In an era of quick-fix wellness fads, sometimes it’s difficult to discern what’s legitimate and what’s simply a sham wrapped up in fancy PR jargon and promotion from prominent social media influencers.
In short, it’s easy to fall victim to these promises of how to obtain a certain level of health and wellness without putting in much effort. But, as is often the case, if it’s too good to be true, it’s best to get a second opinion. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.
Enter the detox food pads. Touted as a quick and easy way to remove toxins from your body — through the soles of your feet — this wellness trend has gained popularity over the past decade.
To find out whether these really work, we’ve asked three different medical experts — Debra Rose Wilson, associate professor and holistic healthcare practitioner; Dena Westphalen, a clinical pharmacist; and Philip Gregory, a drug and medication information consultant — to weigh in on the matter.
Here’s what they had to say.
What is happening to your body when you use detox foot pads?
Debra Rose Wilson: There is no evidence of any bodily response to detox pads. Most claims about these types of products include removing heavy metals, toxins, and even fat from the body. They do not. Other false advertisements include its effectiveness for treating depression, insomnia, diabetes, arthritis, and more.
Dena Westphalen: There has not been any published scientific studies to prove that anything happens to the body while using detox foot pads. The idea behind the detox foot pad is that toxins are pulled from the body by applying specific ingredients to the feet. The foot pads can contain ingredients from plants, herbs, and minerals, and often includes vinegar.
Philip Gregory: The pads themselves often contain a variety of ingredients such as vinegar, essential oils, herbal extracts, mushroom extracts, minerals, and other ingredients. The idea is that these ingredients help bring out toxins through the skin and into the pad.
Applying the pad to your foot may increase natural sweating around the pad (similar to what happens when a bandage is applied), but otherwise, nothing would be expected to happen to the body once the pad is applied.
Some people notice that there’s residue on the foot pads after use. What could be the cause of this?
DRW: There is similar residue if a few drops of distilled water are put on it too. It makes sense that the same thing would happen when your feet perspire onto the pads.
DW: Manufacturers of the detox foot pads claim that different colors on the foot pads in the morning represent different toxins being extracted from the body. The color that is apparent is likely a reaction of the mixture of sweat and vinegar.
PG: Product sellers suggest that the change in color represents the toxins that have been pulled from the body. There is no evidence to suggest this is true. It is more likely just a reaction between the ingredients in the pad and sweat from the body.
What kind of person or type of health concerns would benefit the most from this practice and why?
DRW: There is no known benefit to using detox foot pads.
DW: There are no scientifically proven health benefits.
PG: There is no scientific literature to support the idea of “detox” from the use of a specific product. Many different methods are proposed for body detoxification, including coffee enemas, specific herbal extracts, and detox foot pads. The good news is that our bodies are already well-equipped to naturally detox. That is the function of the liver.
Consuming supplements, using enemas, and applying foot pads have not been shown to improve this process. Therefore, it’s unlikely that anyone would have a noticeable health benefit from using detox foot pads.
What are the risks, if any?
DRW: There have been no risks noted in the literature, beyond spending money on a product that does not have any proven benefits.
DW: No risks have been reported other than a high cost.
PG: The main risk is the expense of the product. Another risk may be not finding appropriate medical care for a specific condition, which could delay effective treatment. For those with a medical condition like chronic fatigue, infection, or migraine headaches, appropriate medical treatment should be sought.
In your opinion, does it work? Why or why not?
DRW: Rubbing and soaking your feet are great ways to relax and give some relief to tired, aching feet as part of self-care. That said, quality research has been unable to find any benefits to “detoxing” through your feet. So no, this does not work for detoxing the body.
DW: I believe that detox foot pads are unlikely to be harmful but also have a placebo effect. A person’s feet are full of pores, just like the face. When the adhesive pad seals around the sole of the foot and encloses the area for the night, the foot sweats and the vinegar in the foot pad promotes the sweating. I do not believe that the pads have any effect in detoxing the body.
PG: Detox foot pads have no evidence to support their use. Furthermore, the theory behind their use does not make sense. In science, we would say that it is a “biologically implausible” treatment.
Dr. Debra Rose Wilson is an associate professor and holistic healthcare practitioner. She graduated from Walden University with a PhD. She teaches graduate-level psychology and nursing courses. Her expertise also includes obstetrics and breastfeeding. She is the 2017–2018 Holistic Nurse of the Year. Dr. Wilson is the managing editor of a peer-reviewed international journal. She enjoys being with her Tibetan terrier, Maggie.
Dr. Dena Westphalen is a clinical pharmacist with interests in global health, travel health and vaccinations, nootropics, and custom compounded medications. In 2017, Dr. Westphalen graduated from Creighton University with her Doctor of Pharmacy degree and is currently working as an ambulatory care pharmacist. She has volunteered in Honduras providing public health education and has received the Natural Medicines Recognition Award. Dr. Westphalen was also a scholarship recipient for IACP Compounders on Capitol Hill. In her spare time, she enjoys playing ice hockey and the acoustic guitar.
Dr. Philip Gregory is a drug and medication information consultant specializing in pharmacology, epidemiology, geriatrics, botanicals, and dietary supplements. He graduated with his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of the Pacific and completed a Master of Science degree in clinical and translational science from Creighton University. Dr. Gregory was previously editor-in-chief of Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database and has authored over 70 journal articles, book chapters, and continuing education courses. In his spare time, Dr. Gregory enjoys spending time with his children, hiking, and practicing martial arts.