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.

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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.

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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.

Lock in Moisture: While your hands are still a little damp, massage in some moisturizer to keep that hydration on your skin. Ingredients to look for: hyaluronic acid, aloe, shea butter, vitamins E, B and C, and SPF. A 2012 study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology showed that urea, which helps hydrate the outer layer of skin, also confers antimicrobial benefits, a boon for those with open cracks that are susceptible to infection. Products with urea include Udderly Smooth Extra Care Cream, Urea Care and Ureacin.At night, slather on a greasy ointment such as Vaniply, Vaseline or Aquaphor, says Glenn Kolansky, M.D., from Advanced Dermatology Surgery and Laser Center in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.

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Soothe and Repair: For small cuts, scrapes and tears, rub on some Worker B Rescue Putty. The simple mixture of beeswax, raw honey and olive oil stays in place and heals minor damage practically before your eyes.

Wear Gloves…Indoors and Out: Protect your hands from the cold with wool or leather gloves every time you go outside. Don a pair of rubber kitchen gloves when you do dishes. And if your paws are really suffering, slather them in a thick moisturizer before bed and slip them into cotton gloves (or a pair of socks).

Advanced Approach: “Over time, our top layer of skin loses its efficiency to hold onto natural moisture, which results in more dryness,” Dr. Miller explains. For women whose hands have lost volume through the years, he recommends fillers like Radiesse or harvested fat to replace the insulation that protects against cold and prevent cracking.

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