Sweaty hands are annoying and embarrassing, particularly if you use a computer keyboard or your sweat smudges ink and wets paper. You can disguise sweaty hands to some extent by smoothing back your hair – so that you wipe your hands on your hair – before you shake hands with anyone. But it can be embarrassing if you leave sweaty handprints on anything you touch.
What You Can Do for Sweaty Hands
First ask yourself whether your sweaty hands mean that you are excessively anxious in certain situations. If this is the case, dealing with the anxiety will lessen the problem.
You may not be excessively anxious – it may simply be that even slight, normal anxiety triggers your hands to produce too much sweat. If this is the case, you can try rubbing your palms with astringent oils, such as cypress or geranium (from health stores). You can also buy a special powder to keep your hands dry, designed for use in sports to keep a grip on the ball or racquet (available from sports shops). You apply it as a liquid, which changes into a fine dry powder. Alternatively, try 20% aluminium chloride, painting it onto your hands as described for armpits. You can buy products containing aluminium chloride from chemists without a prescription (ask for Driclor, Anhydrol Forte, Perspi-Guard or Perspirex Hand and Foot Lotion). Unfortunately, it is not as effective for hands as for armpits. If this does not work, you need to see your doctor.
What Doctors Can Do for Sweaty Hands
Help for anxiety is the obvious solution if the sweating is caused by anxiety and stress. Your doctor can discuss your anxieties, suggest ways to deal with them and might suggest beta-blocker tablets to take a couple of hours before an anxiety-provoking situation.
Iontophoresis is a treatment available through some hospital physiotherapy departments. It used to be difficult to obtain this treatment, but more hospitals now have the equipment (your doctor can find out if it is available locally).
- It involves placing your hands in a bath of tap water, through which a very small electrical current is passed for about 15 minutes.
- You may find it a slightly uncomfortable, tingling or burning sensation, and skin irritation can occur.
- It is not suitable if you could be pregnant or have a heart pacemaker.
- At first, treatment is every few days, so it is time consuming, but it is gradually decreased to once every 3 or 4 weeks.
- If you find it works well, you might consider buying the equipment to use at home. It is expensive, so you should ask the physiotherapist’s advice. (Obviously, you should not try to make home-made equipment, because you could electrocute yourself.)
Botulinum toxin injections (Botox, Dysport; look at the section on sweaty armpits) will stop or substantially reduce sweating of the palms for about 6 months. After that, repeat injections are needed. However, there is a major problem with this treatment when used for hand sweating – some people notice weakness of their hand muscles for some weeks afterwards. For this reason specialists are reluctant to use this treatment on hands.
A sympathectomy operation is probably the most effective treatment for seriously sweaty hands. For more information, look at the section on sweaty armpits.
- Sympathectomy is often done to control excessive sweating under the arms, but it is 95% successful for sweating of the hands.
- The result is immediate; you wake from the anaesthetic with dry, warm hands.
- The long-term results seem good; after about 14 years about 73% of people are still satisfied with the result (Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin 2005;43:77–80). However, it has a major drawback which is that the body may compensate by increasing sweating elsewhere – usually the trunk, but sometimes the feet – so you may end up swapping sweaty hands for a sweaty abdomen. This happens in between one-third and three-quarters of people who have had the operation. In 1 in 100, this ‘compensatory’ sweating is very severe, and they regret they had the operation. Unfortunately, the operation cannot be reversed.
- Like any other surgical operation, the actual operation has risks so is not to be undertaken lightly.
First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: December 2020