The cure for chapped, dry hands can seem out of reach, especially during cold, windy seasons or in arid climates. It’s easy to assume that the holy grail of hand lotions is somewhere among the many bottles, jars and tubes that populate the drugstore aisles. However, more important than the packaging, price and brand name are the ingredients your product contains — and how frequently you use it.
Dry Hands Explained
Dry hands — and dry skin — can simply be part of growing older. However, most of the time, dry hands are the result of external factors, such as cold weather, sun exposure, excessive washing and contact with harsh ingredients in detergents and household cleaning products. Dry hands can also be caused by thyroid disorders and psoriasis, a skin condition that causes thick, dry scaly skin. Whenever you get your hands wet, this moisturizes them temporarily — but it also removes the oil on your skin, ultimately doing more harm than good, explains the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD). If you choose a water-based hand lotion, this can have the same effect as drenching your hands in water. Water-based lotions evaporate quickly and don’t leave a thick residue on your hands, but they don’t perform the same function as thick, oil-based lotions and creams that keep moisture in.
Ingredients That Work
Top on the American Academy of Dermatology’s list of ingredients is petrolatum, which is found in many lotions and moisturizing products. Also seek out moisturizers that contain alpha hydroxy acids, lactic acid, urea and ammonium lactate. According to the AAD, all these ingredients can sufficiently help your skin retain moisture. Because sun exposure can also cause dry hands — as well as unattractive age spots — skincare expert Paula Begoun suggests using specific products during the day that protect your skin against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Look for products that contain avobenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, she says, which also seal moisture into your skin.
For painfully dry hands that crack, it’s a good idea to have a nonprescription cortisone-based cream handy. Begoun cautions you to use these only when needed. Overnight treatments can also be beneficial. Moisturized gloves and mitts are available for purchase, but a less-expensive method is simply to coat your hands with petroleum jelly, put on cotton-lined gloves and wear them while you sleep.
To get the best out of your hand lotion or hand cream, apply it frequently, especially right after you bathe or wash your hands — doing so helps your skin retain moisture. Rub some into your nails to prevent cracking, splitting and peeling. Stock up so you’ll never be in short supply. Keep moisturizers readily available in the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and wherever you work. Make sure you have a tube of hand cream on your person at all times whenever you’re away from home.
Moisturizing may be the cornerstone treatment for dry hands, but preventive strategies can be just as important. Wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when you perform household chores — washing dishes and mopping — and other tasks that involve using water, such as washing the car and watering the lawn. Wash your hands only when needed for good personal hygiene. Use a mild soap when you wash, and keep the water temperature warm, not hot, to avoid drying out your skin.