Tips for Preventing and Treating Dry, Cracked Hands

Tips on how to prevent and treat dry, cracked hands in wintertime.

Young girl in Red Cross uniform

When I went to shake my patient’s hand the other day, she reciprocated with a gloved hand. It was 70 degrees out and sunny.

“Are you OK?” I asked.

“My hands are such a mess, I’ve resorted to wearing gloves,” she said.

After coaxing her to remove her gloves, I saw why she was dismayed. The skin on her hands was red, chafed, and cracked. She didn’t have a skin disease. She had extremely dry skin.

She’s not alone. In wintertime as temperatures drop, the relative humidity in the air also drops causing moisture to evaporate more quickly on your skin, leading to dry skin. In some cases, the skin becomes chapped (like chapped lips), cracks, and bleeds. While not dangerous to your health, it can be painful and frustrating. I assure you, there’s help!

Let’s start with how to keep your hands moisturized and healthy. You can help prevent dry, cracked hands by:

1. Using warm, not hot water to wash your hands.

2. Using gentle moisturizing soaps with softening ingredients such as glycerin or lanolin, not harsh bar soaps that strip natural oils off your skin.

3. Applying moisturizer after every hand wash while hands are still damp and gently pat dry.

4. Using hand gel sanitizers that are less drying than soap and water.

Already got dry hands? Here are 4 tips for treating dry, cracked hands:

1. Nighttime deep moisturizing: When you sleep, your hands get a break from the daily beating they take from water, wind, soap, and anything else that can irritate them. And since you sleep 7-8 hours (You do, don’t you?), your skin has time to  heal. You don’t need expensive designer moisturizers. Any moisturizing cream will do. Look for ingredients such as dimethicone or glycerin which lock moisture in the skin. Many creams are thicker and oiler than lotions, so they’re preferable for nighttime use.

You can also use plain ol’ petrolatum (Vaseline petroleum jelly) or all-natural olive oil. Coat your hands thoroughly, rubbing in the product around nails and cuts. Then cover your hands with cotton gloves (or even soft socks). You’ll notice a marked improvement when you wake up the next morning. Do this as often as needed until your hands are healed. It can take up to 2 weeks for badly chapped skin to heal completely.

2. Make friends with gloves. Wear gloves at all times when you’re outdoors. That includes when you’re running from your car to your office, when you’re carrying in the groceries, and when you’re pumping gas. Covered skin is protected skin.

You must also wear gloves when cooking, washing dishes, or doing any type of cleaning. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but it works. The more you wet and dry your cracked hands, the longer they will take to heal. And harsh chemicals found in many cleaners can exacerbate your already chapped, painful skin. I recommend wearing cotton-lined rubber gloves, such as Mr. Clean Bliss Gloves, which won’t make your hands sweat. You can even apply lotion to your hands before you put on the gloves for added protection and moisturization. Even better, tell your spouse, kids, or significant other that you can’t cook or clean for a week or more until your hands begin to heal. When they balk, simply say, “Doctor’s orders.”

3. Replace lotions with creams. Switch from thinner lotions to thicker moisturizing creams which create a protective barrier on your skin. Any OTC moisturizing cream will do; just look for ones containing petrolatum, shea butter, mineral oil, lanolin, or dimethicone which help prevent water evaporation on your skin. I like Eucerin Intensive Repair Hand Cream, and Neutrogena Hand Cream (just remember to splash water on your hands before applying the Neutrogena cream for optimal absorption).

When to seek treatment?

If your hands are itchy, bleeding, and painful and aren’t responding to OTC treatments, then see your doctor.

How about you? Do you have any tips for treating dry, chapped hands? If so, please share them in the comment section below.

Photo credit: FCC, Powerhouse Museum Collection

Can Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?

Dandruff, no matter how severs, cannot cause hair loss.

Hole BioPic 05 F

Dandruff cannot cause hair loss.

While claims abound that dandruff causes hair loss and balding, there is no scientific evidence that it does. Though unsightly, dandruff is normal. Almost everyone experiences it at some point in his or her life, though it afflicts men more often. (For more on that, check out a recent post of mine titled, “The Truth About Men and Dandruff.“)

If you have dandruff and are experiencing patchy hair loss, then it could be any number of other hair loss diseases, including male pattern hair loss or alopecia aerata. See your dermatologist who can help you.

Photo credit: FCC, Carolyn P. Speranza

The Healthiest Thing You Can Do For Yourself

The best thing you can do for your health is exercise. Regular exercise is linked to a reduced risk for heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s and can even help you live longer.

disconnect

An overweight patient of mine who is frustrated that exercising isn’t helping her lose enough weight told me that she plans to stop exercising and just keep dieting. Can you relate? I know that slow weight loss can be disheartening. But, if there is one change you make in 2013, please have it be to start exercising every day.

We humans were never meant to live the sedentary lifestyle we do. Our prehistoric ancestors had to hunt and forage to survive. We order take-out from the comfort of our couches and have it delivered. And our bodies don’t like it. That’s part of the reason why 1 in 3 Americans is obese.

Here’s the truth about weight loss: Diets alone can help you lose weight. But a combination of diet and exercise will help you become healthier in many ways and live a happier, longer life.

The best part is that even if you’re older or overweight, exercise still has clear health benefits. An August 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that people who were most fit in midlife were at a reduced risk for developing chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s longer. Why? Researchers believe that regular exercise leads to strong cardiovascular health and improved cellular function.

And if reducing your risk for diabetes and Alzheimer’s isn’t enough, a November 2012 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that regular exercise can literally add years to your life — anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 years — even if you’re obese. Indeed, they found that obese people who exercised were healthier than their thinner couch potato counterparts. That’s because exercise, even without weight loss, is linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Physically fit people also suffer fewer side effects from illness.

By the end of our appointment, I felt like I had convinced my patient to not give up on exercise, despite her slow weight loss. I also shared with her some other surprising health benefits of exercise such as a reduced risk for skin cancer, which she was happy to learn about. I also hope that by the end of this post, I’ve inspired you to exercise for your overall health. If not, I’ll keep working at it because you’re worth it.

Photo credit: FCC, ozanhatipoglu