Winter delivers a double blow to our hands: first the cold, dry air assails them and then frequent hand washing through the cold and flu season strips them of their natural barriers against moisture loss. The result is frequently dry skin on our hands, sometimes mild, and often severe enough to create painful cracks that can even open and bleed. Ouch.
There are ways you can prevent dry skin on your hands or treat it if it’s already a problem.
- It’s important to treat your hands as soon as you notice dry skin developing. The sooner you tackle the problem, the better your long-term results will be. Once you develop cracks it can be very hard to heal them.
- You should apply a hand lotion, cream, ointment or treatment twice daily, but don’t stop there. Moisturize whenever you wash your hands or feel your hands getting dry again.
- If you find your hands are very prone to dryness and especially cracking, avoid hand sanitizers as they are harsh and filled with alcohol. Antibacterial soaps may be rough on your skin, too. Try a gentle soap for your hand washing routine, taking care to lather well and rinse thoroughly and dry your hands completely when done. Then, apply a moisturizer right away.
- If you have cracks in your skin you can use a topical treatment like hydrocortisone 1% or bacitracin and cover with a Bandaid, but we recommend seeing a dermatologist if your hands are prone to cracking as a dermatologist can help create a hand skin care plan that will be most effective for your needs.
Understand that any time you wash your hands, especially with hot water, you are stripping them of what they need to stay hydrated. But hand washing is essential in this germ-infested time of year. So your best bet is to continue washing your hands but keep a moisturizer available for easy rehydration after you’re done. Nowadays, hand creams frequently contain nourishing and protective ingredients like hyaluronic acid which helps your skin hold in more water, and oils which can do the same. Petrolatum can act as a barrier against moisture loss, and barrier repair ingredients like ceramides can help undo some of the damage hand washing and exposure to dry air can do.