Health officials and the CDC have encouraged us to wash our hands as often as humanly possible in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Now, while this is proving a crucial, life-saving defense, frequent washing can lead to dry, cracked hands in the long run. Frustrating, yes, but it’s actually a good thing! It means people are doing their part to flatten the curve. So, although over-washing your hands can certainly lead to dryness, it’s no time to stop. See, having dry hands is something that we do know how to cure.
What Causes Dry Hands?
There are many different reasons why we may experience dry hands. Weather (especially cold winter air and its partner, indoor heating), genetic predisposition, certain medical conditions (like diabetes and lupus), and even environmental factors (like too much sun or exposure to chemical irritants) can all play a part. But the most prevalent cause at this moment, of course, is frequent hand washing. So, let’s explore: How is it that something so innocent as a little soap and water can wreak so much havoc on our skin? Well, the answer is pretty simple.
Soap dissolves oil -- and thankfully so, because that’s why it prevents illness. Viruses like COVID-19 are encapsulated by a fatty membrane called a lipid bilayer, which washes away when we lather up properly. But here’s the catch: The outermost layer of our skin also contains oil: natural sebum that protects the skin from cracking and letting in uninvited dirt or germs. Unfortunately, soap (along with other stripping ingredients, like alcohol) whisk away the healthy oils and waxes that maintain moisture levels in the skin, right along with the nasty stuff. It’s a double-edged sword, because without that protective barrier, tiny cracks or fissures can form in the skin and freely let in germs. Consequently, as important as it is to wash our hands, it’s also crucial that we counteract the dryness that may ensue.
Dry, Cracked Hand Remedies
Alligator hands got you down? Here’s our round-up of the best at-home fixes for dry hands.
1. Apply Some Good Ol’ Hand Cream (And Quick!)
It’s not enough to use hand cream when you notice the sandpaper effect setting in. The key is to apply it as soon as you’re done washing your hands -- every time, no matter what. This is because we introduce much needed water to the skin upon washing, and we want to seal that in. So, when you’re done scrubbing away, gently pat (don’t rub!) dry with a towel, and follow with a creamy moisturizer that contains emollient ingredients like coconut oil, dimethicone, shea butter, or petroleum jelly. We’re talking hand cream here, not lotion, in order to form a proper moisture barrier on the skin. And just to make sure you’re always protected, keep a tube of hand cream at every sink, along with a travel size in your purse if you plan to leave the house.
2. Use Mild Cleansers
Save the extra strength Palmolive for that lasagna pan. When it comes to hand washing, you don’t need the heavy-duty stuff. In fact, gentler is better, as it doesn’t rob all of our natural oils. Most traditional soaps also have a higher pH than our skin, which results in a harsh, stripping effect. Sensitive skin types, in particular, are better off using a product that’s pH balanced and unscented to avoid causing or exacerbating any irritation.
3. Try Hand Patches
As if that crispy knuckle feeling wasn’t frustrating enough, it turns out that dry skin is also a gateway to wrinkles (hence why facial skincare products are so often geared towards hydrating and moisturizing). So, if you’re afraid to come out of quarantine with hands that look decades older than you are, well, it’s time to give your hands the same love that you give to your face. Our favorite hack? Silicone patches. The SiO Handlift is made of 100% medical grade silicone, shaped just for the hands. The patches comfortably hug the skin, pulling moisture from deep within the lowest layers and supporting the skin’s natural ability to retain moisture. Similar to an emollient cream, the occlusive layer from the patches makes sure that your hands hold on (literally!) to all of the moisture they can. As a bonus, they also flatten out fine lines for supple, hydrated, youthful hands in just a few hours’ time. Pop the patches on before bedtime every night and say good night to dry spots and wrinkles!
4. Gently Exfoliate
Gentle exfoliation can remove the extra dry skin that makes your hands feel rough and crepey. To try it, make a homemade scrub using olive oil and plenty of granulated sugar. Gently massage it into your hands, then rinse well and pat dry. Exfoliating can be a game changer if you’re dealing with minor dryness and flaking -- but, keep in mind, if you’re past that point and are experiencing more severe cracking or peeling, stick to moisturizer only until your hands heal.
5. Wear That Mask and Gloves
No, we don’t mean PPE! Yes, CDC guidelines indicate that you should wear a cloth mask and gloves in public. But for the purposes of hand moisturizing, we’re talking about a whole other kind of mask and gloves. Before you go to sleep (or, really, whenever you have at least 20 minutes to spare) apply some Vaseline or other heavy moisturizer and slip a pair of cotton gloves or socks over your hands to enhance absorption. It’s like a heavy-duty face mask for the extremities. Wipe off any excess “mask” when you’re done and enjoy those silky-smooth digits.
6. Whip Up Some Oatmeal
What better time to get resourceful than self-quarantine? For a stellar dry hand remedy, look no further than your pantry. Oatmeal has long been established as a soothing, anti-inflammatory skin protectant, and it’s no doubt one of the best home remedies for severely dry, cracked hands. For best results, grind up the oatmeal with a food processor, coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle. Then, mix it with a little honey and coconut oil. Apply it to your hands and allow it to absorb for 20-30 minutes before wiping it off and rinsing well.
It’s no surprise that dry air contributes to dry skin. Particularly in cooler months when we turn on the heater at home, the air that’s circulating can really make you parched. Introducing a little humidity, especially when sleeping, can make all the difference -- not only for your hands, but for chapped lips and dry patches everywhere else, too. There’s even been some evidence that humidifiers can boost immunity, as dry air may make us more prone to viral infections. So, go ahead and plug in that diffuser or humidifier every single night. Just make sure you’re also cleaning it regularly, because releasing mold or bacteria into the air pretty much cancels out the benefits.
8. Dabble in Topical Steroids
If your hands are a little irritated or itchy, a dab of over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can really be a lifesaver. Apply the cream in a thin layer two or three times a day, rubbing it in each time until it’s fully absorbed. Just keep in mind, it’s best not to use it for more than four weeks or so at a time. And for more severe cases of skin inflammation or irritation, you’re better off talking to your dermatologist, who can diagnose conditions and prescribe stronger, prescription topical steroids to do the job.
Lest we forget, dry hands are a small price to pay for the health and safety of our communities faced with the coronavirus pandemic. So, even though excessively washing our hands strips them of their natural moisture, it doesn’t mean we should pull back -- especially when there are so many simple at-home solutions to quench the dryness. Parties, concerts, and dining out might be canceled, but lucky for us, hand cream, oatmeal treatments, and silicone patches are still ours for the taking. Take care of your hands, and they’ll take care of you!