Winter skin therapy: dry hands

The best hand creams for soothing cracked, chapped skin

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Nov 25, 2019 · 5 min read

Three sets of hands with different colored nail polish stacked on top of each other
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you get dry skin in the winter, you’re not alone. Extremely dry hands can happen when the air is dry, because the less water in the air, the quicker your skin loses moisture. When the temperature drops, so does the humidity, which can dry us up and cause cracked fingertips, rough hands, or skin as flaky as a blizzard. Thankfully, home remedies are easy enough with a good hand repair cream. Here’s everything you need to know about the best lotions and hand creams for dry hands.

3 tips to help heal dry hands

1. Wear gloves. Not only are gloves a stylish fashion accessory, but they help protect your skin from being exposed to dry air. Wear gloves when you go outside, but also when you’re doing chores around the house, or any other time your hands are exposed to water or chemicals for prolonged periods of time.

2. Wash your hands mindfully. Washing your hands in super hot water with your favorite soap might not do you any favors. Room temperature water is gentler on the skin, and you should wash your hands with unscented hand soaps, free of harsh alcohol and other common irritants.

3. Use petrolatum. If you have cracked fingers, it’s best to use a medicated hand cream with petrolatum like Gold Bond Cracked Skin Fill & Protect, which protects the skin while restoring hydration with ceramides, lipids that naturally occur in skin, to encourage healthy moisture barrier function.

You can apply a thick layer of petrolatum jelly on your hands before bed and sleep with a pair of gloves on — some people swear by this as a home remedy for super dry hands. Personally, I find this hack to be messy and uncomfortable, so I prefer using hand creams in my winter skincare routine.

handsHands with white nail polish with hand cream

The best hand creams for dry skin

While “hand cream” and “hand lotion” are both kinds of moisturizers, lotions can be a bit drying if they have higher water content. In general, hand creams are more occlusive than hand lotions, meaning they provide a restorative layer of oil on the skin’s surface that slows down water loss, which is a good defense against cold, dry air. Pure petrolatum is an occlusive — which is why it feels so thick and oily on the skin. Other common occlusive ingredients include dimethicone, squalane, and beeswax, so I’ve included a few of my favorite unscented body lotions that can double as hand creams because of their ability to add water to the skin and keep it there. With that said, here are my picks for the best moisturizers to fortify your hands against the winter’s harshness.

CeraVe Therapeutic Hand Cream Skin Protectant

  • True to CeraVe form, this hand cream contains ceramides to restore the skin’s natural moisture barrier

  • Contains dimethicone as an occlusive moisturizer

  • Fragrance-free and non-comedogenic

$12.99 via CVS

Gold Bond Medicated Extra Strength Body Lotion with Aloe and Vitamin E

  • An emollient moisturizer with petrolatum and dimethicone

  • Aloe is one of the main ingredients, which is an effective antiseptic and anti-inflammatory that helps protect skin while soothing it

  • Menthol is the active ingredient and has a numbing, cooling effect on the skin, which can help to relieve itchiness

$11.29 via CVS

SKINFIX Eczema+ Hand Repair Cream

  • Thick hand cream with colloidal oatmeal to help sooth itchy, irritated skin

  • Fragrance-free and non-comedogenic

  • Contains allantoin, which fortifies the skin’s natural moisture barrier

$18.00 via Sephora

Vanicream Lite Skin Care Lotion

  • Petrolatum-based lotion with added moisturizing ingredients for deeper hydration

  • Fragrance-free and non-comedogenic

  • Ideal for sensitive skin due to its short ingredients list

$12.79 via Walgreens

Mustela Stelatopia Emollient Cream

  • Designed for eczema-prone skin that might be cracked and scaly

  • Contains petrolatum as an emollient

  • Contains ceramides, which naturally occur in healthy, hydrated skin

$26.00 via DermStore

The Organic Pharmacy Marigold & Comfrey Hand & Nail Cream

  • Contains aloe as one of the main ingredients

  • Restores hydration to hands with a blend of sesame, jojoba, and coconut oil — which, yes, can be pore-clogging, but is fine to use on hands

  • Contains some added fragrance

$36.00 via DermStore

When to see a dermatologist about dry skin

Eczema flares can often be mistaken for dry skin, and symptoms of eczema (or atopic dermatitis) can occur when a defective moisture barrier leads to extremely irritated skin. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, symptoms of hand eczema can include:

  • Scaly, inflamed skin that may itch

  • Burning sensation

  • Itchy blisters

  • Deep, painful cracks in fingers

Hand eczema can be caused by many different triggers, and it can often be an allergic reaction. If you suspect you’re having a significant flare of eczema, then you should see your in-person dermatologist for treatment. Seeing an in-person dermatologist is the best way to find the cause of an eczema flare and get effective treatment.

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It’s time to call in reinforcements

If your skin needs support against acne or signs of aging, give Curology a try. You’ll get access to a dermatology provider who’ll review your photos and medical history, and prescribe you a skin cream, custom-tailored for your unique skin needs. For no extra cost, new members can also try the complete Curology set which comes with a cleanser and your choice of moisturizer: gel for more lightweight hydration, or rich for skin that’s extra dry due to seasonality or other common triggers. You can sign up for a free trial and get your first month of custom skincare for just $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling.

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Stephanie Papanikolas

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