Tips on Dry Hands
Dry hands are a common wintertime problem, although dryness can strike any time of the year. Usually, avoiding excessive exposure to water, sun and dry air can help prevent dry hands. Frequent application of moisturizers or creams with hydrocortisone will often effectively treat even badly chapped hands, and if your dry hands don't improve after using over-the-counter products, a dermatologist can prescribe stronger lotions, creams or ointments.
One or a combination of environmental or lifestyle factors may cause dry hands. Skin is generally driest in winter, when temperatures and humidity levels are low. However, excessive sun exposure can cause dry skin any time of year. In the home, heating and air conditioning can dry out skin by reducing humidity in the air. Frequent hand washing, particularly with hot water and with harsh soaps, may also result in dry, chapped hands, as can other types of prolonged water exposure, such as swimming and long showers.
In many cases, dry, chapped hands can be avoided by taking certain preventive measures, like protecting hands from drying elements like cold wind and hot water. Avoid excessive exposure to sun and any direct exposure to extreme cold or wind. Avoid washing your hands with hot water or washing your hands too frequently. Use only mild cleansers and moisturize your hands after washing or bathing. At home, keep the air humid, using a humidifier if necessary, and wear gloves when cleaning and doing everyday chores.
To soothe and treat dry hands, apply over-the-counter moisturizers, including ointments, oils, creams and lotions. Apply a moisturizer to your hands at least three times a day and always after bathing or washing hands. Ointment moisturizers such as petroleum jelly are the most effective at trapping moisture, but they can make hands feel greasy. To minimize this greasy feeling, use only a small amount of ointment and rub in well. Avoid moisturizers containing alcohol or fragrances, as these can dry hands further. For extremely dry, chapped hands, try moisturizers with hydrocortisone or lactic acid.
If your dry hands do not improve with home and over-the-counter treatments, or if your dry skin is accompanied by itchiness and peeling, see a dermatologist. Depending on your diagnosis, a skin doctor may prescribe treatments such as prescription-strength hydrocortisone creams, topical antibiotics or wet dressings. For irritations caused by allergic reactions and more serious skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema, your doctor may prescribe oral medications such as antihistamines or corticosteroids.
Dry skin is usually not indicative of a serious health problem and can often be remedied with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter lotions. However, if skin is so dry that it cracks or bleeds, or otherwise causes pain or discomfort, you may have a more serious skin disease that requires medical intervention. Some skin diseases that may cause dry hands include psoriasis, eczema, ichthyosis and dermatitis. See a doctor if you have itchiness, inflammation, lesions or severe dryness that does not improve with home-care treatments.
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