Michigan Center for Skin Care Research

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Help for Dry Hands

Chethana Gottam, M.D.By: Chethana Gottam, M.D.
Midwest Center for Dermatology
St. Clair Shores Center and the Clinton Township Center

As the leaves change colors and the temperatures start to dip, we all begin to anticipate the start of winter. Between the cold temperatures outdoors and the hot air indoors, our skin can take a beating. These environmental factors can lead to the development of dry, itchy skin. Otherwise known as xeroderma, dry skin most commonly affects the exposed areas of the body like the scalp, lower legs, arms, and hands. This is when we notice visible peeling of the skin, often with associated itching and cracking.

Making minor changes in your skin care habits in the wintertime can make a big difference. For example, using gentle soaps and cleansers such as Cetaphil, Cerave, or Purpose can be helpful. Avoid excessively hot, lengthy showers and stick to short, lukewarm showers. The key to repairing the barrier of the skin is to moisturize it immediately after bathing or showering. There are a variety of moisturizers available over the counter. The key is to pick thick creams, and not watery lotions. Apply moisturizer to the skin within 15-30 seconds of exiting the shower for best results. Moisturizers such as Vanicream, Cetaphil, Cerave, Aveeno, and plain petroleum jelly (Vaseline) or healing ointments (Aquaphor) are amongst the best ones to choose from. Keeping a humidifier running in your bedroom overnight can also help to restore moisture to the skin.

Dry, itchy, cracked and peeling skin on the hands is a common occurrence in the wintertime as well. The key is to wash with gentle soaps and moisturize after each hand wash. Neutrogena hand cream and Eucerin intensive repair hand cream are great moisturizers to keep sink-side to remind yourself to moisturize right away.

Repeated application of emollients or moisturizers will likely result in quick alleviation of straightforward cases of dry skin within 1-2 weeks. However, it is a good idea to stay in the habit of moisturizing your skin daily in the winter to prevent dry skin from even occurring. Sometimes the skin fails to improve despite taking these measures. When the aforementioned remedies don’t work, it is time to seek the care of a dermatologist. You may need prescription topical medications, light therapy, or even oral medications to decrease inflammation and restore your skin back to normal.

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