Healthy hands: how to prevent dry skin
Your hands are an incredibly important part of your body. They help you to carry out everyday tasks, from eating and personal hygiene to driving the car and lifting objects.
So it’s no wonder our hands take a beating and often end up dry and cracked.
We talked to Consultant Dermatologist Dr Shreya Andric about what causes dry, peeling skin on your hands, and asked her for some tips for looking after them.
Washing your hands the right way
Dr Shreya agrees that handwashing is an essential part of life these days. However, she warns that over-washing your hands can lead to long-term issues such as dry peeling skin, irritant contact dermatitis and eczema.
To prevent dry, cracked skin, it’s important to wash your hands the right way.
Healthdirect.gov.au advises washing your hands “before touching anything that needs to stay clean, and after touching anything that might contaminate your hands.”
- when your hands are visibly dirty
- after going to the toilet or changing a nappy
- after handling rubbish, household or garden chemicals
- before you prepare or eat food
When you wash, make sure the water is warm, rather than hot. “Overly hot water can strip your hands of their natural oils, causing dry, cracked skin,” says Dr Shreya. Any break in the skin then provides an opportunity for bacteria to enter your body and cause infections and inflammation.
Make sure you are a good role model for others in your household and help children to wash their hands the right way. Creating healthy habits now will make them second nature as your children grow older.
Moisturise – don’t compromise
After washing your hands and drying them thoroughly, Dr Shreya says, “It's a good idea to get into the habit of applying moisturiser as the final step of your routine.” This will often help to put a stop to extremely dry, cracked hands.
Face cream is great for looking after your face, but it may be too light to be effective for your hands. A specific hand cream that contains emollients may be more useful for some people.
Emollients are compounds that cover potential cracks in your skin, providing a protective layer over the dry, chapped skin on your hands. Make sure you massage your hand cream all over your knuckles to prevent dry cracked fingers and hands.
Wearing simple cotton gloves at night after you’ve applied your hand cream can help to keep the cream on your skin and not your bedsheets. This can assist the skin to heal much faster, and help any chronic dry skin patches on your hands.
Gloves aren’t just for winter
Dr Shreya also recommends wearing gloves for other activities around the house.
“Wearing gloves while gardening and cleaning can help to reduce the need for constant hand washing,” she says.
And, wearing protective gloves while gardening not only keeps your hands and fingernails clean, but also helps to protect against fungal infections from certain soils and plants.
Many people use rubber gloves when cleaning the house, but the latex in these gloves may cause allergies in some people.
Instead, Dr Shreya recommends opting for vinyl or neoprene materials where possible. “Alternatively,” she adds, “consider wearing cotton gloves under the cleaning ones for an extra layer of protection against chemicals.”
Healthy hands from the inside out
The protein keratin is one of your body’s main building blocks for creating healthy skin and nails.
To get enough of the nutrient-rich foods that help your body to produce keratin, take a look at our top 10 food recommendations for skin, hair and nails.
When is it time to hand it over to a professional?
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the dry, cracked skin on your hands needs professional help.
Eczema can start off looking like dry, irritated skin, but it can get very painful if you don’t get it correctly treated. Dr Shreya recommends reaching out to a qualified dermatologist, who can do a patch test to help pinpoint your specific issues.
Then, together, you can discuss how to get rid of the dry skin on your hands fast and identify the correct treatment for your skin.
Dr Shreya’s number 1 way to look after your hands
Following all of Dr Shreya’s hand health tips will go a long way toward preventing dry, peeling skin on your hands. But she has one more piece of ‘handy’ advice for everyone, even if you don’t have dry skin right now.
“Always apply sunscreen when you go out,” she says. “Your hands are always exposed to the sun, so using sunscreen will help to reduce the ageing effects of the sun’s UV rays.”
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Dr Shreya Andric is a Fellow of the Australian College of Dermatologists with a wide breadth of general dermatology knowledge as well as specialist interest in areas of cosmetic dermatology, paediatric dermatology and genital dermatology, among others.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021