Caring for Cracked Hands

Bloody knuckles are for boxers. Understand, prevent and treat cracked winter hands.

| January 8th, 2013
cracked hands

Hands take a special kind of beating in the winter. Just because you're battling the cold doesn't mean you need to look like you’ve been in a fistfight. The thin, delicate skin on your hands is constantly exposed to frigid conditions, and for many people the result is dry skin that cracks and bleeds, especially around the cuticles and knuckles. It’s not pretty and it hurts, to boot.

YouBeauty Dermatology Expert Jeanine Downie, M.D., puts it simply: “Moisture in the air and on the skin hydrates, lack of moisture dries the skin out.” Winter weather equals dry air, dry air leads to dry skin. On top of that, you might be washing your hands more frequently—what with everyone and her daughter sneezing and coughing all over you—and repeatedly transitioning from super cold temps outside to super dry heated air inside.

COLUMN: Moisturizers 101

Your hands are ill equipped for such harsh conditions. “Hands don’t replenish the oil in the skin as our faces do because our hands possess very few oil glands,” explains professional hand model Ellen Sirot, whose Hand Perfection hand care products hit drugstore shelves this month. “When we are constantly washing with aggravating conventional soaps and parching antibacterial gels we are contributing to a continued cycle and acceleration of dryness by stripping the skin of its oils without the skin having the ability to replenish itself.”

The more winters your hands have weathered, the harder it can be to fight the elements, says Andrew Miller, M.D., a plastic surgeon in New York. “As hands age, they gradually lose collagen, elastin and fatty soft tissue. The loss of these skin complements makes the hands less able to resist the stresses of significant temperature difference and results in cracking and dryness,” he says.

Here are five things you can do to keep hands soft, supple and pain-free.

QUIZ: Are You Doing What You Can for Healthy Skin?

Wash Well
While it’s tempting to stick cold hands under a hot faucet, it can exacerbate the problem. Wash your hands in luke warm water with a sulfate-free cleanser. Go easy with the towel; a gentle pat on the fronts and backs will do. Avoid paper towels, warns Sirot. They are rough and can cause micro-tears in the skin.

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