Anyone who works outside in the wintertime knows that cold weather is one of the quickest ways to find yourself with chapped and dry knuckles. It may sound like a minor issue and no big deal. However, skin can quickly become inflamed and infected as the condition worsens. Cracked skin can turn into open wounds that bleed and leave a person vulnerable to infection.
Dry hands occur when one’s skin feels rough, flaky, and scaly. It can be a severe problem in addition to causing discomfort.
Dry skin can be much more than just a painful or bothersome nuisance when left untreated. If not treated, dry skin can lead to cracked and open wounds that may allow bacterial infections to penetrate the skin’s outer defenses. In some cases, antibiotic creams may be necessary.
So, how do you cope with dry hands before they become a job-stopping problem? In this article, you can expect to discover more about the causes of dry hands, how winter weather can affect your skin, and how to prevent and treat severely dry skin before it causes more severe problems.
What Causes Dry Hands?
At the most basic level, a lack of moisture causes dry skin. However, there can be many reasons why hands begin to dry and crack in the first place. Most of the time, it is the direct result of a person’s environment, though some genetic diseases can also exacerbate the issue of dry skin all year round.
Here are some frequent contributors to dry skin:
- Age – as individuals get older, the amount of natural oils produced by the body decreases.This may be why it feels like in the wintertime, especially, dry hands get worse with every passing year—and why it’s essential to take care of our hands each winter.
- Chemicals – the harsh and abrasive chemicals found in powerful detergents and soaps can also dry out the skin.
- Deodorants and skin-care solutions – these products often contain fragrances that can cause an allergic skin reaction, drying out and irritating the skin.
- Prolonged exposure to hot water – those who literally find themselves in hot water may find their skin actually becomes dehydrated during activities like scrubbing dishes.
- Weather – while changes in weather, wind, and humidity are among the leading causes of dry hands, the weather certainly isn’t the only cause.
- Workplace conditions – exposure to industrial cleaners, such as in factory settings, or frequent handwashing to stay healthy and mitigate the spread of viruses like the flu, remove the last bit of natural oils that form a protective barrier on the skin. Those in the healthcare industry engage in frequent handwashing and, therefore, are prone to dry skin.
Cold air, blowing winter wind, freezing rain, snow, and dry air make the perfect combination for hands to dry up. One’s skin is often the driest in cold weather because the humidity drops. Even time spent indoors with the heat on dries the air and one’s skin. The epidermis—the top layer of skin—loses its water content in these conditions, and the body can no longer retain moisture.
For some, the irritation caused by chronically dry skin can get so bad it shares the same symptoms as ongoing, unpleasant skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. When things reach this level, it can be hard to tell whether the discomfort is the cause of winter weather, hand eczema, or some other kind of dermatitis.
As WebMD points out, the strength of our skin barrier, a mixture of proteins, lipids, and oils, is what protects us from winter's cruelest conditions and dirt and disease. To maintain a strong skin barrier, we must prevent dry hands. So, how is this done?
One of the most important things people can do to strengthen their skin barrier is moisturizing their hands with lotion throughout the day. This keeps water from evaporating from your skin. Lotion should be applied several times throughout the day, especially after hand washing, to build a healthy reserve of moisture within the cells of the skin barrier.
Here are some moisturizing lotions you might consider using on dry hands.
Best Cream and Hand Lotion
Dry cracked hands and dry stinging skin on hands is no joke. When dealing with uncomfortably dry skin, we will try almost anything to relieve the discomfort. Rather than take home every moisturizer on the shelf to see what works, try one or both of these top-rated moisturizers, available on Amazon, which work well for parched hands:
- O’Keefe’s Working Hands Cream – scores a 5-star rating, and that score is reflective of 12,000+ reviews. O’Keefe’s is a great product that contains deep conditioning oils, creating a defensive layer on the skin’s surface that rapidly increases moisture levels and helps avert ongoing moisture loss. This smooth, creamy moisturizer soothes cracked hands and offers relief from the burning and itching of wintertime dry hands.
- Gold Bond Ultimate Intensive Healing Cream – has a reputation for effectively treating dry skin. Like O’Keefe’s, Gold Bond scores a 5-star rating, too, with over 14,000 reviews. Gold Bond penetrates through the top ten layers of the skin to restore moisture and keeps your hands feeling great in cold, wet conditions. With Gold Bond, your hands will be able to hold up to the heavy demands of working outside in the winter.
