Keeping our hands from looking like leathery mitts can be rough, especially if we do a lot of work (or play) outdoors, and don't forget about winter's drying effects.
Our bodies are made up of about 60 percent water, and our skin needs about 10 to 15 percent of that water to stay hydrated [source: Aubrey and Pons-Guiraud]. Without good hydration, our skin becomes irritated, dry and even cracked. Dry hands are easy to prevent, once you get into the habit. First, let's look at how to pick the best moisturizer for the job.
5: Choose the Right Product
One walk down the aisle in your local store will clue you in that moisturizers aren't all the same. You have a lot of choices: Will it be fragrance-free, chemical-free or oil-free? And what's the best type of lotion for hands?
When it comes to buying hand moisturizers, look for thick creams made for specifically for hands instead of thin lotions intended for the whole body -- body lotion will work, just not as well. Moisturizers that contain ingredients such as oils and petrolatum (petroleum jelly) help seal water into your skin, while ingredients such as glycerin or alpha-hydroxy acids attract moisture from the air to your skin.
In addition to reading the ingredients list, don't forget a price check. Inexpensive moisturizing products often give you an equal or better result than their pricey counterparts, and they sometimes come in more economical sizes.
4: Prevent Skin Cancer
Frequent use of hand creams is key to keeping hands soft and smooth. If you're going to spend the time and money to do so, why not also protect your hands from damaging UV rays? The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that roughly 120,000 Americans will develop melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, this year alone [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
If you spend any time outside -- whether it's for your job or while taking care of yard work -- it's important to be protected with a sunscreen, minimum SPF 15. Even something as seemingly innocuous as driving can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. Researchers have found that drivers have a higher rate of skin cancers of the head, neck, arms and, yes, hands than passengers.
3: End Eczema
If you think dry skin is nothing to worry about, consider instead worrying about patches of red, inflamed skin on your hands called eczema. Eczema can be a chronic or allergic condition, but it can also appear on skin that's irritated, dehydrated or sensitive. What's worse is that treating it can be difficult.
Moisturizers can play an important role in preventing hand eczema as well as treating the condition before it progresses to the point that you'll need prescription medications. Look for moisturizers with ingredients that provide a barrier between your skin and the environment, such as jojoba or other oils, lanolin and petrolatum (petroleum jelly).
2: Moisturize After Washing
You know that keeping your hands clean can help reduce the number of colds, flu and other infections you get, but all that hand washing can lead to dry, cracked hands. Don't forgo hand hygiene (lather up well and scrub for at least 20 seconds) in the name of softer skin -- instead, add a hand lotion to your washing routine.
Researchers in Germany found that moisturizer applied to hands immediately after washing them -- applying it to damp hands will help maximize how much water is sealed into skin -- and after every hand wash did have a noticeable impact on skin dryness in about two weeks. In fact, they noticed softer skin after just two days.
1: Treat Calluses
Anyone who works with his hands or who can tear it up on the guitar knows the consequence -- calluses. Calluses are nothing more than areas of skin that have thickened due to ongoing friction, but they can be painful, and they can be hard to get rid of once they form.
While treating a callus requires more than a good moisturizer, it's an important part of the process:
- Keep calluses covered (bandages, gloves, whatever works) to help to reduce friction
- Soften calluses by soaking your hand(s) in warm water
- Exfoliate thickened skin with a pumice stone
- Slather on thick moisturizing cream to help keep calluses supple and less prone to increased thickening and pain
If a callus is painful and doesn't begin to improve even with your self-care attempts, a visit to the doctor can easily take care of the condition.
Lots More Information
- Top 5 Natural Exfoliants
- Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Daily Body Cleanser
- Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Daily Body Moisturizer
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Dermatologists' Top Tips for Skin Care on a Budget." 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://www.aad.org/public/SkinCareonaBudget.html
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Melanoma Fact Sheet." 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://www.aad.org/media/background/factsheets/fact_melanoma.html
- American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. "Hand Rashes." 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/hand_rashes.html
- Aubrey, Allison. "Five Myths About Drinking Water." NPR. April 3, 2008. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89323934
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Wash Your Hands." Dec. 15, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.cdc.gov/features/handwashing/
- DailyMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Sterillium Comfort Gel." March 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=26639
- Hendrick, Bill. "Sun Exposure While Driving Linked to Cancer." WebMD. May 14, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/news/20100514/sun-exposure-while-driving-linked-to-cancer
- Kampf, Gunter, and Joachim Ennen. "Regular use of a hand cream can attenuate skin dryness and roughness caused by frequent hand washing." BMC Dermatology. Feb. 13, 2006. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-5945/6/1
- Kramer, A. et al. "Clinical double-blind trial on the dermal tolerance and user acceptability of six alcohol-based hand disinfectants for hygienic hand disinfection." Journal of Hospital Infection. June 2002. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12090798?dopt=AbstractPlus&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn
- Marino, Christina. "Skin Physiology, Irritants, Dry Skin and Moisturizers." Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. June 2006. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.lni.wa.gov/Safety/Research/Dermatitis/files/skin_phys.pdf
- Pons-Guiraud, A. "Dry skin in dermatology: a complex physiopathology." Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. Aug. 21, 2007. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-3083.2007.02379.x/abstract
- The Skin Cancer Foundation. "Prevention Guidelines." 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://www.skincancer.org/Guidelines/
- Veien, N.K. and T. Menne. "Treatment of Hand Eczema." Skin Therapy Letter. Sept. 16, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010)http://www.skintherapyletter.com/2003/8.5/2.html
- WebMD. "Corns and Calluses Treatment." April 29, 2010. (Dec. 23, 2010) http://firstaid.webmd.com/corns-and-calluses-treatment