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If you struggle with chronically dry, cracked hands, it can start to feel like you've swapped out your mitts for cactuses. (I mean, who wants to high five, shake hands, or make finger guns with cactus hands? It's just not the same.)
The skin on our hands (except for our palms, which are actually quite thick) is much thinner than most other parts of the body, meaning they hold in less moisture and natural oils.
Our hands are also our direct means of interacting with the world and are exposed to a lot of irritants. It's basically a recipe for dryness and damage if you're not taking proper care of your five-fingered friends.
Because no one should have cactuses for hands, we've broken down just about everything you need to know when it comes to reviving those dry paws.
All these tips are super quick and simple to add to your life, so read up and make it so:
1. Use a rich moisturizer
As a rule of thumb, go for the heavy-duty hand creams or ointments. “These seal over the skin to heal cracks and prevent loss of hydration,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital.
A top pick for reviving your skin: Bag Balm, a cult-favorite ointment that was originally designed to heal the cracks in cows' udders. If you need help picking a moisturizer, start here. Of course, there's also plain ole Vaseline, or hypoallergenic oinments like Vanicream.
Once you find a product that agrees with your skin, your next step is to moisturize daily, multiple times per day, says Jacqueline Andrews-Evans, a physician's assistant at Advanced Dermatology PC.
It's especially important to moisturize after washing hands. A daily routine will prevent dry skin from returning and will keep your hands happy.
2. Look for formulas containing humectants or ceramides
There's nothing better than finding a cream that works, like really works. To ensure you find your match, look for hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides on the ingredient list.
“Humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin are like sponges that pull in hydration to the outer skin layer,” says Zeichner.
For super-healing power, ceramides are your best bet. “They're like grout between your skin cell tiles,” he says. “They seal in cracks in the outer skin layer to prevent loss of hydration and minimize damaging exposure to the environment.”
For equal parts skin healing and protection, try CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream.
3. DIY a hand cream using colloidal oatmeal and shea butter
For those who are more hands-on (heh), there are plenty of simple recipes you can whip up to revive your skin. Zeichner is fond of this three-ingredient concoction: colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and sunflower seed oil.
Colloidal oatmeal has a lengthy reputation as a nourishing anti-inflammatory. “It's an outstanding skin protectant,” Zeichner says. “It contains sugars that coat the skin as well as antioxidants called avenanthremides that calm inflammation.”
As for shea butter, it's a rich emollient oil that softens and smooths out rough cells on the surface of the skin.
Sunflower seed oil is packed with linoleic acid, which is an essential fatty acid for maintaining the skin's barrier to prevent water loss. It's also anti-inflammatory.
Mix them all together and you've got one seriously soothing formula.
4. Moisturize within five minutes of getting out of the shower
Applying a hydrating product right after showering is essential for locking in moisture. Why? Well, not only can shower cleansers be harsh on skin, but hot water can also be damaging.
To avoid losing essential skin oils, try to keep showers short and sweet, and avoid super hot water. Then, towel dry and butter up with a nourishing cream. Make sure to moisturize those hands immediately!
5. Use gentle, hydrating cleansers
As important as it is to clean the skin, there are harmful side effects when done carelessly. “You want to wash the skin without compromising the integrity of the skin barrier,” Zeichner explains.
He suggests looking for gentle cleansers that promote hydration. His top pick is an affordable favorite: Dove Unscented Beauty Bar. “My favorite all-around cleanser, this bar can be used on face or body and actually hydrates your skin while you wash.”
6. Avoid exfoliants
Dry hands have a tendency to crack and flake, which may in turn have you reaching for an exfoliator.
“Harsh scrubs or chemical exfoliants can cause more harm than good,” Zeichner explains. Instead of a good buffing, what your skin really needs is hydration.
This might feel contradictory, considering many experts recommend exfoliation for deeper, long-term moisturizing. However, if you're already having surface-level issues with dry skin, you'll want to skip this pre-lotion step.
