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

Is Your Hand Sanitizer Causing Hand Dermatitis?

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are effective reducing the spread of disease, but overuse can lead to severe hand dermatitis.

Hand Sanitiser Cloud

They’re everywhere: airports, schools, hospitals, movie theaters, and on many people’s key chains and backpacks: hand sanitizers.

A recent article in Cosmetic Dermatology titled “Rethinking Hand Sanitizers” looks at the benefits and drawbacks of hand sanitizers.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers when used properly do help prevent the spread of disease.  They’ve been endorsed by the World Health Organization and have played an important role in reducing the impact influenza and other infections.

Unfortunately, hand sanitizers are also a major cause of hand dermatitis which can lead to severe dryness, burning, redness, and cracked, bleeding skin.

So, should you stop using hand sanitizers? Not yet. They’re still less drying than soap-and-water hand washing. Instead, try this: Use hand sanitizers when necessary. And moisturize frequently.

If you develop a raging case of hand dermatitis, then follow these steps:

1. Stop using hand sanitizers, unless absolutely necessary.

2. Treat your hands to thick moisturizing creams, such as Neutrogena Hand Cream, and apply repeatedly throughout the day.

3. At night, apply a thick moisturizing cream or a healing ointment such as Aquaphor to your hands and wear cotton gloves to trap moisture in the skin.

4. It may take up to 2-3 weeks for your hands to heal at which point you can start to safely use your hand sanitizer again. But don’t stop the moisturizing, unless you want to keep repeating steps 1-3.

Here’s a video that shows you how to properly use hand sanitizer.

Photo credit: FCC, bratha

Seeing Spots: Brown, Liver, Age and Sun Spots

Sun spots are caused by excess sun exposure and can be best removed by cryotherapy and laser treatments.

Veronica Lake

Recently, while I was in Providence, RI my father-in-law pointed to the flurry of brown spots on the back of his hand and asked, “Are these liver spots?”

They’re not liver spots or age spots. Brown spots on the back of your hands are sun spots caused from excess sun exposure and aging. They have nothing to do with your liver.

They appear most commonly on the back of your hands, your face, and your forearms and are usually benign. The best prevention against developing sun spots is sunscreen and clothing.

The best treatments for removing sun spots are cryotherapy (having a dermatologist freeze them off with liquid nitrogen) or laser treatments. Bleaching creams and Retin-A do little to remove sun spots, while at-home treatments such as lemon juice and baking soda scrubs do nothing. Once the spots are removed, you must wear sunscreen or they’ll come back.

Or you could do like Veronica Lake did and wear glamorous long cotton or silk gloves. Course I don’t think I’ll recommend that to my father-in-law.

Photo credit: FCC, RobertHuffStutter