How To Treat Dry, Cracked Hands

Dry hands are an incredibly common problem in the winter.  When the air is cold, moisture in our skin is more likely to evaporate, leaving our skin dry.  This dry skin is prone to chapping, irritation and cracking.  Our hands take a beating because we wash them often, and because they are often exposed to the winter air. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to keep your hands healthy this winter.

How to Take Care of Your Hands This Winter

1. When washing your hands, use lukewarm (not hot or cold) water and a moisturizing liquid cleanser (e.g. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser). Avoid using traditional bar or deodorant soaps unless your hands are very dirty.

2. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in some instances instead of hand washing.  While the alcohol in these is drying, it's actually less drying than soap and water.  Look for a product that contains at least 60% alcohol so it sterilizes effectively and helps to prevent the spread of germs.

3. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!!  Generously apply a moisturizer after each hand washing. Keep bottles at work and in your bag.  Use a rich product that contains ingredients such as petrolatum, dimethicone and mineral oil.  Examples include Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream and CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream.  

4. If your hands are very dry and cracked, use an ointment-based moisturizer such as Vaseline or Aquaphor Healing Ointment at night and sleep with a pair of fitted cotton gloves applied on top of the moisturizer.  Do this nightly until your hands improve. Using an ointment such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on painful cracks and covering them with band-aids can speed healing.

5. Wear lined rubber gloves when doing any wet work or cleaning at home.  This protects your hands from water, detergents and cleaning chemicals that can irritate your skin.  Use your dishwasher as much as possible instead of doing dishes by hand.

6. Always wear gloves or mittens outdoors to protect your hands from the elements.  Lined leather gloves work well for everyday use.

7. If your skin is red in addition to being dry and/or cracked, or you don't improve with the above measures, you may have developed eczema and should consider visiting a dermatologist.


Michelle Levy

Dr. Michelle Levy is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical and aesthetic dermatology. A graduate of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Levy provides a full spectrum of dermatologic services in Toronto, Canada. Education: M.D., University of Toronto, 1999 Residency in Dermatology, University of Toronto, 1999-2004 Employment History: Self-employed, North York, Ontario, 2005-Present Medcan. Consultant Dermatologist. 2007-Present