Treating Sun Damage on the Back of Your Hands

Cynthia Bailey, MD|June 23, 2014

Treating Sun Damage: best hand sun protectionChances are, when you are out in the sun, your hands are exposed. The skin on the backs of your hands is thin and very prone to sun damage. In fact, in my dermatology practice, I often see the same amount of sun damage on the back of the hands that I see on the face. These are high-risk places for precancerous lesions and skin thinning and they need sun protection. You may remember to wear sunscreen on your face daily, but do you apply it to your hands?  Sun protection of your hands is actually a really important and unique topic worth discussing all by itself. Sun protecting your hands is complicated by the fact that your hands are busy. You wash your hands all day long and you rub them against things like the fabric of your pockets, towels, clothing, etc. - all of which remove your sunscreen. It means that you need to start with the application of a durable sunscreen every morning and you need a practical strategy for reapplication too. Another great idea is ALSO to use clothing to keep the UV rays off of your hand skin.

Here is my dermatologist's advice to keep your hand skin cancer free and young looking forever:

Tip #1.  Apply a durable water-resistant and rub-resistant sunscreen every morning to the backs of your hands. Do this when you are applying your facial sunscreen, which needs to be done before you step outside. I use either Citrix Sunscreen or Solbar Zinc on my hands on a daily basis. Treating Sun Damage Citrix Best sunscreen for the hands Water resistant sunscreen best for hands           Tip #2.  Don't rinse or scrub the sunscreen off the back of your hands, if possible. Think about whether you really need to lather and rinse the back of your hands ever time you wash them. Often it's just the palm side that needs a wash. Try not to remove your sunscreen and, if you do, be sure to reapply your sunscreen after toweling dry. Tip #3.  Wear a durable and high-performance sunscreen on days of intense UV exposure. When you expect hours of continuous exposure be prepared - and remember to reapply every two hours. When I garden or walk my dog I use Raw Elements Eco Lotion before I step into the sun. I keep the handy Eco Stick in my pocket so I can reapply it at least every two hours and after washing or rubbing off my initial application of the lotion. Yes, it feels like I have a lot of sunscreen on my hands but I prefer that to the damage and age spots that are the only alternative. Tip #4.  Wear a long-sleeved shirt that drapes down or covers your hands when possible. Remember that even with a sun shirt your hands will peak out from time to time so apply a water-resistant sunscreen on the back of your hands every day. When I walk my dog, garden, or swim I use a sun-protection shirt, and my favorite are Coolibar shirts made with their high-tech fabric. I love the shirts with the thumb hold to keep the hand skin covered continuously. Hello sun-protection clothing designers, more of these please! Tip #5.  Consider wearing sun-protection gloves. You can buy gloves made out of UPF 50 fabric (which blocks 98% of the rays and saves on the sunscreen reapplication inconvenience). Most sun-protection gloves have the finger tips cut out so that you retain your dexterity. Coolibar has some well-priced and trusty gloves. My new favorite sun-protection gloves are the soft and elegant ones made by Bloxsun (we've started selling them in the office, come in and try a pair on if you live locally). I wear these elegant and soft Bloxsun gloves when I drive my convertible (crazy but I own one, and yes it was my midlife "issue" - and I love it!) or walk my dog. I prefer the gloves to layers of sunscreen. I carry them in my purse now so that I'm always prepared. It may sound like a lot of work but it's worth it because your hands show aging to the world. Over and over I hear my patients complain that their hands now look like their mother's, father's, or grandparent's hands. That's because as kids they noticed their loved one's hands as "old" looking. It is the sun damage that causes old-looking hands and it will happen to all of us if we don't sun protect our hand skin!  Remember, sun damage not only causes skin cancers, but it is also responsible for the skin thinning (click here to see how UV rays cause skin thinning) and "age" spots (liver spots aka solar lentigines) and it's preventable with my five tips listed above. 

What can you do if your hand skin already looks prematurely old with thinning, wrinkles, and sun spots?

Dermatologists can use laser and light (IPL) to treat the sun spots, but nothing will restore the skin thickness once the damage has occurred. Remember, prevention is still the best, even with cosmetic procedures. Know that it's never too late because sun damage is cumulative and will get worse if you don't intervene.


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Photo attribution: thanks and gratitude to Agustine Ruiz

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