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Detox foot pads are a popular way to cleanse while you sleep, but health claims as to their safety and effectiveness are suspect at best. In fact, these products can be a source of potent toxins themselves.
Every few years, a new silver bullet grips the health community. Atkins. Bone broth. Detoxing. Fermented foods. Paleo. Green smoothies. Keto. BPC. With each new movement, dozens of products flood the market, duking it out for consumer attention and dollars. Some are legit and beneficial, others are not. Enter detox foot pads.
What if you could improve your health and stave off chronic diseases while you sleep? Even better, do it for just a few dollars a week?
The health claims are enticing, particularly for consumers who tend to fall for silver bullet-style marketing:
Applying Kinoki Foot Pads to the soles of the feet at night removes heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, chemicals, and cellulite from their bodies. Use of the foot pads could treat depression, fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system. (1)
While these claims from an FTC lawsuit almost a decade old seem awe-inspiring enough, online manufacturers don’t appear to have dialed back the supposed benefits one bit. In fact, these claims are about as over the top as that gizmo called the fascia blaster.
Claims for detox food pads run the gamut from reduced joint stiffness, help for insomnia, and weight gain to the resolution of a dull complexion and even bad breath.
So, what are these things anyway, do any of the brands out there actually work and should you spend your money on them?
What are Detox Foot Pads?
Detox food pads are similar in construction to tea bags. A mixture of herbs, minerals, and other ingredients are placed into a thin, permeable bag, usually made of cotton.
One bag is placed on the sole of each foot secured in place using adhesive patches that come with the pads. This is done just before bed. In the morning, the patch and pads are removed and discarded. This, of course, after plenty of “oohing” and “aahing” at the disgusting color of each pad!
They must be working, right?
While the pads vary somewhat with regards to contents, a number of ingredients are generally common across all types of footpads.
Common Detox Pad Ingredients
- Wood vinegar (oak and bamboo common)
- Tourmaline (gemstone)
- Houttuynia Cordata
- Agicarus Mushroom
Others contain additional herbs, vitamins, minerals, sea salt, and other substances. Examples include:
- Himalayan sea salt
- Vitamin C
- Negative ion powder
- Loquat leaf
- Saurus Chinesis (Asian lizard’s tail)
- Vegetable fiber
How Do Foot Pads Work?
Manufacturers claim that the pads work by removing toxins from the body via the feet.
The question is, is there any independent research or testing that shows these claims are credible? Do studies support their safety and effectiveness?
While there is no hard and fast evidence that detox foot pads are dangerous (see caveat below!), there is also no independent research that shows them to be effective either. In fact, the only tests that have been done on detox foot pads indicate that they provide no benefit whatsoever. (2)
Why do Detox Foot Pads Change Color?
Manufacturers claim that the color change of the pads is from the removal of toxins and other problematic compounds from our bodies. But if you add purified, distilled water to the pads (which contains no toxins), they change color just the same as they do when pressed against the feet (where, from sweat, the pads will also change color from water exposure). Mmm, sounds a bit like ear candling so far, doesn’t it?
This alone isn’t proof that the pads are not drawing out something with the sweat, though.
One investigative journalist had a number of different people use pads and then had a lab test them for toxins. The result? The lab found no evidence of any toxins whatsoever in the used pads. In subsequent tests, they did find lead in a few of the samples, but that could have come from ingredients in the pads themselves. (2)
Another investigator conducted a similar experiment with the footpads. These test results showed no difference in the composition of the pads before and after use. It did find arsenic and other heavy metals present in the pads before use. And that is where is the (foot) rub comes! (3)
While there is no evidence detox foot pads offer any health benefits, there is definitely a concern that they possibly contain dangerous heavy metals or other chemical contaminants!
The potential contamination of footpads isn’t surprising, as the adulteration of herbs and other health products is well known. Study after study and random sampling after random sampling found large numbers of companies selling contaminated, adulterated supplements, herbs, spices, and other such health products.
The investigation, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, focused on a variety of herbal supplements from four major retailers: GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreen Co. Lab tests determined that only 21 percent of the products actually had DNA from the the plants advertised on the labels. (4)
Hence, this is the one real danger with detox pads and a lot of other health products and supplements. Not only are many suspect in terms of their effectiveness, but a large number are also possibly dangerous because of their poor quality. Also note, consumers shouldn’t just be concerned about natural contaminants. Studies have also shown purposeful adulteration with pharmaceutical type compounds!
