In contrast, 28% of patients treated with the lower dose and 17% of placebo-treated patients completely or almost completely responded.
The second study involved 249 patients in Europe and Canada. All had suffered from hand eczema for years. Steroid ointments no longer worked for them, Lynde says.
All received the higher dose of alitretinoin for up to 24 weeks.
The hand rash cleared up in 47% of patients.
The third study was designed to determine if the drug could help patients who relapse after treatment with alitretinoin.
"About a third relapsed, so we tried alitretinoin again," Lynde says.
It worked, with the rash resolving in about four-fifths of patients given the 30-milligram dose. In contrast, fewer than 10% of patients given a placebo responded.
Alitretinoin doesn't work overnight -- it typically takes four to six weeks to see any change, Lynde says. And not everyone responds.
"But this does offer new hope for dermatitis we thought was incurable. Patients improve and quite a few go into remission," he says.
The most frequent side effects are headache and dryness and flushing of the skin, Lynde says. Also, it can cause serious, even fatal birth defects, so women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant should never take it, he says.
Additionally, the medication can make you more sensitive to the sun, so you may burn more easily, says past AAD president Darrell S. Rigel, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
"On the flip side, chronic hand eczema is very hard to treat. If it’s so severe you don't want to go out in public or you’re in business and don’t want to shake hands, this appears to offer a good option," he tells WebMD.