Are your hands feeling dry yet?
Usually by early fall, you can feel the subtle scale and roughness that signals early irritant hand dermatitis, one of the most common winter skin care problems.
Why do your hands start drying out in the fall and winter?
You develop dry and chapped skin on your hands from two key changes that begin in fall:
- The ubiquitous presence of cold, chapping outdoor air combined with heated and relatively dehumidified interior air, both of which pull water out of your skin.
- The vigilant hand washing and hand sanitizer use that you ramp up in the fall to prevent the spread of the cold and flu virus; this hand washing and hand sanitizer usage pulls more water and natural oil out of your skin.
The result is a breakdown of your outer skin barrier and the beginning of irritant hand dermatitis. You’ll feel this as early scale and roughness when you touch your hand skin. Even in temperate Northern California, I’ve grown accustomed to seeing almost all my dermatology patients come in with dry hands starting around this same time each season.
I developed my Dry Hand Skin Repair Kit to give both my patients and me a complete treatment routine to control and to prevent winter hand chapping. My kit is simple to use, is inexpensive, and comes with my dermatologist’s instructions for keeping your hand skin healthy while you wash away cold and flu germs. So get the right hand moisturizer for winter.
In addition to having the best and most effective skin care products to heal and to prevent chapped hands, you also need some simple tweaks in how you wash or sanitize your hands and when you apply hand cream. Here is my guide for preventing chapped hands as you wash, sanitize, and moisturize your hand skin during the cold and flu season this fall and winter.
Dermatologists 5 Skin Care Steps To Prevent and Treat Chapped Hands
Step #1: Divide your hands into a public and private side and use and treat them differently.
Use the thicker skin on your palms as your “public” side to touch dirty things. Wash and apply hand sanitizer only to this side, unless the thinner skin on the back of your hands really did become soiled or come into contact with germs.
I taught my kids this when they were little, that we have a “public” side and a “private” side to our hands. The “public” side (palm and palm side of the fingers) touches shopping carts, escalator hand rails, public ink pens, etc. The “private” side on the back needs to stay clean and it’s what you use to scratch our nose, rub our eyes, etc. in between hand washings or hand sanitizer use. Try to limit your germ contact to the thick “public” side because the tough skin there is better able to tolerate hand sanitizers and constant washing throughout the day. Only apply hand sanitizer to this “public side” unless you’ve potentially gotten germs on the back “private” side too, like when you shake someone’s hand.
Step #2: Try to use only gentle soaps to wash your hands and rinse all the soap off your hands after washing.
Harsh soaps pull more natural oils out of your skin than gentle soaps. Avoid these harsh soaps when you can, which means keeping gentle soaps at all the sinks where you regularly wash your hands.
The act of doing a good hand washing will remove bacteria and viruses from your skin. You don’t need to use harsh soaps or soaps with “antibacterial” ingredients such as triclosan in them; in fact these products are often more likely to chap your skin. According to the FDA’s web site,
The FDA does not have evidence that triclosan (the most common antibacterial ingredient) added to antibacterial soaps and body washes provides extra health benefits over soap and water.
My preferences for hand washing are glycerin-rich natural soaps and synthetic cleansers made with the mildest of skin cleansing ingredients. I also like liquid hand soap dispensers that foam the product (called foamers) because you can rinse foamer soap residue off of your skin easier and faster than a thicker non-foamed soap.
My three favorite hand soaps are:
Vermont Liquid Hand Soap: This entirely natural foaming hand soap is made with organic ingredients. It’s my favorite hand soap period! It rinses off easily, is affordable, is hypoallergenic, and is fragrance free. It’s the soap that is at every sink where I regularly wash my hands. It also comes in my Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit.
Toleriane Cleanser: This is the gentlest, all-purpose liquid cleanser I’ve found, bar none. It’s the cleanser I use for the most sensitive facial skin in my practice and it can also be used on dry, chapped hands or any broken and tender skin. After full facial laser resurfacing, this is the cleanser I have patients use as their skin heals. It’s made from ingredients that are hypoallergenic and non-irritating. I’ve used Toleriane as my facial cleanser for years and it’s the cleanser I personally turn to when my skin is damaged for some reason.
