The cold months can be tough on your skin, especially your hands, even
after the snow melts. When you expose your hands to harsh weather, they
become susceptible to drying and cracking. Your skin has a barrier of
oils and lipids (fats) that protects against external irritants. Cold,
dry air, and frequent handwashing strips away this natural barrier and
damages your skin. This damage leads to painful, dry, cracked and sometimes
bleeding skin. It’s important to take preventative steps to protect
it, since it is much easier to prevent cracked skin than it is to heal it.
If you want to avoid, restore or replenish cracked, damaged skin, start
with these helpful tips.
Hydration and Humidity
Keep your skin hydrated from the inside-out and the outside-in! The easiest
and perhaps most effective things you can do to keep your skin soft and
smooth this winter are: drink plenty of fluids and put moisture back into
the air inside your home. People tend to drink less during the winter
months, but it’s important for keeping your skin healthy from the
inside-out. So be sure to drink the recommended eight glasses per day
to keep your skin from cracking this winter. Secondly, many heating systems
dry out the air inside your home, so using a humidifier is an easy way
to counteract this drying effect. Add moisture back into the air and hydrate
Resist the urge to wash with hot water. Hot water dries out the skin faster
by depleting your skin’s natural barrier, so switch to warm water
instead. This is especially important if you are a caregiver, doctor or
other health care professional, as you likely wash your hands more frequently
than most people. Select a fragrance-free, mild hand soap that contains
essential fatty acids like olive oil, avocado oil, almond oil or shea
butter--these are among the best moisturizing ingredients for your skin.
Once you’ve washed your hands, reach for a moisturizing lotion instead
of a hand towel. Applying lotion to wet skin helps trap moisture on its
surface. After you apply lotion, let it soak in for a few minutes before
moving on to other tasks. This will help the lotion penetrate the skin
and be more effective. Lotion can also be applied between hand washing
to keep your skin soft and moisturized.
When selecting a lotion, look for ingredients like lanolin, squaline, glycerol
stearate and jojoba oil. These are well known emollients that keep your
skin lubricated. Humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sorbic acid
and sorbitol are also important. These ingredients draw in moisture from
the air and help increase the water content on the surface of your skin.
There are several things you can do on a weekly basis to help mitigate
the drying effects of excessive exposure to water or harsh climates. Treating
yourself to a paraffin wax treatment is an effective way to heal dry or
cracked skin. During this treatment, your hands are dipped in a warm wax
that sticks to your skin. When it is removed, it takes dry skin cells
with it leaving you with softer, smoother skin. Paraffin is a natural
emollient that locks in moisture to help retain your skin’s natural
barrier of oils and lipids. You can also apply a petroleum jelly to your
hands before bedtime and sleep with cotton gloves on to help seal in additional
moisture. Petroleum jelly is hypoallergenic, nonirritating, and contains
no artificial colors or fragrances, making it an excellent choice for
This tip is twofold (and five-fingered) because not only is it important
to protect your hands from harsh winter weather, it is also important
to protect them from being submerged in water. For outdoor gloves, invest
in a pair of lined gloves with a dense outer layer that blocks wind and
protects your hands from excess drying. If you spend substantial time
dishwashing or doing other chores that keep your hands wet, get in the
habit of wearing rubber gloves and replace them when they begin to crack,
split, or feel unpleasant on the inside.
If we’ve missed your favorite cracked skin treatment, please share
it with us in the comments below!
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.