How to Treat Dry, Cracked Hands
Soothe peeling cuticles and knuckles with these handy tips.
We're washing our hands more now than we ever thought necessary—and for good reason, since it's one of the best defenses we have against the rapidly spreading coronavirus. To effectively cleanse your hands and remove COVID-19 causing germs and other microbes, it's important to suds up with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Y. Claire Chang of Union Square Dermatology. "This ensures that you cover the full surface area of the hands, including the front and palms of the hands, the wrists, the fingers, and between the fingers," she says. While this is especially pertinent while COVID-19 takes the world by storm, it's an essential hygiene practice that has a place in everyday life—pandemic or not.
As beneficial (and essential) as constant hand washing and sanitizing is, it comes with its fair share of side effects. Namely, dry cuticles, fingers, and palms. "When you are washing your hands 24/7, you are stripping the natural oils that act as a protective barrier and keep moisture locked in—which is essential for healthy skin," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, who also practices in New York City. Eliminate those good-for-you oils ("As is necessary in the face of a global viral pandemic," Dr. Murphy-Rose adds), and dryness, irritation, and cracking occur. Thankfully, there are several steps you can take to avoid any discomfort. Ahead, five tips to revive your dry, painful hands.
Moisturize every time you wash your hands.
To ensure your hands stay as hydrated as possible post-rinse, Dr. Chang recommends patting them dry and immediately moisturizing while they are still slightly damp. "The skin is able to absorb the most moisture during the first few minutes after washing," she explains.
Dr. Marisa Garshick advises keeping a lotion right next to your hand soap as a reminder to hydrate immediately. "If that doesn't work, at the very least commit to using moisturizer at least two times per day and especially before going to bed at night," she adds. Pro tip: You can reduce dryness overall by opting for lukewarm, as opposed to piping hot, water while washing, Dr. Chang says.
Stock up on the right ingredients and textures.
When (online) shopping for lotions, there are two things to keep in mind: formulation and texture. While perusing labels, Dr. Garshick says to look for occlusive ingredients, like petrolatum. "By creating an occlusive barrier on the skin, these ingredients help to prevent further water loss and retain moisture," she notes, adding that you can't go wrong with Aquaphor ($6.96, walmart.com). "Other important ingredients include humectants such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin, which help to attract water and draw moisture into the skin." Ingredients that help support the natural skin barrier are just as essential: "Ceramides help to support and strengthen the natural skin barrier and help minimize irritation, as well as further water loss," she adds.
Dr. Chang agrees, noting that ingredients that will soothe and soften include shea butter, colloidal oatmeal, and oils. In terms of texture, she recommends using thicker creams and ointments, as opposed to lotions, to maximize hydration. "Creams and ointments are more hydrating due to higher oil content, whereas lotions contain more water," she explains.
Steer clear of fragrances, dyes, sulfates, and physical exfoliators or scrubs.
Red, raw hands—whether from over-washing or simply sensitive skin—won't benefit from fragrances, dyes, sulfates, or scrub-based formulas. Dr. Chang says avoiding these common irritants and allergens in your hand soap and lotions can help. "Fragrances are one of the most common skin allergens. Artificial fragrances in products like soaps, facial cleansers, and moisturizers can cause rashes, itching, and inflammatory reactions in those with skin sensitivities," she says. "Sulfates, like sodium lauryl sulfate, are an effective detergent that is used in hand soaps, but can dry and irritate the skin—and physical exfoliators or scrubs can cause excess irritation."
Don't forget your cuticles.
Remember: Your cuticles can become dry, irritated, and cracked, too. "Protecting the cuticles is very important because infections often occur when the cuticle is cut or compromised," Dr. Murphy-Rose says. "I recommend using a cuticle oil or ointment around the nail bed at least daily, especially in the cold winter months or anytime you are washing hands frequently."
Maximize hand repair while you sleep.
You can improve your complexion while you sleep—and the same is true of your hand health. Dr. Marie V. Hayag says to generously slather hands in an ultra-hydrating cream before slipping them into a pair of cotton gloves (this helps physically lock in moisture) overnight. "The gloves help the hand cream penetrate deeper and absorb better," she explains. "There are moisturizing gloves available, too. Some contain fabrics that are pretreated with moisturizing oils that can be an added benefit."