- Ryan Harris, MD
How to Take Care of Dry Hands This Winter
Around this time of year, I always see an increase in patients complaining of dry and itchy hands. This is very common as the temperature drops and we begin warming our homes with forced air heating which lowers the humidity and dries out the skin. This leads to an impaired skin barrier which can make you more prone to rashes and other issues. Every part of your body is affected by these changes, but hands can be particularly sensitive.
Our hands are also more troublesome because they require frequent cleansing. This is a problem that has been become more of an issue post COVID as people appropriately try to minimize transmission of germs through use of hand sanitizers and hand washing. No other part of the body is so frequently stripped of the natural oils that protect the skin.
Taking proper care of your hands is not as simple as just applying lotion once a day. There are many steps that must be taken to keep your hands free of rashes and itching. I will address some of the most important steps to keep your hands soft and problem free this winter below.
Tip #1: Wear gloves when possible
Since one of the main irritants to the hands is frequent washing, anytime you can minimize the need to wash your hands or get them wet, you are significantly helping to maintain a healthy skin barrier. For activities such as gardening, washing dishes, cleaning, preparing food, and other task, wearing gloves can not only minimize exposure to irritants but also prevents the need to wash or rinse your hands afterwards.
Another helpful use of gloves is to wear them at night to lock in your moisturizer. Prior to going to bed, apply your favorite thick moisturizing cream or even Vaseline, and then cover your hands with gloves to keep the moisturizer in place. You may use cotton, nitrile, or any other type of gloves. Use this trick when your hands are particularly problematic. I think you will be surprised at how soft your hands will feel the next morning.
Tip #2: Use proper techniques to clean hands
When your hands do require cleaning due to exposure to potentially infectious material or being visibly dirty, proper cleaning is essential to avoid irritation. For most people, use of hand sanitizers is much less irritating than washing with soap and water. Personally, I do best with foam hand sanitizers containing alcohol. I use this type of sanitizer dozens of times a day at work with minimal irritation. When washing is required, use mild soaps to avoid stripping the skin of essential oils. When possible, dry your hands with a towel rather than an air drier as the forced air excessively dries the skin. Immediately after drying, apply a thick moisturizer.
Tip #3: Use the right type of moisturizer
While I do not think there is one hand moisturizer clearly better than others, there are certain characteristics you should look for when choosing one. It is important to pick a thick cream rather than a thin lotion as thicker moisturizers are much better for hydrating the skin. I tell my patients that if a moisturizer comes through a pump, it is probably too thin to be highly effective. The best moisturizers usually come in a jar or tube. If you are using the right type, you only need a small amount. The right moisturizer should feel like it is hydrating the skin without feeling greasy. If it feels greasy, you probably won't use it enough and you should search for one that best suits your skin.
My favorite hand moisturizers include Epionce Restorative Hand Cream, O'Keeffe's Working Hands, Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, and Cetaphil Moisturizing cream. There are many other excellent options, and it is important to try multiple options to see what works best for you. You should avoid moisturizers with heavy fragrances as they can irritate the skin or even cause allergic reactions.
Tip #4: Moisturize frequently
I cannot stress this point enough. I always ask my patients with dry hands if they use moisturizer frequently. Most reply "yes", but when I ask if they are applying at least 10 times a day, I very rarely get a "yes" to that question. On average, I moisturize my hands at least 10-15 times a day. I keep moisturizer everywhere; around the house, in my car, at my desk, and near every sink. If you have issues with dry or irritated hands, you should do likewise and make frequent moisturization a regular part of your daily routine.
Tip #5: Seek medical attention if you are still having issues
If you are following the suggestions listed above and are still having issues, you likely need medical help from a dermatologist. There are several medical conditions including infections, psoriasis, eczema, and many others that might only be fixed with proper evaluation and treatment including prescription medications. Do not hesitate to schedule an appointment if you are having issues even if you think it might only be dry skin.
It may seem like a lot of work, but following the above recommendations will help keep your hands free of most issues this winter. I hope you found these tips helpful and hope you have a happy and rash free winter this year. .