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

3 Ways To Keep Warts From Spreading on Your Hands

Witches Party! Postcard art collection

Warts aren’t just for witches. People of all ages and races get warts, those ugly, sometimes painful skin growths, most commonly found on hands, feet, and genitals. That’s because warts are caused by a virus, the human papillomavirus (HPV), that’s highly contagious and easily transmitted. You can get a wart by touching someone else’s warts, by touching contaminated surfaces such as soiled towels, or by picking at a wart, causing it to spread to other areas.

Here are three ways to keep warts from spreading on your hands:

1. Stop chewing your nails. Nail biting is the fastest way to spread warts. Nail biting causes tiny tears in the skin on your fingertips and on the nail beds which pokes a whole huge in your front line defense against HPV. The virus finds these tiny openings, takes root, and grows.

2. Stay moisturized: By keeping your skin moisturized, you create a powerful barrier against viruses. Remember that moisturized skin is healthy skin. When skin is dry and cracked, it’s vulnerable, making it easy for HPV to enter the skin and infect you.

3. Wash your hands regularly: Hand-washing is cheap, easy, and effective in the battle against spreading warts. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and to dry them throughly with a clean towel, paper towel, or air dryer.

Photo credit, FCC, koiart71.

How to Prevent Dry, Cracked Hands

What causes extremely dry, cracked hands and how to treat them.

We’ve all heard it a million times. The #1 thing you can do to prevent catching a cold is to wash your hands. But what happens when all the hand-washing causes other problems like extreme dryness?

In wintertime as temperatures drop, the relative humidity in the air also drops causing moisture to evaporate more quickly on your skin and leading to dry skin. Now there’s dry skin, and there’s really dry skin. The other day a patient splayed her hands out in front of her, and asked, “What do I do?” Her hands were cracked and bloodied, her nails were peeling and brittle, and she was clearly frustrated. She told me she washes her hands several times a day so she won’t get sick. She’s doing the right thing, sort of.

It’s true that frequent hand-washing reduces the spread of colds and flu, so I don’t want you to stop. Here’s what you need to do instead:

1. Moisturize every time you wash your hands. When you wash your hands with soap, especially harsh antibacterial soap, you strip natural oils off your skin, leaving it vulnerable to dryness and cracking. The only way to return moisture to the skin is to apply moisturizer. Look for hand moisturizers that contain dimethicone or silicone which helps sooth and moisturize skin and form a protective barrier that won’t leave your skin greasy, such as Eucerin Plus Intensive Repair Hand Creme. Once you find a moisturizer you like, buy several and place them everywhere you might use them, such as on your desk, in your car, next to your bathroom and kitchen sinks, on your nightstand. Every time you wash your hands, apply the moisturizer. Yes, every time. Massage it into your hands and nails. If you do this consistently, you should notice a significant improvement within a week or two.

2. Use alcohol hand sanitizers more frequently. Though it may seem strange, water-less hand alcohol sanitizers are actually much less drying than hand-washing because they don’t strip the oils off your skin. Dry skin is an oil problem, not a water problem, so you want to preserve those protective oils on your skin to keep it moisturized. Make sure you use hand sanitizer that contains at least 62% alcohol to kill germs. Also, make sure you rub it vigorously into your hands, including between your fingers and along your nails, until the gel has completely dried. Though effective in killing germs related to the common cold, hand alcohol sanitizers are not as effective in fighting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria infections as once thought. According to a news release today, the FDA is going to start cracking down on companies who issue false claims regarding hand sanitizers’ ability to kill MRSA bacteria.

Hopefully, by following this routine, you’ll end up with both soft hands and a soft nose.

Photo credit: primaverapvr

 

Why Do We Have Fingerprints?

fingerprint-dime-d-sharon-pruitt

A patient of mine with severe hand dermatitis has an identity problem. She applied for a job that she is well qualified to get, except she doesn’t have any fingerprints. Her job requires a security clearance, and she has to have fingerprints to verify her identity (and to verify that she isn’t wanted in Montana). But her severe hand dermatitis has left her fingertips scarred, and she is unable to give adequate fingerprints.

Why do we have fingerprints in the first place? The ridges are unique and allow you to be distinguished from billions of other people. Although wonderful for the FBI, your fingerprints were never meant to assist in identifying you.

It has been traditionally thought that the tiny ridges increase the coefficient of friction of the skin making it easier to grasp and hold things. A smooth surface makes handling delicate objects like a dime, difficult, especially if your hands are wet.

New research suggests that the grooves have another, possibly more important function: they improve your sense of touch. Fingertips are exquisitely sensitive to touch. This is partly due to a special nerve called the Pacinian corpuscle. The tips of your fingers are packed with these sensitive receptors. One sensation that they are particularly attuned to is vibration. It turns out that the ridges on your fingertips when rubbed against an object create a  fine vibration that is not noticeable to you, but is detected by your Pacinian corpuscles.

Loss of fingerprints is uncommon. It can happen from trauma, as from a burn, or from chronic skin diseases such as eczema, psoriasis, or scleroderma. There are also rare genetic conditions such as dyskeratosis congenital, an inherited condition that leads to scaly skin and increased risk of skin cancers, where patients are born without fingerprints.

Excess inflammation, as from dermatitis or psoriasis, can sometimes lead to temporary changes in the fingerprints. These changes can be resolved with topical steroids or other systemic medications to treat the underlying condition. Once the fingerprint is scarred, however, there is no way to regenerate it.

Post written by Dr. Benabio Copyright The Derm Blog 2009

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt (flickr)

Your Hands Are Teeming With Bacteria

hands-pink-sherbert-photography

Right now your hands are teeming with bacteria. Countless trillions of organisms call your skin home, and that’s a good thing. Skin infections do not arise because you have bacteria on your skin. Rather, they arise because the type of bacteria on infected skin is not healthy bacteria but aggressive pathogenic bacteria.

Determining which bacteria are good and which are dangerous is difficult, but our immune systems have managed to get it right most of the time. When our immune systems are wrong, either an infection develops, or excess inflammation develops, as is the case in eczema or psoriasis.

Telling good from bad is hard. There are hundreds of types of bacteria on your hands right now. A recent study of college students (perhaps not the cleanest group of individuals) discovered that the average student has 140 different types of bacteria on his or her skin. There were over 4,000 different types of bacteria identified across all the students. Not surprisingly, the most common types were familiar household names: Propionobacterium (the bacteria responsible for acne), strep, and staph (of which the infamous methicillin resistant staph aureus, MRSA is a subtype).

There were also differences in the bacteria on the dominate hand versus the non-dominant hand — namely bacteria normally found in the gastrointestinal track was found more often on the dominant hand. This will no doubt lead to a follow up study of: “Do college students wash their hands before leaving the bathroom?” (Research so far does not look promising).

Photo: Pink Sherbert Photography (flickr)