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Dry Skin Treatment for Hands

Dry Skin Treatment for Hands


Philip Tierno, M.D., of the New York University Medical Center, notes in his 2004 book, "The Secret Life of Germs," that the hands carry nearly 80 percent of all infectious diseases, including the common cold, pneumonia and salmonella. Hand washing prevents transmission of many of these diseases, according to Dr. Tierno, but the continual washing process creates another problem: dry skin on the hands.

Skin Layers

The skin on the hands protects the body against exposure to extreme temperatures, bacteria and chemicals. The layers on the upper hands are networked with blood vessels and tiny blood capillaries that constrict and relax to regulate heat and cold, according to Linda Vorvick, M.D., one of the medical directors at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The palms have thicker skin layers, while the backs of the hands feature fewer layers. This creates a dichotomy for skin care, since each side of the hand must be treated differently to maintain proper moisture levels.

Dry Skin Causes

Dry skin on the hands is linked to several problems. The backs of the hands are exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun that dry out the skin layers, even when sun damage is avoided. Sun exposure dries the upper skin layers, and the ultraviolet rays damage other derma layers, drying the skin even further. Extreme cold also dries the skin on both the back and palm of the hand.

As the body ages, the amount of collagen in the skin is reduced, and the amount of oil manufactured by the glands declines. These conditions create a drying problem for both sexes, but particularly for women. Men normally produce more oil, according to Proctor and Gamble Beauty Division, and although the production declines more slowly than women, males also experience dry skin on their hands with age.

Minor Treatments

Treatment for dry hands requires a regular regimen to prevent further damage that includes skin cracking. The Mayo Clinic recommends washing hands in warm water with mild soap (avoid antibacterial soaps) and drying the hands with cotton towels. Immediately after drying, apply a thick, heavy moisturizer to the backs and palms of the hands. Spread a thick cream containing urea and lactic acid around the cuticles and on the fingers to prevent drying. Whenever the hands are exposed to water or liquids, this regimen should be repeated.

Medical Treatments

Excessively dry hands that do not respond to over-the-counter lotions and moisturizers require additional treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic. Treatment options involve prescription ointments incorporating hydrocortisone and the application of wet astringent dressings. The moist cotton dressings inhibit bacteria from entering the openings and infecting the hands. The medication is applied several times during the day and limiting exposure to water is highly recommended.


Gloves and hand coverings are recommended, when practical, to prevent dry hands. Cold weather causes dry hands, so gloves should be worn when the skin is exposed to extreme cold. Water and excessive amounts of moisture also dry the hands and palms. When skin is exposed to water, the oils wash away and leave the skin dry. Rubberized gloves should be worn when engaging in hobbies, housework and occupations that mandate prolonged exposure of the hands to water. Tasks that require use of the hands should be done while wearing disposable gloves, when possible.

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