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Why Do People Get Dry Hands?

Why Do People Get Dry Hands?


Dry skin on the hands, also known to the medical profession as xerosis or asteatosis, is a fact of life since the hands are continuously exposed to the environment. A regular system of prevention is required to ensure that hands do not continue to dry and cause additional damage, including infections. The University of Iowa Health Care System's website states that, since dry hands affect people of all ages, it is important to identify the causes as well as provide treatment to remedy the condition.

Skin Drying

Human skin is a complex layering of tissue, with an outer layer, the stratum corneum, that is designed to protect the lower layers. The University of Iowa Health Care System compares the system to a layered cake protected by a clear plastic exterior wrap. The outer skin of the hands requires moisture and oils to remain elastic; to the degree that this is lacking, cracks occur.

Age Drying

Age takes its toll on the skin, and especially on the hands. The Cleveland Clinic states that older people frequently experience dry skin due to the loss of oil and sweat glands as the body ages. The remaining glands produce progressively less with age, which further promotes drying of the skin on the hands. The Cleveland Clinic recommends relief for dry hands by way of drinking water to avoid dehydration, applying concentrated ointments, lotions and creams containing petrolatum or lanolin and avoiding hot water baths.

Weather Conditions

Winter weather and dry geographic climates promote dry skin, sometimes called winter itch, on the hands. The Mayo Clinic reports that hands are the driest during the winter months when the humidity in the air is low. This is as true in desert areas as it is in snowy winter climates. The temperatures may be high in the desert, but the humidity is low, according to the clinic. Extreme winter cold creates the need for artificial heat that dries the air, and hands, even more. Use of a home humidifier assists in adding moisture to the air, and application of lotions returns moisture lost to the drop in humidity.

Sun Exposure

The sun is the single greatest cause of dry-looking skin on the upper hands, according to the American Cancer Society The sun's heat removes moisture from the skin just as home heating systems do, but, according to the Mayo Clinic, its ultraviolet rays provide an additional drying effect. Sunburns or deep burns related to tanning allow radiation to reach deep into the layers of the dermis and break down the collagen in the skin. The top skin on the hands then experiences wrinkling and sagging due to the tissue damage that appears the same as dry skin. There is no medical treatment available to restore this type of damage.


Dry hand skin can be a symptom of disease, from minor aliments to more serious maladies. The Mayo Clinic highlights hypothyroidism, a disorder of the thyroid that lessens the amount of oil production for skin softening, and psoriasis, a condition that promotes dry, rough skin cells, as common diseases leading to dry skin and dry hands. Both conditions require individualized treatment designed by a medical professional.

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