Shoe Allergies: Causes and Solutions

Getting Diagnosed and Finding Hypoallergenic Shoes

Shoes
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In This Article

If you are allergic to shoes, you can have a reaction to a wide variety of adhesives, rubber chemicals, and leather treatments used in shoes and insoles. Often, the allergy produces contact dermatitis or contact urticaria. This is itchy, painful, and distressing to those who experience it.

Symptoms of Shoe Allergy

You may experience redness, heat, itching, and swelling of your feet after wearing a new pair of shoes. Sometimes this can develop within a few hours of wearing the shoes, but it might take as long as a week to appear. The symptoms can progress to feeling like the skin on your feet is chemically burned or being stung by bees.

Once the rash develops, it can take several weeks to clear once you begin avoiding the shoes or chemicals that triggered it. If you scratch the itch, you may get a secondary infection.

Causes and Diagnosis of Shoe Allergies

A dermatologist can help identify what is causing your shoe allergy. The interview your doctor will conduct with you is as important as testing. Be prepared to know which shoes cause the reaction and what part of the shoe may be at fault.

Bring your shoes with you when you visit your healthcare provider so that you can work together to identify the cause of your rash.

A rash on the top of the foot may indicate an allergy to a component in the shoe uppers—dyes, leather tanning chemicals, and adhesives. Irritation on the sole of the foot could point to rubber additives and rubber accelerants in the soles, and/or chemicals from the insoles such as glues, anti-microbial agents, dyes, and fibers. A dermatologist can test common shoe chemical allergens with a "shoe kit" or T.R.U.E patch test.

Research shows that in canvas shoes, dimethylthiocarbamylbenzothiazole sulfide (DMTBS) can cause allergic reactions. This compound is formed during rubber vulcanization. Rubber chemicals and chromates were identified as the most common irritants in a 2009 review.

In a review of children and teens with foot contact dermatitis, the most frequent allergens were potassium dichromate, thimerosal, cobalt chloride, mercapto mix, colophonium, mercury, and nickel(II) sulfate. However, new chemicals are introduced constantly in the shoe industry and new sensitivities are identified.

Treatment

Avoiding the chemicals that triggered the contact dermatitis is the key to clearing your rash. You can do your own detective work at home and identify the shoes, socks, or insoles that caused the problem. You need to ensure your inflamed feet aren't getting further exposure.

To soothe a rash from shoes, try over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Some people with shoe allergies find foot soaks to help as well. Suggestions for home remedies include:

  • Green tea foot soaks
  • Johnson's baby cooling bath
  • Apple cider vinegar

If you have a severe rash or signs of a skin infection, see your doctor or a dermatologist. You may need a stronger topical steroid cream to calm the reaction. If you have developed a skin infection, you will need antibiotic treatment.

Prevention

To prevent a reaction, avoid the chemical that is causing the shoe allergy. Because shoes contain a wide variety of possible irritants, it can be hard to find shoes that don't cause a reaction. Even if a certain manufacturer and style are OK today, the next pair may come from a different factory using different components.

Ask your dermatologist if they have access to the Contact Allergen Management Program (CAMP) through the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) and the Contact Allergen Replacement Database (CARD) from Mayo Clinic. Both can provide a list of products that don't contain the allergens that are thought to produce your symptoms.

Replace Your Socks

Microair Barrier Socks from Alpretec are designed to protect sensitive feet and have been shown to reduce symptoms in one study published in 2011. It's a good idea to discard the socks you wore with any shoes that triggered a reaction and get new socks. The allergenic compounds may remain in the socks, even after washing. Replace your socks often if you are prone to shoe dermatitis.

Find Hypoallergenic Shoes

The Shoe Allergies website offers support to people who are allergic to the adhesive para-tertiary butylphenol formaldehyde resin (PTBP-FR), which is often used to glue leather and rubber, and potassium dichromate (chrome). The site has shopping guides for shoes that are free of those chemicals, and lists of companies who claim to produce hypoallergenic shoes for those with other shoe allergies. Other options:

  • Used shoes: Many of the allergenic chemicals dissipate over time.
  • Crocs are made with closed cell foam resin and don't have any glue or rubber accelerants. Other options for people who are allergic to potassium dichromate include Think!, Hartjes, and La Sportiva.
  • Birkenstocks have a nonallergenic cork footbed. 
  • Cydwoq uses vegetable dyes which do not contain MBT.
  • Kamik makes shoes that do not have MBT or mercapto mix.
  • Sanuks may be safe for people allergic to colophony.
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Article Sources
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