As Zeichner puts it, “Exfoliating first can cause more damage to the outer skin layer, resulting in further loss of hydration.”
7. Use a hand mask
There are masks for almost every part of the body these days - face, legs, lips, boobs, butts! - so remember to take some time to mask those hands.
Just as a sheet mask works for your face, a hand mask coats your skin in the moisturizing benefits of a topical product. It may seem messy, but it's actually cleaner than some lotion options on the market.
Try an Aveeno hand mask, which has soothing colloidal oatmeal for even the most sensitive skin types. Pop on a movie and let your hands soak up the oaty goodness. After 10 minutes, toss the masks and enjoy happy, revived hands.
8. Wear gloves over Vaseline to bed
For your own makeshift hand mask, apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, then slip on a pair of gloves before bed.
Although they don't necessarily have any moisturizing benefits, they will keep the petroleum jelly in place for all-night absorption. That, and they'll also keep your bed from becoming a Vaseline-coated crime scene.
This option is not just great for those on a budget, but also for the colder (and dryer) months when your hands need some serious therapy.
9. Sleep with a humidifier
This is a great alternative to, again, combat that brutal dry air when it's cold outside.
Humidifiers add moisture to the air which prevents H2O from being pulled out of your skin while also delivering a boost of much-needed hydration from head to toe. After all, what better time to hydrate than while you sleep and your skin is in full repair mode?
10. Use cream with SPF
Although we might not really think about it, hands are exposed to the sun just as much as your face. However, face sunscreen is a major priority for many. So why not hands? Using a cream with SPF can help treat many concerns from sunspots to skin damage to, yes, dryness.
Keep your hands looking young and feeling fine with Supergoop Forever Young Hand Cream with SPF 40.
11. Try topical steroids
Over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone is fairly weak, and may not do much for your hands. For a severe case of dryness on the hands, your doctor may suggest using prescription topical steroids alongside good skin care to quickly calm down any inflammation.
Dry hands 101: Common causes and prevention
We're not asking you to be gross, but unfortunately overwashing your hands could be doing some serious damage to your skin. By scrubbing away those natural oils, you leave your hands stripped, inflamed, and dryyyy.
Using a gentle cleanser is one way to combat this. You should also moisturize after every wash.
“Because of genetics, some people have a weaker skin barrier and are more likely to develop skin dryness and flaking,” Zeichner says.
While there's no way to directly prevent something you're born with, you can always stay on top of it with good skin care habits. Your dermatologist can also recommend a treatment plan to help your hands stay smooth and hydrated.
Some jobs require working with harsh chemicals that are drying and irritating. This includes hairdressers, healthcare professionals, restaurant employees, janitorial staff and many more. If this applies to you, try wearing protective gloves as you work.
You live in the shower
As mentioned above, long hot showers are not the antidote to healthy skin. We can't stop you from enjoying an extra long shower on a cold day (we're not monsters… ), but maybe try turning the temp down from volcano lava to hot tub.
As a rule, try to shorten your shower time on the daily. It might not be the luxe spa routine of your dreams, but your skin (and the planet) will be much happier.
When to see a doctor
While some cases of dryness can be minimal and simply uncomfortable, others are a bit more serious and require a doctor. How do you know when your case has gotten that severe?
Zeichner says that if OTC treatments don't do anything for your dry hand symptoms - i.e. cracks, fissures, significant itching, or a rash - it's time to seek professional help.
Also, if you notice blisters, skin discoloration, bleeding, extreme redness, or swelling, those are signs to see a doctor.
Furthermore, there are some skin conditions that can disguise themselves as dry hands, such as a fungal infection known as tinea manuum, which is why it's important to talk to a dermatologist.
Whatever the cause of your dry hands, give them some extra love and attention, keep your doctor in the loop, and you'll be sure to see healthy, hydrated skin in no time.