Naturally Best Bar Soap For Dry Skin: This simple, natural ingredient bar soap is a great option for you bar soap lovers. It’s a naturally made soap, which means it’s loaded with glycerin to help hydrate dry skin. It rinses easily from skin due to its light textured lather. Like all natural soaps, it performs best in soft water.
Other options include Avalon Organic Botanicals Glycerin Hand Soap and two Neutrogena products: Fresh Foaming Cleanser and Extra Gentle Cleanser. There are also many natural bar soaps that are either made from glycerin or that haven’t had the glycerin removed (which is the problem with most soaps) such as Whole Foods 365 Vegetable Glycerin Soap. It’s important to know that adding oil to a harsh soap doesn’t stop the soap from being harsh on your skin, so always use soaps and cleansers that are gentle to begin with and that easily rinse off of your skin.
When you are unable to wash your hands but you need to disinfect them, use a hand sanitizer, preferably on the tougher palm side only. Hand sanitizers must contain a minimum of 60% alcohol to be effective against germs. This means they will also gradually dry and chap your hand skin. The CDC’s guidelines for proper hand washing and hand sanitizer use to prevent the spread of infectious diseases can be found on their web site. It’s worth a look.
Step #3: Moisturize your hands with a good quality hand cream immediately after toweling dry.
Hand moisturizers don’t moisturize your skin alone; they work best by trapping the water you just soaked into your skin when you washed your hands. This means you need to apply your hand cream right after you towel dry from washing.
Apply your hand moisturizer to your entire hand right after toweling dry. Be sure to especially apply the cream to the back “private” side where your skin is thinner and more likely to chap. Wipe off the excess cream from the palm side to keep from having a slippery grip. Most hand creams are greasy and hard to use during the day. My Dry Skin Hand Cream is an exception. It is glycerin rich to hold water to your skin without a heavy, greasy feel. It’s what I use all day long and my hands stay pretty hydrated in spite of washing and hand sanitizing them constantly. Two other entirely natural hand moisturizers that are made with organic ingredients and that do not have a greasy feel are my All Natural Body and Face Butter and my All Natural Face and Body Lotion.
Step #4: Give your hands a big hydrating boost at night at the first sign of early chapping.
Your hands are up against tough environmental odds during the winter. If, in spite of your best care, your hands start chapping then give them a big hydrating boost at night. You’ll be surprised how much better they feel in the morning.
To do this, soak your hands in warm water for 5 minutes (or take a bath or shower), towel dry then apply a generous layer of a heavier ointment such as Bag Balm and cover them with cotton gloves overnight. Bag Balm is a time-honored healing ointment that is rich in lanolin, which is a deeply hydrating ingredient (and is also derived from wool so don’t use it if you’re allergic to wool). If you’re wool allergic try pure shea butter (available in the skin care section of your natural food store) or ShiKai’s Borage Dry Skin Therapy. My Dry Skin Hand Repair Kits comes with Bag Balm and the best therapeutic cotton gloves that I’ve found.
Step #5: Use rubber gloves when you plan to work with harsh soaps or chemicals that irritate hand skin and pull out your natural skin oils.
If you are prone to chapped hands you may need to wear rubber gloves when you plan to immerse your hands in harsh chemicals like dish soap, house cleaners, paint thinner, or other solvents and even some foods like tomatoes, citrus, etc. A good rule of thumb (no pun intended) is that if you are going to touch something that you know would be too harsh to apply to your sensitive facial skin then put on a pair of rubber gloves before sticking your hands in it.
Normal healthy hand skin is sturdy enough to stand up to the occasional irritating chemical, but chapped hand skin is not; its barrier strength is compromised and the chemicals get into the skin more easily causing irritation and stripping of natural skin oils. Think of it like putting lemon juice on a cut, you know it will irritate the cut and delay healing. The same is true with your chapped hands; they just won’t heal unless you protect them. You need to use the gloves until the skin is entirely back to normal plus a week or two. Rubber gloves are pretty inconvenient so it’s best to just take really good care of your hands before they become chapped. You can do this by washing with only gentle soaps and regularly moisturizing your hands with a really good hand moisturizer after washing .
Photo: Thanks and Gratitude to Dino Olivieri