Article medically reviewed by Dr. Gavin Chan (MBBS, cosmetic physician, liposuctionist)
Templestowe Lower and Berwick Clinics
Dr. Gavin Chan has a background in intensive care, anaesthesia, and emergency medicine. Since 2004, Dr. Chan has provided cosmetic procedures, including anti-wrinkle injections, dermal fillers, liposuction, fat transfer, skin needling, and laser treatments. He is a doctor trainer for various dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections.
What is iontophoresis?
Iontophoresis is an effective, non-invasive treatment that utilises a small electric current and tap water to help reduce hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating.
Iontophoresis is also used to deliver certain drugs through the skin. Examples of this include using iontophoresis to deliver drugs such as sodium glycopyrrolate (an ‘anti-sweating’ drug) through the skin to help stop sweating in a certain area, or to enhance the delivery of particular vitamins to the skin e.g vitamin A & C, to help rejuvenate skin.
How does iontophoresis work?
Tap water iontophoresis involves putting the affected area e.g the hands, into trays of water, that has a small direct current put through it. The exact mechanism of how it works is not known, however, patients do experience a gradual reduction in sweating over a few sessions.
Sweating can also be treated with iontophoresis and sodium glycopyrrolate. Sodium glycopyrrolate is an anti-cholinergic drug that helps to reduce the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for control of the body’s internal organs and things like sweating. Essentially, the treatment is the same as the tap water iontophoresis, except your hands are placed in sodium glycopyrrolate solution instead. The electrical current helps to drive the sodium glycopyrrolate into the skin and make it take effect there. This treatment is more effective than tap water iontophoresis, and because it has a longer lasting effect, the treatment may be better value in most cases.
Finally, iontophoresis can be used to drive skin care ingredients such as topical vitamin A and C into the skin to help rejuvenate skin. The technique here is different to the above. An electrode is passed over the skin on the face after the application of the products topically. This allows a current to flow through the skin and drive the products into the skin and increase the absorption rate by many fold.
Which areas can be treated?
Iontophoresis when can be used for the treatment of excessive sweating or hyperhydrosis of the hands (palmar), feet (plantar), and armpits (axillary). Larger areas such as the back cannot be treated for practical reasons.
Is iontophoresis suitable for treating my sweating?
Iontophoresis is a very effective treatment for those who suffer from plantar, palmar and axillary hyperhydrosis. Those who are pregnant, have cardiac pacemakers, arrhythmias, metal orthopaedic implants or epilepsy cannot be treated. The treatment is completely safe, and even children can be treated with iontophoresis; however some may not be able to tolerate the same current levels that adults can tolerate.
What does iontophoresis involve?
Feet and hands
It involves placing the affected area (hands and/or feet) into two open trays. The trays are then filled with tap water. The iontophoresis device conducts mild electrical currents through the water while your hands or feet remain immersed in the trays. The hands or feet remain submerged in the trays for 30 minutes, during the treatment the current is slowly increased until a mild tingling is felt in the affected area. Hands and feet can be treated simultaneously, with hands and feet treated in separate trays.
This involves placing wet pads which are attached to electrodes under the armpits. Electrical currents are conducted through the water while the pads remain under the armpits for the duration of the treatment. As with palmar and plantar hyperhydrosis, the current is slowly increased until a mild tingling is felt. The treatment lasts for approximately 30 minutes.
Are there any side effects?
How many sessions do I need?
For sweating the affected area should be treated in the following way:
-three times per week for three weeks
-followed by twice per week for two weeks
-followed by once per week for one month
Then maintenance treatments as required.
For iontophoresis using sodium glycopyrrolate, the treatment frequency starts at once weekly, and the interval is gradually increased as the effect takes place.
If excessive sweating recurs then more frequent treatments may be required until sweating subsides.