Your Guide To Caring for Dry Hands: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

January 29, 2024
Writer Lauren Levinson
By: Lauren Levinson | by L'Oréal

As a dedicated manicure-goer, the skin on my hands is usually in pretty good shape. I always keep a hand cream in my bag for on-the-go use and pride myself on my hydrating body care routine. Despite all of this, my hands always begin to feel rough and dry when winter rolls around—and it usually doesn’t let up until spring. Even as I write this, in the dead of January in New York, I’m religiously applying petroleum jelly to uncomfortable dry spots. If this sounds relatable, you might be wondering, why are my hands so dry and what can I do to help prevent this dryness?

When it comes to dry hands, the good news is that you’re not alone—dry, rough skin on the hands is a pretty common issue. And there are plenty of steps you can take to manage dryness and restore hydrated, soft, and comfortable-feeling hands, even when temperatures drop. Ahead, learn more about the causes of dry hands, common signs of dryness, and tips to help treat and prevent dry skin year-round.

Why Are My Hands So Dry?

Dry hands are caused by a lack of moisture in your skin. There are many factors that can lead to moisture loss and dry, rough-feeling skin on your hands, such as genetics, age, the weather, and your daily lifestyle habits. Read on for a breakdown of some of the common culprits of dry skin on your hands.

Environmental factors

Harsh weather conditions, such as low humidity, intense wind, and low temperatures, can leech moisture from your skin and lead to dry hands—especially during the cold, dry winter months. Unlike your feet, tucked away in cozy socks and boots, your hands are typically exposed to these weather conditions, which can leave them more vulnerable to dryness. So, while that chilly walk from your car to the store may seem harmless, it could leave you with dehydrated hands that feel itchy, tight, and uncomfortable. The fact that many of us are always on our phones, using our exposed hands, also doesn’t help.

Kiehl’s Liquid Hand Soap

Personal habits

I’ve always dealt with dry hands, but as soon as I had kids, it got worse. Washing my hands frequently between changing diapers and cleaning bottles has definitely left my hands feeling drier and rougher. That’s why, for me, it’s been essential to pay close attention to my everyday habits—such as using lukewarm (not hot) water when washing my hands and avoiding harsh soaps and detergents.

Hand soap helps remove dirt and disease-causing germs. However, if the soap you choose has harsh, drying ingredients in it, it could contribute to dry, cracked hands. Certain hand soaps may also negatively affect the skin barrier, making the skin more susceptible to dryness. Choosing gentle soap and cleanser formulas can help support comfortable-feeling skin and reduce moisture loss when cleansing. One option is Kiehl’s Liquid Hand Soap, which cleanses without over drying. Formulated with aloe vera, vitamin E, and glycerin, the freshly-scented soap is refreshing and soothing.

Another possible culprit of dry hands is hand sanitizer. While hand sanitizer is a convenient option for cleaning your hands and killing germs on the go, many formulas contain alcohol, which can be drying. If you have dry hands, it may be best to avoid hand sanitizers that contain high alcohol content. It’s also important not to overuse these products—try using them only when needed.

Underlying health conditions

It’s possible that an underlying health condition may be causing or contributing to dry knuckles, dry palms, and other dry, itchy skin concerns. One of the most common dry skin conditions is eczema (formally known as atopic dermatitis). The National Eczema Association defines eczema as “a group of conditions that cause the skin to be itchy, inflamed, or rash-like.” According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), common symptoms of eczema include chapped or cracked skin and red patches. Eczema can sometimes be mistaken for temporary dry skin, so it’s essential to consult your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist if you suspect your skin concerns may be tied to this (or any) skin condition.

Psoriasis is another skin condition that has the potential to cause dry hands. This autoimmune disorder may appear as raised red plaques and scales on the skin, per the National Psoriasis Foundation. While psoriasis can show up on any area of the body, hands are one of the most commonly affected areas. According to the AAD, there are also a handful of other health conditions and medications that may contribute to dry, cracked hands. Certain vitamin deficiencies and dehydration may also play a role. If you’re concerned about anything listed here, speak with a healthcare provider.

What Are Some Common Signs of Dry Skin?

It may seem obvious if you have dry hands, palms, or knuckles, as your skin will likely feel dehydrated and appear visibly parched. However, there are some less obvious signs that may signal your hands are in need of moisture. These include flaking, itching, tightness, peeling, or discomfort. Dry skin can also show up as cracks or fissures (be sure to speak with your healthcare provider if your dry skin is painful or interferes with your daily activities). In some cases, you may also notice redness or experience skin irritation, as dry skin tends to be more sensitive.

Hand Cream for dry hands

How Can I Help Relieve Dry, Rough Hands?

The ideal treatment for dry hands will depend on the cause. However, there are some useful tips that can help relieve dryness and discomfort if your hands are in need of some TLC.

