Shoe Allergies—Causes and Solutions

Getting Diagnosed and Finding Hypoallergenic Shoes for Your Sensitivity

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Can you be allergic to your 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 begin to experience redness, heat, itching, and swelling of your feet after wearing a new pair of shoes. This can continue and progress to feeling like the skin on your feet is chemically burned or being stung by bees. If you give in and scratch the itch, you may get a secondary infection.

Causes and Diagnosis of Shoe Allergies

A dermatologist can help identify what is causing your contact dermatitis 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.

A rash on the top of the foot leads to suspicion about the chemicals and fabrics in the shoe uppers—dyes, leather tanning chemicals, and adhesives. Irritation on the sole of the foot makes you suspect chemicals such as rubber additives and rubber accelerants in the soles, and 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.

In canvas shoes, such as Sperry and Keds, dimethylthiocarbamylbenzothiazole sulfide (DMTBS) has been shown in some studies to be the culprit. It 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.

Avoiding Shoe Allergies by Finding Hypoallergenic Shoes

You have to learn how to 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 she has 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.

Get New Socks

 Microair Barrier Socks from Alpretec are designed to protect sensitive feet and have been shown to reduce symptoms in one study. One dermatologist suggested getting new socks and discarding the socks you wore with any shoes that triggered a reaction. The compounds may remain in the socks, even after washing. Replacing your socks often may be a good idea if you are prone to shoe dermatitis.

Sharing Shoe Allergy Solutions

The Shoe Allergies website offers support to people who are allergic to PTBP-FR and potassium dichromate (chrome). They have shopping guides for shoes that are free of those chemicals, grouped by country. They list companies who claim to produce hypoallergenic shoes for those with other shoe allergies. They have a message board for readers to share their problems and solutions.

A suggestion from Roy Firus, a person with shoe dermatitis, is to buy used shoes as many of the chemicals will have dissipated over time. Some suggest Crocs as they are made with closed cell foam resin and don't have any glue or rubber accelerants. Birkenstocks may be a solution as they have a nonallergenic cork footbed.  Cydwoq uses vegetable dyes which do not contain MBT. Kamik makes boy's shoes that do not have MBT or mercapto mix.

Brands suggested by users for those who are allergic to potassium dichromate include Crocs, Think!, Hartjes, and La Sportiva. A person allergic to colophony found Sanuks to be safe.

Some people find foot soaks to help if you have a reaction. Suggestions include green tea foot soaks, Johnson's baby cooling bath, or apple cider vinegar.

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