I have an embarrassing confession to make. My hands sweat. They sweat a lot. They sweat more when I’m performing, but it can even make practice difficult. The more I think about it the more they sweat. I’m a pianist, and trying to stay on the keys and play accurately is next to impossible when I have hands that are literally dripping in sweat.
It’s been years since I had to worry about this though because I’ve found some techniques that have really changed my musical life. That’s not an exaggeration. Playing piano well for me was nearly impossible. If you’re struggling with this, even on a smaller scale, you’re probably looking desperately for solutions. You’ve found them.
Why Do We Sweat?
Normally we sweat when it’s hot to keep our bodies cool. We also sweat in stressful situations. Scientists aren’t really sure why we sweat when we are stressed. For musicians, performing tends to be pretty stressful. I know a lot of musicians share in this stress.
If you sweat while you perform this article will help, but if that’s the only time you sweat you probably are just like everyone else with no underlying disorder.
Do your hands sweat when you’re practicing though? In your lessons? While you’re reading this article? Do they ever sweat so much that your hands drip? You may have Palmar Hyperhidrosis
Palmar Hyperhidrosis is a condition where your cooling system is overactive. Your hands, and typically your feet as well, will sweat uncontrollably. It’s something that you can’t stop, and it can cause a lot of anxiety. It makes for one awkward handshake. Job interviews can be tough for this reason. It’s something that really needs to be addressed, but there are plenty of solutions to help. You don’t have to live with this condition.
There are some medications specifically for Palmar Hyperhidrosis, and they work. One that I used is called Drysol. It was very effective. So effective in fact my hands would crack because of how dry they would become. Sometimes it would even hurt a little. For a pianist, this was much better than slipping on the keys. I used it for a few months. The problem is that it’s not easy to apply at all.
Every night you have to apply it to your hands, and then wrap your hands in plastic wrap. No, I’m not kidding. Then you have to sleep with your hands wrapped in plastic wrap all night. Yeah, it’s no fun. For a while it was totally worth it, but then it got a little bit annoying, and I slowly stopped applying it.
Botox injections in the hands have been found to be very effective in treating Palmar Hyperhidrosis. The injections may reduce the mobility of your hands, which would be pretty detrimental for a musician. You need around 30 injections, and it lasts about 6 months. I personally never had the botox injections because of the risk that I would lose some movement capability. It’s possible they would work for you though.
Treatment with Iontophoresis is performed by placing your hands in water for 20 to 40 minutes. Mild electric shocks are then sent through the water, but they aren’t strong enough to really hurt. You need to get the treatment several times a week, and you have to go into a doctor’s office for the treatments.
After a while, you can likely go in once a week to keep the results working. Going once a week to the doctors for an hour long treatment is costly, and honestly it’s not something that sounds too fun. But it’s an option.
Another option is surgery. If you don’t have hyperhidrosis, you probably think that surgery is a little over the top, and you’d be right. But when I was struggling with this though I was seriously looking into it. Sweating can be that debilitating, especially for a musician. The surgery is a minimally invasive outpatient surgery. The surgeon opens up a small incision where they cut, burn, or clamp a nerve that causes the sweating.
If you’re considering this, you really shouldn’t take it lightly. It’s surgery, and it’s irreversible. There are quite a few side effects, many of which are common. One side effect that just about everyone experiences is called compensatory sweating. Compensatory sweating is sweating in other places like your back, legs, and chest. Some people find that this sweating is just as bad, or worse than the original hands/feet sweating.
I looked into it quite a bit in high school, but finally decided not to go this route because of all the possible risks.
If you’re reading about what to do for hyperhidrosis online, the previous treatments are all you hear about. After tons of effort I found there were much simpler solutions that really worked for me. Try these ones first. I thought my problem was so bad that I would need surgery, but in the end I got all the help I needed with just the solutions below.
Use a Fan
Yes, use a fan when you practice. I remember while I was in high school my mom would constantly tell me I should always use a fan in practice and performance and it would become my “thing”.
I wasn’t too excited about that, and I thought there was no way it was going to work anyway. Years later I gave in and bought a small fan to take to the practice rooms. And it does work. It makes practice simple. I set it up to blow right across the keys. Put that sucker on high, and there you go! No more sweaty hands.
If you feel comfortable enough with setting up a fan each time you perform, have at it. But it wasn’t for me. Luckily I found another solution that really worked for performances.
Yes it exists. And it actually works! You think this would have been the first thing I used, but after searching for months I never saw it suggested anywhere. When I first bought it many years ago, it was sold as “liquid chalk”, and it was used for exercising in the gym. I gave it a try and it actually worked.
There are products that are very literally “liquid chalk” once it dries it makes your hands white as you put chalk on them, and yes it does rub off on whatever you’re touching, like your instrument. Not great for a musician. The liquid chalk I used however had aluminum chloride (the chemical used in antiperspirants). Once dry, your hands won’t look any different and there will be no residue to come off on your instrument.
The product I initially bought is not being sold anymore unfortunately. I still have my first bottle. I only used a couple of sprays for lessons and performances so it has lasted me years.
After doing some research I found a hand lotion that works great. It’s called Carpe Antiperspirant Hand Lotion. I tried it out and it works exactly the same. You only need a little, it doesn’t last more than a few hours, but that’s all you’ll need.
You could use it before your practice every day, but you would go through it pretty fast. That’s why the fan is a great solution.
I thought I had Palmar Hyperhidrosis pretty bad, but there were plenty of treatments that worked for me. If you are going through this, or even if you just get minor sweaty palms before a performance because of stress, these techniques and products can help you out.
If you try out any of these solutions and they worked for you, let us know in the comments. Do you have a technique not listed that has helped you out? Let us know that as well!