In most areas of the country, it’s wintertime. How are your hands doing?
Winter is particularly hard on your hands. The cold, dry air pulls more moisture from the skin, and the indoor heating makes dryness worse.
Add to that the frequent washing most of us do to avoid spreading germs, and you have a perfect storm of assaults that leave you with dry, flaking, cracked and bleeding hands. You moisture and moisturize and nothing seems to work.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be resigned to suffering from painful hands this winter. We have some tips that will help.
Dry, Cracked Hands Start with the Skin’s Barrier
How well your hands manage in winter depends on the strength of the outermost layer of skin, called the skin “barrier.” This layer is made up of proteins, lipids, and oils that protect the skin, keeping bacteria and toxins out while keeping moisture in.
If you struggle with dry and cracked hands in winter, this skin barrier has likely been weakened due to one or more of the following reasons:
- You’re genetically programmed to have a weaker barrier in winter. (If your parents had dry, cracked hands in winter, you’re more likely to have them, too.)
- You have naturally sensitive skin.
- You struggle with eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea.
- You work in an occupation that requires you to wash your hands more than normal (teachers, doctors, hair stylists, industrial workers).
- You live in a cold, dry climate.
- You’re outside in the harsh weather a lot and have to leave your hands unprotected at times.
- You’re over the age of 40—as we age, skin dries out more easily.
Common symptoms a weakened barrier include:
- Itchy skin
- Dry skin
- Flaky or scaly skin
- Red and irritated skin
- Callused, rough skin
- Cracked skin or bleeding skin
- Painful cracks around the nails
- Burning sensation
You may not be able to change most of these things, but you can take steps to help your hands cope with the harsh winter conditions.
Protect Your Hands by Preventing Dry Skin
The best treatment is always prevention, so if your hands haven’t gotten too bad yet, try these five tips to keep them healthy.
- Use a gentle cleanser. Bar soaps are the most drying cleansing option out there. The detergents strip the natural oils from skin, leaving you drier than ever. Try a gentle, fragrance-free creamy cleanser, and be sure to rinse well so the soap doesn’t stay on your skin.
- Use lukewarm water. Hot water feels great in the winter, but it also strips your hands of natural oils. In most cases, turn the faucet to lukewarm to go easier on your skin.
- Moisturize after every wash. Keep moisturizer with you so you can apply some after every wash. Leaving your hands dry after even one wash is enough to start the drying process.
- Wear gloves. It’s always a good idea to wear gloves when you go out into the cold, but think about wearing them when you’re inside, too. If your job requires you to frequently wash your hands, or to work with harsh chemicals, maybe you can wear latex or vinyl gloves to protect your hands when working and to avoid over-exposure to water and soap. Wearing these gloves while washing dishes or doing other housecleaning chores can also help.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Hydration starts from the inside out, but have you noticed that it can be harder to remember to drink in the winter months? Summer heat makes it easy to grab that ice-cold glass of water, but in the winter we don’t think about it as much. Use a chart or a reminder on your phone to make sure you’re drinking enough.
How to Treat Dry, Cracked Hands
If you follow all of the tips above and still end up with dry, cracked hands, we’ve got some tips for you.
1. Find a treatment moisturizing lotion.
Once your hands reach this point, a regular moisturizer is unlikely to help much. You need something stronger and more likely to truly penetrate the skin and make a difference.
We recommend our Restorative Skin Balm, as it’s made to treat dry and cracked hands. Natural oils, lanolin, and beeswax work together to provide serious moisture, while vitamin E helps to heal wounds. Our proprietary Tri-Rescue Complex also helps to tame inflammation and make skin feel more comfortable.
Whatever moisturizer you choose, look at the ingredient list. If you see natural oils, butters, glycerin, lanolin, vitamins, and extracts, you’ve probably got a good selection. Avoid options with mineral oil, alcohols, and fragrances, and those with a lot of chemicals that you can’t pronounce.
2. Use a rich product overnight.
When hands get dry and cracked, you need to give them serious treatment overnight. Start by soaking your hands in warm water for a few minutes. Your moisturizer will work much better if you get your hands wet first, as it will help lock in the moisture from the washing.
Then pat dry and apply a thick, rich moisturizer all over the hands. Finally, wear cotton gloves (or socks) to bed. In the morning you should see softer, smoother skin.
3. Use a humidifier in your room.
Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which then limits how much moisture the air takes from your skin. Adding a humidifier to your bedroom will help your overnight hand treatment to be much more effective.
4. Exfoliate your hands.
You’re probably used to exfoliating your face, but have you ever exfoliated your hands? Doing so can greatly improve penetration of your moisturizer. That’s because your hands can also develop a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface that refuse to allow any moisturizer through. In fact, if you’re not exfoliating regularly, that could be one of the main reasons why your hands are suffering.
To exfoliate hands, you can use the same exfoliating product you use on your face, or simply combine about 1-2 tablespoons of granulated sugar with olive oil and use that. Scrub gently, focusing on the back of the hands. Then rinse off and immediately apply your moisturizer.
5. Soak in oats.
Oats are natural anti-itch grains, and they also help relieve inflammation. Simply add ground oats to your bath before you soak, or create your own hand soak by mixing some oats in a small basin with your favorite oil (jojoba, coconut, olive). Place your hands in the solution and let them soak for at least 15 minutes.
Do your hands suffer in winter?