In addition to these options, look for other products with a thicker consistency and more moisturizing components. Harvard highlights that the greasier a moisturizer is, you can expect better performance. An example of this is good old petroleum jelly, which is thick and inexpensive. You will want to avoid moisturizers that contain increased water levels, as they will ultimately be less greasy. Just remember, greasiness is good for dry, thirsty hands!
Once they’re moisturized, you will need to keep your hands protected from the cold temperatures if you’re working outside in winter weather. As mentioned above, cold weather produces lower humidity levels, which means hands are exposed to harsh, dry environments. A good pair of insulated work gloves will warm and protect hands from cold, dry air. It makes sense to still apply a moisturizer before putting on hand protection, ensuring your hands are prepared for dealing with cold temperatures.
Check out our article on Dishwashing Gloves.
Anyone who washes dishes should consider wearing a good pair of dishwashing gloves. Long cuffed rubber or nitrile gloves will help prevent hands from dehydrating as they work in hot, soapy water. Those individuals who need chemical-resistant gloves for workplace industrial cleaners, be sure to check out our chemical protection online catalog.
Click the image above to take a comprehensive look at the best dishwashing gloves available today.
And, before we move on to answering some common questions about dry hands, let’s address a common treatment used to keep hands moisturized. Many people find comfort in moisturizing their dry hands before going to bed but may not want to expose their linens to lotions or moisturizing agents that could rub off during the night. WebMD highlights how wearing gloves overnight over freshly moisturized hands can be an effective treatment to help keep that moisture on the skin and allow it time to penetrate. Wearing thin cotton gloves holds the moisturizer in place and allows the skin to breathe comfortably. The last thing anyone wants is a restless night of sleep due to dry hands or hot, stuffy gloves. Like the ones shown below, lightweight cotton gloves are the best way to go.
Inspection gloves are the lightest cotton gloves available and are enough to keep moisturized hands protected overnight.
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Common Questions and Home Remedies
What causes dry hands?
- Dry skin isn’t a mystery, but it can get uncomfortable. Typically, it’s caused by exposure to extreme hot or cold weather, low humidity levels, or extended exposure to water. These elements can cause the skin to become dehydrated as they leach the hands' natural water content and oils.
What natural ingredients should someone soak their dry, cracked hands in?
- There are plenty of natural remedies to help soothe and moisturize dry hands, but one of the simplest, most straightforward solutions is to soak dry hands in a bath of milk and oats. Milk contains lactic acid, which acts as an exfoliator, sloughing off the top layer of dry, dead skin cells, and oats are rich in amino acids and silica, which hydrate skin cells. You can also use coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, petroleum jelly, all-natural hand creams, antibiotic ointment, and prescription hand cream to fight the effects of dry, cracked hands.
Does hand sanitizer dry out skin?
- Yes. Hand sanitizer relies on alcohol to kill the bacteria and viruses that cause us to get sick. Hand sanitizers must be strong—containing at least 60 percent alcohol—to be truly effective. Most hand sanitizers available today contain some isopropyl, ethanol, or n-propanol alcohol. It’s the alcohol in these hand sanitizers that dries out the skin, breaks down the natural oils found on our hands, and leads to cell dehydration.
How to fix dry cracked hands?
- If winter weather has already impacted your hands, you can treat your hands by applying a high-quality moisturizer or hand cream throughout the day, especially after hand washing. Be sure to check out the two top-rated options described above.
How to treat extremely dry hands?
- Dry hands can quickly escalate and need more attention, especially those working outdoors in cold and wet weather. For itchy situations, the Mayo Clinic recommends using a soothing lotion containing 1% hydrocortisone that can calm and quiet irritated skin and help the inflammation subside. When conditions become severe, be sure to schedule a visit with your doctor, who may potentially prescribe prescription creams or perform wet dressings to address the issue.
What’s the difference between dry skin caused by weather and dry skin caused by eczema?
- Dry hands are caused by exposure to cold, dry weather, or prolonged exposure to liquids, while eczema and other similar conditions result from a genetic condition. Eczema typically causes the skin to become red, flaky, and even slightly inflamed, which is not usually the case with dry hands caused by cold weather.
Protecting Your Hands
At MCR Safety, we know dry hands are problematic and can interfere with work and, ultimately one’s quality of life. We hope the above has answered many of your questions regarding this skin condition and provided some general tips on preventing it. And, for those of you who need a good pair of work gloves to keep your hands protected at all times, we’ve got you covered. We provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for all kinds of conditions, including cold, wet, winter weather that can take a toll on your hands.
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