Tips for Preventing and Treating Dry, Cracked Hands

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

25 thoughts on “Tips for Preventing and Treating Dry, Cracked Hands

  1. Great tips, thanks!

    On a somewhat related note, what do you think of a recent Pinterest craze of covering your feet in shaving cream then wrapping a cloth soaked on Listerine around the foot as a way to exfoliate cracked heels & callouses?

    • Ha! Hadn’t heard about that craze. I’m not sure it would do much. Lotions with urea are good for softening callouses if you’re looking for something.

  2. Thanks so much for this post, I have serious dry problem, cracked skin, and sometimes bleeding, I visited my doctor before, he gave me chemical treatments, but that didn’t work, the problem is still there.
    I will use Vaseline, hope this will work.

  3. Essential oils are very effective against treating chapped hands and other hand problems (like poor circulation), oils like geranium and rosewood can be applied to a hand cream you already have.

  4. someone recommended kerodex to my husband- he has to wash his hands frequently at work- and it is fabulous. I’ve been using it as well, and it really makes a difference. It doesn’t leave the greasy residue that pure petrolatum does.

  5. I knew that winter conditions could cause dry skin, but I didn’t know that it could cause such extreme skin conditions as your patients hands. You give some excellent tips on how to keep that kind of extreme dry skin from happening. Thanks for the great article.

  6. The gloves point is so important! I really do agree. I think I need to practice having gloves on while I cook, do the dishes, and clean. It’s def inconvenient but I know, so so worth it. Thanks for the great tips!

  7. Thank you for that post, that was absolutely what I was looking for. The tip for wearing cotton gloves during the night will be the next thing I will try… I guess that the winter time just is another big factor for suddenly having dry skin!

  8. Nothing is worse than dry/cracked hands … well there is worse, but you know what I’m saying.

    I have always been a fan of going to sleep with moisturizing cream and cotton gloves on – at least once a week. A little tip here – I like to add a little coconut oil to my moisturizer before doing this, works great.

    Thanks for the post!

  9. Thank you for this post. I have very dry skin as well. I have tried many creams, for me essential oils work beautifully.

  10. The overnight olive oil treatment has been a lifesaver for me the past few winters. I do it for my hands and my feet and even after two or three treatments I can feel a difference.

  11. I have twins and my hands dry out after using baby wipes. I am going to try out the cotton gloves at night tip and see how I go!

  12. Thank you so much for this, living in a drier high elevation climate. I’ve always had a problem with dry hands. I’ll have to try using gloves more often.

    One thing that’s worked well for me has been using coconut oil as a moisturizer.

  13. Thanks – I like your comment regarding the soft moisturizing soaps. Just this week I heard doctors on the news again warning people of the problems associated with using the antibacterial soaps that in include Triclosan. Amazing how many people have skin problems associated with using these antibacterials and not even aware of what they are using.

  14. Thank God it’s Spring and the cold is behind us! My hands always crack and sometimes bleed in the cold, dry Winter air. Are you recommending a specific type of gloves or what? I never thought to wear gloves just to run out to my car, but anything that will make a difference in keeping my skin healthy, I’m up for trying!

    • No, you don’t have to use one specific type of gloves, but ones that are lined with cotton tend to be more comfortable on your skin.

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