Pharmaceutical adulterants include appetite suppressors, stimulants, antidepressants, anxiolytics, diuretics, and laxatives in weight-loss PFS, phosphodiesterase type-5 enzyme (PDE-5) inhibitors in sexual performance enhancement, and anabolic steroids and prohormones in supplements used for muscle building/sports performance enhancement. An additional problem concerns the use of analogs of those substances, for which no pharmacological studies are available, and also the use of counterfeit drugs of doubtful quality. (5)
Toxic Material in the Pads
In some instances, the material used to enclose the “active ingredients” in foot pads can also be toxic. This is a similar problem to how tea bags are made.
Organic foot pads are a risk as well. For example, even if the primary ingredient is cotton, plastic and other petroleum-based chemicals can be added to give the pad more durability. For sensitive individuals, these substances may cause skin irritation or a rash.
Thus, while these products are touted as detoxifying, allowing unsafe additives to contact the skin for many hours at a time is unwise. The skin easily absorbs a significant amount of toxins via contact alone. (6)
Ironically then, pads attached to the feet for the purpose of detoxification may actually be a source of toxicity themselves!
Independent Testing of Detox Food Pad Manufacturers
A few companies claim their protects are “different” than the rest on the market. In other words, most detox foot pads are scams, except the ones they offer. “Their products are the real deal.”
If these assertions are true, I hope independent, properly structured, and conducted tests are provided to the public to back up the claims.
As an aside, for a few years now, I have kept thinking about how the health community needs its own version of Underwriters Laboratory to test products, supplements, and other such things so that consumers can have greater confidence on how to spend their money.
No Scientific Studies to Back Up Claims
Ultimately, consumers should beware of spending their money on footpads with deceptive health claims. There is no scientific evidence to back up the marketing spin. If something seems too good to be true, it is!
The Mayo Clinic doesn’t mince words in its assessment of these alleged health devices:
No scientific studies have been published that show that detox foot pads work or that they’re safe. The Federal Trade Commission has even charged some distributors of detox foot pads with deceptive advertising. (7)
What Podiatrists Have to Say
Foot doctors aren’t convinced that detoxing pads attached to the feet are of any benefit either.
Podiatrist Constance Corry has this to say about the footpad gimmick:
Your feet are not very permeable. The skin on the sole of your foot is among the thickest on the body… and yet that is where you are supposed to put the patches. Why? Wouldn’t that stop you detoxing as effectively? If that was the manufacturers’ aim, wouldn’t they want you to put them on thinner skin, on skin with very high circulation that will allow for higher removal of ‘toxins’ from the bloodstream? (8)
Dr. Corry goes on to debunk the color changing of the pads, which fools so many people into thinking they are “working”:
These pads react to warmth and water to change colour. Foot detox patches turn black when held in clean steam from a kettle. You may be told to keep using these patches until they are pale or white when you take them off in the morning, when you will be ‘detoxed’. If your feet sweat at night you could continue using these things indefinitely, watching them turn black from the water, still convinced that you have more ‘toxins’ to expel. (8)
When it comes to detox foot pads, it seems there is not a single reason to spend your money on them. This is especially true considering that there are studies that show that the best way to protect ourselves from toxins is to stop ingesting or otherwise exposing ourselves to them in the first place!
Spend your money on better quality food and green home products. This reduces your need to detoxify at all!
(1) FTC Charges Marketers of Kinoki Foot Pads with Deceptive Advertising; Seeks Funds for Consumer Redress
(2) Kinoki Foot Pads Don’t Stand Up to Science
(3) Japanese Foot Pads is Latest Health Fad
(4) Herbal Supplements Filled with Fake Ingredients
(5) Adulteration of Dietary Supplements by the Illegal Addition of Synthetic Drugs: A Review
(6) Chemical Exposures: The Ugly Side of Beauty Products
(7) Mayo Clinic: Do Detox Foot Pads Really Work?
(8) Beware the Dangers of “Detoxing”