Exfoliative keratolysis (EK), also called keratolysis exfoliativa, is a chronic skin condition with periods of flare-ups and remission. EK is tricky to manage because your skin can become quite dry, but the condition is aggravated by moisture. Although there is no standard treatment or cure for EK, there are ways you can minimize the blisters, peeling and potential for skin irritation.
Use Simple Skin Care
You want to minimize contact between your hands and potentially irritating products, which can make peeling worse. When washing your hands, use a mild, hypoallergenic soap and warm water. The ideal soaps for handwashing will be free of dyes and perfumes, such as soaps for sensitive skin or babies. When you are bathing or washing dishes, consider wearing latex gloves to keep your hands protected from harsh soaps or detergents.
You can also wear latex gloves when applying your favorite body and hair care products. Wearing gloves when your hands are exposed to water for long periods can also reduce peeling. You may notice after washing your hands, your hands blister and peel more. Although it is unavoidable, both water and friction seem to exacerbate EK.
Don't Be Abrasive
It may be tempting to peel the skin as new blisters form or use body scrubs to accelerate the exfoliation process. Since your skin is not exfoliating in a normal manner, helping the exfoliation along will only make the problem worse. Areas of your palms where the skin has peeled will often form new blisters from the friction. EK is generally not painful, but when the same areas of your palms repeatedly blister and peel, the area can become irritated and vulnerable to infection.
Look For Patterns
Most people with EK will notice certain seasons or the current state of their health can cause or exacerbate flare-ups. For example, if you have severe seasonal allergies, EK may be worse from late winter to early fall. If you notice a correlation between allergies and EK, you may want to consider changing your current allergy treatment. In severe cases of EK, prescription corticosteroids may be helpful to gain control over the condition temporarily.
Although EK most commonly affects the palms, it can also affect your feet. If the soles of your feet are affected by EK, you may notice more flare-ups in the warmer months. Since the moisture from sweaty feet can encourage peeling, keeping your feet dry can be helpful. Make sure you wear breathable socks made from cotton and choose open shoes whenever possible. Foot powders and sprays are also effective at keeping your feet dry. You can apply an unscented antiperspirant to the soles of your feet if the skin is not irritated and it does not worsen the condition.
Although EK is rarely a painful dermatological condition, you may find the condition is embarrassing and a nuisance. If you are frustrated with flare-ups, you may want to talk to a dermatologist, like Henry E. Wiley, III, M.D. Even without a known cure for EK, a combination of lifestyle and prescription treatments can help you minimize the unsightly blisters and peeling.