Use a targeted moisturizer for dry hands

The first line of defense when it comes to treating dry skin on the hands is usually a high-quality lotion, ointment, or hand cream. The right moisturizer formula can help provide your skin with much-needed hydration and help minimize water loss from your skin’s upper layer. Try to apply moisturizer as often as you can remember, or whenever your hands are feeling especially dry.

It’s usually best to apply moisturizer after washing your hands, showering, or going outside—when your skin is vulnerable to moisture loss. Look for moisturizing products that specifically target dry skin and contain beneficial hydrating ingredients. These often contain niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 known for its soothing properties, and dimethicone, a silicone-based polymer that helps reduce water loss in the skin.

Two hand creams that feature the ingredients above include La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Hand Cream and CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream. The La Roche-Posay formula is a non-greasy cream for dry and damaged hands (including sensitive skin) that offers up to 48 hours of hydration. In addition to niacinamide and dimethicone, it contains shea butter, glycerin, and thermal spring water sourced from the town of La Roche-Posay in France. This soothing water contains a unique combination of minerals, trace elements, and selenium—a natural antioxidant.

CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream is a fragrance-free option that’s also suitable for sensitive skin. It features CeraVe’s three essential ceramides to help maintain the skin’s protective barrier, as well as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and dimethicone. Like all CeraVe products, this hand cream is developed with dermatologists, gentle on skin, and allergy-tested.

Editor Tip: If you’re experiencing dry, peeling skin around your fingertips, try cuticle oil. Keep it by your bedside to apply before bed, so you don’t forget. I recommend Essie On a Roll Apricot Nail & Cuticle Oil, which is mess-free thanks to its convenient roll-on applicator. Plus, the formula is 98% natural and vegan, and features a nourishing blend of apricot and jojoba oils.

Essie On a Roll Apricot Nail & Cuticle Oil

Can I Prevent Dry Skin on My Hands?

While it may not be possible to completely prevent dry skin, limiting exposure to common dry skin triggers can help. Here are a few dry skin prevention tips to help protect your hands all year long.

Moisturize every day

As mentioned above, moisturizers can be incredibly helpful when it comes to relieving dry skin on your hands. However, moisturizing regularly may also help keep your skin feeling comfortable and keep dryness at bay. If you wash your hands frequently or live in a cold climate, you may benefit from a thicker formula, such as an ointment or petrolatum-based hand cream.

Maintain a healthy skin barrier

The skin barrier is exactly as it sounds: a natural shield for your skin. It protects your skin against environmental stressors and helps prevent moisture loss. Keeping the skin barrier healthy is an important part of maintaining hydrated, healthy-looking skin. Some ways to help support your skin’s natural moisture barrier include using lukewarm water for showers and hand-washing, patting (instead of rubbing) the skin dry, and applying moisturizer immediately after cleansing. If you apply a hand cream when your skin is still a bit damp, it can help lock in moisture and keep your skin from drying out.

CeraVe Healing Ointment

Try petroleum jelly for very dry hands

For extra-dry hands, try adding a layer of petroleum jelly (also known as petrolatum) on particularly rough spots. Petroleum jelly is an occlusive—a type of moisturizer that creates a protective barrier on top of your skin. Rather than being absorbed, petroleum jelly sits on top of your skin and helps prevent moisture from escaping. You can also try a petrolatum-based ointment on very dry, cracked, or chafed hands, such as CeraVe Healing Ointment.

Protect your hands when outdoors or cleaning

Gloves can also be your best friend if dry, cracked hands are an issue. Wear warm gloves anytime you’re outside, and if you don’t have gloves, keep your hands in your pockets—away from dry, cold air. When cleaning your home, it may also be a good idea to use dishwashing gloves to help protect your hands, wrists, and arms from hot water and the chemicals found in soaps (both of which, as mentioned, can dehydrate the skin). And here’s an added bonus: Dishwashing gloves can also help protect your manicure!

Stay hydrated

Drinking an adequate amount of water can also play a role in preventing dry hands. According to the Mayo Clinic, the average adult needs about 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water a day. Adding ingredients such as cucumber or aloe may help boost the hydration benefits of your water.

Use a humidifier when indoors

Another helpful idea is to use a humidifier, especially during the winter or if you live in a dry environment. Since dry air can dehydrate your skin, making the air moist may help keep your skin hydrated. While there is some debate over whether humidifiers work, the AAD recommends them for those with dry skin.

Seek professional advice when needed

If nothing seems to be working for your dry, cracked hands, it may be time to consult a medical professional for help. Your doctor or dermatologist can assess your dry hands and offer the best treatment options, including prescription creams and treatments for any underlying skin conditions. Steroids can be effective in some cases, when used under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

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