Cutting-Edge Socks for Healthy Feet: Help or Hype?
Sweat-wicking! Antimicrobial! Smart technology! Dozens of so-called diabetes socks make these claims and more, vying for your attention. They sound promising, but do they really work?
We’ve got your back (and feet). Here’s a roundup of some of the newest and most popular options to see how they stack up.
The Claim: With copper-infused yarn, Copper Sole socks claim to kill 99.9 percent of athlete’s foot fungus on socks and shoe insoles after 12 hours. Three years ago, following a review of independent studies evaluating the effectiveness of the socks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the claim that the products have antifungal properties. (No large clinical trials have tested the antimicrobial effects.) But that doesn’t mean these socks can kill fungus outright or clear up athlete’s foot on your skin. What it does mean: If you have athlete’s foot fungus that transfers to your sock or insole, the socks will prevent reinfection on subsequent wears. The socks are also anti-odor, says Alastair Monk, PhD, director of clinical and scientific affairs at Cupron Inc., which developed the technology used in Copper Sole socks.
The Details: These socks cost between $5 and $18 and can be purchased at renfrosocks.com.
The Science: Unlike some companies that use a chemical spray to coat their socks, Cupron infuses the yarn with copper particles. They have been tested to last for at least 20 washings, though Monk says the copper fibers will not lose effectiveness over time. Because the copper particles are embedded in the fibers, they don’t affect the soft feel of the fabric. Plus, no special care is necessary: The socks can be thrown in the washing machine and dryer.
Sweaty feet are welcome, too. Heat, humidity, and moisture help release the copper ions in the material so they can fight fungus. “Getting sweaty allows the technology to work better to bind odor and kill odor-causing microbes,” says Monk. That’s a bonus because doctors typically recommend people with diabetes keep feet dry to prevent infection.
The Verdict: Antimicrobial socks with copper fibers, deodorant chemicals, silver particles, or silicone polymers lack long-term data, says Cary Zinkin, DPM, a podiatric physician in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “Right now, we don’t know how effective [copper technology] is,” he says. “And in most cases, I don’t believe it’s necessary.” While the socks likely won’t have a lasting advantage, Zinkin says, wearing them probably won’t do any harm.
The Claim: Sports socks from various companies, including brands like CoolMax, Brooks, and Balega, use a polyester blend (synthetic materials layered with cotton) to pull moisture away from the foot to evaporate sweat and prevent odor.
The Science: The positive and negative charges on the fibers attract water molecules. “They pull them away from the foot, but those fibers can’t hold the water, so they need an [outer] layer of something that’s absorbent, like cotton or wool,” Zinkin says.
The Verdict: “Any time you can pull the moisture away from the foot, you’ll help keep your feet drier and have less odor,” says Zinkin. Odor happens when skin bacteria hangs around a little too long and becomes funky. Drier feet are less slippery, which is good for preventing blisters and other foot wounds. The final word? “Moisture-wicking socks are terrific,” says Zinkin, particularly if you’re active.
The Claims: Siren Care’s new Siren Diabetic Socks have embedded sensors that connect via Bluetooth to an app on your phone so you can monitor your foot health. The sensors track foot temperature and alert you via the app if there is a change, such as an open sore (ulcer) that may be forming. The battery-powered socks—a coin-size battery is located on the outside of the sock, near the ankle—have minimal seams to prevent rubbing. With regular washing and drying, they last for six months.
The Details: Sock batteries die after six months, so socks must be thrown out at that time. You’ll need to sign up for a $30-a-month subscription, which includes access to the app and seven pairs of socks sent every six months. Find out more at siren.care.
The Science: The technology is based on studies that show monitoring foot temperature can result in fewer foot ulcers. “[This] can really empower the patient by giving them some feedback that normally they wouldn’t have,” says Ran Ma, a biomedical engineer and cofounder and CEO of Siren Care. Plans for upcoming clinical trials of the socks are in the works.
The Verdict: Zinkin says the product sounds interesting, but it’s so new that he’d need to investigate to determine if it’s useful. “These days, technology is amazing,” he says. “We’ve got apps coming out that are wonderfully helpful, and others that are a waste of time.” One concern is that people shy away from devices because they are too complicated and intrude on their lives. Ma agrees: “Wearables only work if you wear them,” she says. Until clinical trial results are available, the jury is out on whether these socks are worth the price.