Sweating Currents: Iontophoresis

Written by Erica Roth | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD


Iontophoresis is a safe and effective treatment used primarily to reduce excessive sweating of the hands and feet.

The procedure sends a mild electrical current through the surface of an individual’s skin. The current is conducted to skin through water, but is not strong enough to give you an electric shock.

How Does Iontophoresis Work?

Most people undergo iontophoresis treatment at a doctor’s office. However, you can perform the treatments at home if you purchase the required machine. The treatment process is fairly simple.

Place the affected body part in a basin of water. A technician turns on the machine and raises the current until you feel a slight and painless tingling sensation on your skin that shouldn’t hurt. Alert the technician if you experience pain or discomfort during treatment.

This technique appears to temporarily stop the sweat glands from working, though researchers aren’t sure why. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) estimates that it helps 80 percent of people who are treated for excessive sweating. Sweating under the arms is usually not treated with this method, as underarm skin is too delicate and iontophoresis could cause painful skin irritation.

Treatment sessions are short, lasting only 10 to 20 minutes in most cases. However, you will need more than one session to notice a change in your symptoms. Some patients receive treatments on a regular basis.

Your doctor will schedule a series of treatments based on your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend that you buy a portable machine to use at home, which is available for purchase with a prescription.

Using Iontophoresis for Sports Injuries

Iontophoresis is most often used to treat severe sweating, but it may also treat a variety of sports injuries. This recommendation is supported in research published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association and the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding (JAPMA).

Studiesshow that adding anti-inflammatory medicines to the iontophoresis water can reduce heel pain and other soft tissue injuries. The electrical current helps the skin easily absorb the medications. The medication reduces swelling around the joints and relieves pain. Sprains or bursitis may respond well to treatment.

Preparing for Treatment

There is no special or advanced preparation for iontophoresis. Just be sure to remove all jewelry before treatment. Some individuals should not undergo this treatment.

They include:

  • women who are pregnant
  • people who have heart conditions
  • individuals with epilepsy
  • those with pacemakers or other metal implants such as joint replacements

Apply a small amount of Vaseline to any cuts or scratches on your skin before beginning a session. This will protect open wounds from irritation during treatment.

Some medical conditions may require that you add medications to the water basin before turning on the current.

Soft water can sometimes reduce the effectiveness of treatment. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water to regulate the pH level. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions in these situations.

Side Effects of Iontophoresis

Iontophoresis is safe and most patients tolerate the treatment well. The most common side effect is dryness of the skin. Some people might also experience blistering, skin peeling, and irritation. Treat skin irritation after each session with moisturizers if needed. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can also make you more comfortable.

The idea of exposing yourself to an electrical current might seem frightening at first. Speak to your doctor about the treatment to better understand it.

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