said to transfer the earth’s electrons into your body, inducing therapeutic effects from reduced inflammation stress to improved mood and sleep.

woman walking in platform shoes
Matthew Sperzel/getty images

What Shoes Should You Wear Outdoors?

1. Riding Boots

Dr. Cunha is a fan of the very slight heel most riding boots have. “It’s actually better for you than shoes that are completely flat,” he tells us, “because it takes the stress off the Achilles, which can help maintain proper posture and alignment of your ankles, knees and spine.” Everyone's feet pronate (a natural movement of the foot that occurs when your foot lands while running or walking), but flat shoes can cause your feet to pronate too much, which could increase the progression of underlying foot deformities like bunions and hammertoes. No, thanks! Also, look for riding boots that have a wider toe box, “which will give the forefoot more wiggle room and places less aggravation onto feet,” Dr. Cunha says.

2. Low Wedges

According to Dr. Cunha, a low wedge (we’re talking three inches max, preferably with only a 1.5-inch difference between the heel and the toe) allows you to add a little height without overworking your arch. In general, the foot expert advises against any heel over three inches, since higher styles change the way you walk, which could lead to shorter strides, more pressure placed on the balls of your feet and unnecessary stress on your knees and lower back. Another advantage of the wedge boot? It provides support to the foot and ankle—but remember, only if it’s lower than three inches.

3. Chelsea Boots

As previously mentioned, wearing a short heel is preferable to a completely flat shoe. Another great option, then, is a Chelsea boot with a low, thick heel. Dr. Cunha stresses the importance of choosing a chunkier heel with a wider toe box, to accommodate the toes comfortably. This, he tells us, can reduce the probability of developing Morton’s neuroma (a condition that affects the ball of your foot) or aggravating an existing bunion.

4. Block Heels

Stilettos simply aren’t good for your feet, we all know this. Because of their height (and how thin the heels are), a single night in stilettos means risking ankle sprains and foot injuries, Dr. Cunha says. If you’re looking for a taller shoe, he suggests a block heel with an ankle strap, which will offer support, hold up your weight better than a stiletto and reduce the risk of a twisted ankle. They’re also much comfier to wear and easier to walk in. Win-win.

5. Oxfords

The advantage of the oxford, Dr. Cunha says, is that they have a little bit of a heel to them, and offer your toes more breathing room, which eliminates the risk of ingrown nails, irritation, bunions and more. Foot health benefits aside, we love how they add a borrowed-from-the-boys flair to any look.

slippers on the floor
Carlina Teteris/getty images

What About at Home?

Dr. Cunha tells us, “I strongly advise against wearing outdoor shoes indoors to avoid the unnecessary and non-hygienic transfer of soil, bacteria, viruses and pollen from the environment into our homes.”. That said, your favorite cozy slippers might not be a good choice either. “It is important to pick a shoe that offers as much durability and protection as possible without sacrificing comfort or flexibility.” He specifically recommends the new footwear brand Muvez, which has a removable outdoor-only sole so you can easily transition from running errands to running after your two year-old.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...