It’s tough to hold someone’s hand if yours are covered in sweat — not to mention how awkward it is if you’re at an interview or meeting new people (no one likes a slippery handshake). But for those suffering from sweaty hands, it’s no laughing matter.
“Technically called hyperhidrosis, excessive sweating can be an embarrassing problem,” says Dr. Leslie Baumann, an internationally board-certified dermatologist in Miami, Florida. “Unless you suffer, most people don’t realize what an impact it has on a person’s life… imagine avoiding shaking hands throughout the day.”
Fortunately, there are definitive steps a person with super-sweaty palms can take to curtail the glisten. If you’re among the clammy-clasp challenged, this is a good time to, well, take matters into your own hands.
1. Curb your anxiety
Believe it or not, one of the top triggers for sweaty palms is worrying that you’re going to have sweaty palms. “Excepting medical causes, which I believe are not that common, we can assume that almost all sweaty palms can be attributed to a form of performance anxiety,” says James I. Millhouse, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist and author of The Parents Manual of Sport Psychology. “Most people with this condition tend to experience a lot of anxiety with regard to imagined future events. A person needs to realize that perception is not necessarily reality. It is important to understand the difference between wanting something to be a certain way, such as a person liking them, and it being critical that this happen.”
When a person who sweats excessively trips their anxiety meter, their eccrine glands will kick into overdrive and produce a sticky, non-smelly sweat on their hands and feet. From a primal standpoint, this comes from the fight-or-flight response (or a need to grip something harder… like a tree branch).
The way to combat this response? Learning to take a chill pill. “Excessive sweating comes with higher activation of the sympathetic nervous system, so relaxation procedures that decrease sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation and conversely increase parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activation can act to decrease sweating,” says Millhouse.
Biofeedback, meditation, psychotherapy and self-hypnosis can all have a positive effect for those suffering from super-sweaty hands, triggered by stress. “Dealing with this condition psychophysiologically, as described above, is the first choice to eliminate this problem at the source and has produced dramatic results,” says Millhouse.
2. Use a hand antiperspirant
In the same way that you control underarm sweat with a roll-on, those ingredients will help stop slimy hands on the spot. The only problem is that regular drugstore antiperspirants can leave a film on your hands or be irritating. Fortunately, other sweaty-hand sufferers have started to develop products that can stop the sweat without the redness or obvious coating. One to check out? Carpe Lotion — an antiperspirant hand lotion that uses a much stronger and more effective aluminum salt in its composition along with eucalyptus oil (to prevent irritation) that will keep hands sweat-free for four hours or more. To use you simply rub a pea-sized amount into palms for 10 to 15 seconds, and wait 10 minutes before whatever handholding activity you wish to undertake.
Another product to try is grip spray Awesome Chalk. Although it’s marketed mainly as a fast-drying spray to use when exercising, both to get a better grip on weight and prevent blisters, you can use it outside the gym. All you do is shake the can well, hold it approximately 6 to 8 inches from your skin and spray (for roughly two to three seconds) until your hands are coated.
3. Consider a prescription
While there aren’t any over-the-counter meds a person can take to stop sweaty hands, there are some prescription pharmaceuticals that may help. “An easy trick to stopping sweaty palms, at least temporarily, is with a class of drugs called anticholinergics, two notable examples of which are atropine and dicyclomine,” says Morton Tavel, M.D., clinical professor emeritus of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and author of Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice. “They are generally used for gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers and irritable colon, but one of their regular ‘side effects’ is a dry mouth usually associated with drying of sweaty palms (not usually mentioned in the drug literature). The interruption of sweating results from blockage of the part of the nervous system that enhances sweat production.”
Though not suitable for persons with glaucoma, this class of drugs can offer relief for many with overactive sweat responses. As always, check with a physician to see if this is an option for you and heed any contraindication warnings. But, for those who might prefer to take a pill and forget about it, this is a potential sweat-reducing popper.
4. Consider Botox
Botox, the popular wrinkle-wrangler, has another use that many people may not be aware of: It can effectively treat hyperhidrosis. Though it’s not cheap (a typical treatment requires 50-100 units at $10-$15 a unit), it can be very effective in curtailing sweaty palms.
“Botox works by temporarily disabling the sweat glands in treated areas for a drastic reduction in perspiration for up to six months,” says Dr. Baumann. “A tiny needle is used to inject the Botox just under the skin’s surface to temporarily disable the sweat glands and a numbing cream is often used to keep discomfort to a minimum so there’s no downtime.”
Though Botox is only FDA approved for use in the armpits, also known as axilla, it can be used off-label for the palms, feet, scalp and beyond. Similar to topical creams, there is some evidence that results may last longer with subsequent treatments. Though this isn’t a pain-free option, it is frequently efficacious.
5. Keep a short-term arsenal handy
Let’s face it: It’s not always convenient to deal with sweaty hands in the spur of the moment. Some days, there may not be time for shots at the doc or a meditation session. When that happens, it’s good to know a few workarounds.
One super-quick fix? Use hand sanitizer, says Gillian Palette, a board-certified adult nurse practitioner, who also recommends people carry paper towels, wear cotton clothing (onto which a person could quickly wipe their hands) or wear gloves with natural fibers (stay away from synthetic fabrics as they will increase sweating and irritation).
The bottom line is: There are options — because no one should have to hold back from romantically interlocking fingers with an amour because of a few drippy digits.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2015.