A kiss on the hand may be quite continental...unless you're embarrassed by your brittle nails, cracked skin and wrinkled bony knuckles.

Maybe you can hide them at business meetings and in dark restaurants but if you make a champagne toast, hold hands on a date or sign a credit card transaction...there is no hiding. People take a good long at your hands.

What do they see? Are they youthful, moist and touchable? Or are they brittle, scaly and cracked? Here are some new secrets to beautify those hands so you can begin to wave them with pride.

According to Dr. Roberta Palestine, who completed her residency in dermatology at the Mayo Clinic, your nails get more brittle as you get older. They suffer more in winter too, so now is a great time to pay them some attention.

Here's what you should do:

  • Protect and defend your nails. When you rummage into your purse, empty dishwashers, hammer a wall...you ruin your nails. If you forget your sunscreen or wash your hands too much, you're in for more trouble. "Make sure your general health is good, first," says Palestine, "by getting a complete physical exam with blood tests." Poor nails can sometimes be a symptom of internal ailments.
  • Balance your diet. You need enough protein for good hair and nails. "Drastic low-calorie diets or protein in short supply will cause the body to divert resources to more vital areas and your nails will suffer," explains Dr. Palestine.
  • Moisturize the cuticles. "Cuticles provide the protective barrier that prevents yeast, bacteria and fungus from starting infections," explains Palestine.
  • Be careful with artificial nails. They can invite infection - and cause permanent damage - if you keep them on too long. Be sure to inspect the nail bed routinely for infection.
  • Go easy on polish changes."Manicures help for appearance," says Palestine, "but always ask what the sterilization routine is, even in an upscale salon." If there is any doubt, politely get up and leave.

So many women spend all their resources and attention on their face and neglect their hands.

With time, the skin on your hands develops wrinkles, becomes discolored and loses its elasticity. After 40 you begin to see this accelerate each year.

Reversing Damage to Your Hands

But now you can actually remove the damage from age and sun. Dr. Palestine is seeing mostly women patients, 40 and over, take advantage of new chemical peel treatments - for the hands.

These peels can actually remove the damage caused by aging and, if you use sun protection, the youthful results should be long lasting.