Hand and Foot Dermatitis: Care Instructions

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Hand and foot dermatitis is a skin problem. It causes itching, pain, and blisters on the palms of the hands or sides of the fingers, or on the soles of the feet. It can last for several weeks before the blisters dry up and the skin peels. Sometimes the skin turns darker after the blisters heal. If you have flare-ups often, the skin can become red and cracked.

Common triggers include chemicals, like detergents and soaps. Other triggers are having wet or sweaty hands or feet; metals, such as nickel and cobalt; and stress.

People who work with their hands or feet in water are more likely to have hand and foot dermatitis. Some examples are food handlers, cleaners, and hairdressers. The condition isn't contagious.

For some people, this condition may come and go. But flare-ups may be controlled with home care and medical treatment.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If your doctor prescribes a cream, ointment, or other medicine, use it exactly as directed. If your doctor suggests a home treatment, such as soaks in Burow's solution, use it as directed.
  • Wash the affected area with water only. Remove rings, watches, and other jewelry first. If you use a cleanser, use one without fragrance or soap. Soap can make dryness and itching worse.
  • Apply a moisturizer or barrier cream as often as you can. Use a cream such as CeraVe or Cetaphil that doesn't irritate the skin or cause a rash. Apply the cream every time after you wash. Apply it while your skin is still damp after drying lightly with a towel.
  • At night, apply petroleum jelly. It protects the skin and keeps it from drying out. If you can, apply it more often.
  • Wear cotton gloves under work gloves when you cook, clean, garden, or work with water.
  • Wear clean, dry socks. Change your socks when they get wet or sweaty. Wearing moisture-wicking socks can help your feet stay dry.
  • Try to figure out if something triggers your symptoms. Avoid things that make them worse, and anything that causes burning or itching.
  • Manage or reduce your stress. Stress can make your symptoms worse.
  • Avoid scratching. This can lead to skin infections, rough patches of skin, or more itching. If itching affects your sleep or your normal activities, ask your doctor about treatments you can try.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the rash.
    • Pus draining from the rash.
    • A fever.
  • You have crusting or oozing sores.
  • You have joint aches or body aches along with your rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Itching interferes with your sleep or daily activities.
  • You do not get better as expected.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.