Winter is hard on your hands. Smooth, supple, and soft in September, hands can turn red, chapped, and rough by February.
The main culprit? Lack of moisture.
During winter, the humidity in the outside air plunges. Inside, things are even drier, thanks to indoor heating. If you’re washing your hands frequently to avoid catching a cold or the flu, you could sap whatever natural oils are left in your skin.
That can leave your hands so dehydrated that they crack, peel, and bleed.
“People will have fissures in their hands and they’ll come to see me saying they can’t figure out what’s happening,” says New York City dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin. “It’s just extremely dry skin.”
The good news, Marmur says, “is once you recognize that, you’re halfway on your way to fixing the problem.”
Strong or Weak Barrier?
How well your hands can withstand winter’s harsh conditions has a lot to do with the strength of our skin barrier, says Charles Crutchfield III, MD, a dermatology professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
The skin barrier is a mix of proteins, lipids, and oils. It protects your skin, and how good a job it does is mostly about your genes.
If you have a weak barrier, you’re more prone to symptoms of sensitive skin, such as itching, inflammation, and eczema. Your hands are also more likely to become very dry in winter.
If you had from chapped hands last year, you may be more likely to have that happen again every winter.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
To treat parched, scaly hands, you need to replace the moisture that your thirsty skin is missing. Drinking water, experts point out, won’t do that.
“It’s the moisturizer applied directly to the skin that will keep water from evaporating and give your skin a healthy, dewy appearance,” says dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD, author of The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress, Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin.
Start moisturizing before there’s a problem. “The best prevention is to begin using a moisturizer before your hands show signs of dryness,” Marmur says.
10 remedies for dry hands:
To combat dry hands, try some of the following remedies:
Apply a quality moisturizing cream or lotion several times per day. Lotions and creams help restore moisture and seal it back into the skin.
- Wear gloves
If your hands are frequently immersed in water, such as while washing dishes, consider wearing a pair of gloves. Gloves help prevent the water from stripping your skin of its natural oils.
- Decrease stress
It might sound crazy, but there may be a small association between stress and eczema. So if you notice your hands going haywire from dry skin caused by eczema, take some time for self-care to reduce stress.
- Consider medication
If you have severe eczema, medications may be necessary to allow your skin a chance to heal. Your doctor might prescribe steroids that you can apply to your skin or even an antibiotic that you would take by mouth.
- Ask your doctor about UV light therapy
In some cases of severe psoriasis, ultraviolet (UV) therapy can also help the skin heal itself. However, you should talk to your doctor before trying any kind of UV therapy.
- Treat them overnight
One of the best remedies for dry hands is to slather them at night with lotion or a petroleum-based moisturizer, such as Vaseline. After, cover your hands with a pair of soft gloves or socks. Trapping the moisturizer will help it absorb more fully into your skin, and you’ll wake up with baby-smooth hands.
- Ask about prescription cream
For skin that’s very dry and scaly, your doctor may recommend special lotion that contains lactic acid or urea. These ingredients help get rid of the dry and scaly skin.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream
In some cases, dry skin can worsen into a condition called dermatitis, where the skin becomes inflamed and red. In these cases, a lotion containing hydrocortisone may be the most helpful. Hydrocortisone can help soothe the irritated skin.
- Use a wet dressing
Skin that has cracked from dryness will need to be treated before it can fully heal. Your doctor may recommend a wet dressing as your skin heals.
- Apply a heavy-duty moisturizer
For deep moisturizing, pick up a moisturizer that was originally intended for animals. Yes, really! Products such as Bag Balm, which was designed to help heal the tough cracks of a cow’s udders, can penetrate skin to really help keep it moisturized.
How to prevent dry hands
If your dry hands are being caused by your work conditions, consider carrying a small bottle of lotion around with you so you can reapply moisturizer throughout the day. Look for moisturizers containing ingredients such as:
- jojoba oil
- cocoa butter
If you work in a place that requires frequent hand washing, such as a hospital or restaurant, speak with your manager about installing lotion pumps on the walls. If they already exist, make good use of them.
You should also avoid excessive heat, such as from hand dryers. Like cold conditions, heat can further dry out skin.
Causes of dry hands:
During colder months, it’s common for your skin to become dry. Climate changes, especially cold weather without a lot of moisture in the air, can cause hands to dry out. Decreased moisture in the air draws moisture from the skin.
Workplace conditions can also cause dry hands. People with jobs that require extensive handwashing, such as nurses, doctors, or teachers, may notice dry hands. Factory workers or hairdressers may be routinely exposed to chemicals or other harsh irritants. These can lead to dry hands, as well.
Some medical conditions may also lead to dry hands or put a person at risk of getting dry hands more frequently. For example, people with autoimmune disorders, such as diabetes or lupus, may have lowered blood circulation to the hands. This causes their hands to get irritated more easily. Eczema and psoriasis, two conditions that cause skin inflammation, can also cause dry hands, skin peeling, and cracking.
When should you seek help?
If your dry hands are caused by eczema or another skin condition, you may develop complications such as infection or even deformed fingernails.
Certain symptoms may indicate a severe problem. These include:
- skin discoloration
- extreme redness
- drainage from opened areas of skin
If your dry hands don’t improve with home treatments or if you have any of the above symptoms, you should seek help from a medical professional.